Active Army troops assigned to the 1st Cavalry, Combat Aviation Brigade out of Fort Riley made a stop in Great Bend Wednesday morning to refuel at the Great Bend Municipal Airport. It was part of the first leg of a two-day long cross-country mission that will bring the soldiers and about 30 helicopters from Fort Riley, Kan. to Fort Irwin, Calif. An overnight stop in Santa Fe, New Mexico is planned for later today.
Clayton Heidelberg manages Centerline Aviation, LLC, the full service fuel provider at GBMA. He said the U.S. Army contacted him two weeks ago to coordinate fuel stops for today and tomorrow. Normally, Centerline refuels about 10 aircraft a day, so having an additional 19 helicopters on the ground made for a very good day, Heidelberg said.
The amount of fuel a helicopter holds is about on par with what is typically put in a plane, he said. Kiowa Warriors top off with roughly 100 gallons, while the Blackhawks hold 250 gallons. Each gallon of jet fuel weighs about seven pounds.
For cross country flights, the Army makes an effort to coordinate with civilian airports, making sure its okay for them to come, and that they can be supported with the volume and type of aircraft, according to CW3 Mercado.
“It’s pretty normal,” he said. “It’s a good exercise, and a good stateside operation as well.”
Overall Wednesday, there were 19 or 20 helicopters stopping to refuel at Great Bend Municipal Airport, half Blackhawk and half Kiowa Warriors. On Thursday, the remaining Blackhawks and some Apache helicopters will make a pit stop before continuing on and meeting up with the rest of the troops.
Mercado has been in the army 15 years, and has been flying Kiowa Warriors for seven, he said. Above the door of the helicopter is a small painting of a skull wearing a Stetson with the Cavalry emblem, symbol for Avenger troop 169.
Pilots are only trained on one aircraft, Mercado said. The Avengers are a reconnaissance platform.
“In combat, we go ahead to locate the enemy,” he said. “We are also outfitted with rockets and can provide fire when needed.” Kiowas are a much smaller version of their teammates, the Blackhawk and the Apache. They seat two, with the rear compartment filled with reconnaissance equipment. They originally carried four soldiers, according to Mercado. There is a sense of pride among the pilots of the Kiowas.
Hardworking and underrated, it doesn’t surprise these soldiers that the name of their crafts don’t roll off the tongue quite so easily as the other two flashy tools. According to Mercado, Kiowas fly the most combat hours.
“Maintenance turnaround on the aircraft is pretty good,” he said. “And that is why they fly so much.” The Kiowa has a distance range of about 250 miles before they have to refuel.
“The Blackhawks can fly a lot further than we can,” he said. “They fly a lot faster too.”