17 November 2009

What Is The Coast Guard Doing In Vail?

A Coast Guard plane made a hard landing at Vail, Colorado's airport today.

I find it very hard to find any legitimate reason for a Coast Guard plane to be landing in Vail in the first place.

The Coast Guard's jurisdiction encompasses the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Coasts, the Great Lakes, and perhaps commercial navigation on rivers like the Mississippi. Vail is about as far from any of those things as one can imagine. The Coast Guard is not responsible for maintaining law and order among the canoes and rafts of the Eagle River, and it certainly doesn't need an airplane to do so.

Admittedly, the Coast Guard might need to move planes from one coast to another now and then. But, one would think that it would use major airports like DIA for refuelings on a trip like that, rather than having a planned destination like the Eagle-Vail airport, with its notoriously difficult to land at runways. There is no indication that this was an unexpected destination involving an emergency landing.

One suspects that the trip involves transporting federal government VIPs to a vacation/conference in Vail. But, it is hard to believe that this really necessitates the use of a government owned plane, rather than commercial air travel services. If we're going to insist that automobile company executives take commercial planes or drive to Washington D.C. to ask for bailouts, it is hard to see why Coast Guard officials at any level ought to be flying offical aircraft to Vail. The President and First Lady have their air transporation needs met by the Air Force and Marines, so it is improbable that this has anything to do with Michelle Obama's visit to the state.

The Vail Daily's report states that the Coast Guard plane was in the vicinity for high alititude training. If true, the fact that the Coast Guard finds it worthwhile to do high alititude training is itself a scandal. The Coast Guard has to deal with all sorts of circumstances, but high alititudes are not among them. By definition, their missions all involve places rather close to sea level. Unless the Coast Guard has been activated for service in Afghanistan, there is really no reason for its aircraft crews to have that kind of training at government expense.


Anonymous said...

The Coast Guard is in Afghanistan.

GVPilot said...

The HU-25 Falcons are fast response intercept and Search and Rescue platforms, not VIP transports. it's highly unlikely that any transport was involved. Believe it or not, the CG deploys aircraft to high altitude airports around North and South America in support of many DHS missions. You are correct in that there are not many high altitude airports near the coast so they have to find airports that have the appropriate runway length, approaches and operating parameters. Eagle fits that criteria. It would be irresponsible for any organization to send aflight crews to high altitude, isolated operating environments without training them on the effects of high altitude flight and landing characteristics. it's unfortunate that this happened but please dont be so quick to assume that there is a scandal or conspiracy involved.

LT L.Armstrong said...

Please allow me to expand on GVPilot's comments...

I am a Coast Guard HU-25 pilot. I have been flying this multi-mission aircraft for 8 years and have accumulated 3000+ hours & earned a Flight Examiner designation.

The HU-25's strength is it's speed & versatility. As a result, we are occasionally tasked with conducting personnel transports, medevacs & light cargo flights to far flung locales in the US, Caribbean & South America, in addition to our typical Search and Rescue (SAR) & Law Enforcement missions. There are many times when CG aircraft are the only means for providing timely, reliable & secure air support for DHS, NTSB, CBP & DEA missions. I don't feel comfortable going into details in this forum, but I think that you'd be impressed by some of the things that we have been involved with over the years.

In order to accomplish these missions safely, there is a written requirement for all HU-25 pilots to accomplish high-altitude & cold-weather training flights to satisfy both upgrade and recurrent training syllabi. We choose to utilize smaller airports such as Eagle vs. Denver International because we don't get up there too often, so we need as many takeoff/landing cycles as we can get without interfering with the traffic flow at a major airport.

I applaud your efforts to serve as a government watchdog for the taxpayers of Colorado, but this isn't one of those "Fleecing of America" incidents.

Lt. Kerver - D8 PAO said...

High altitude training is part of the HU-25 Falcon training and is necessary to keep our pilots proficient for all weather and all missions. Air Station Corpus Christi conducts high-altitude training at least twice a year to maintain pilot proficiency. This training is conducted at higher altitudes because the thinner atmospheric conditions make landings more difficult.

The HU-25 Falcon was not transporting any VIPs and was crewed for its training mission. The crew was scheduled to return to Corpus Christi late yesterday. The Eagle County Regional Airport was chosen because it has a suitable runway length/width and is home to the Army's High Altitude Aviation Training Site as well as a National Guard facility. Conducting training at Eagle County Regional Airport minimized adding to the congestion of heavily trafficked airports such as DIA.

The HU-25 Falcon jet from Air Station Corpus Christi is a Coast Guard District Eight asset and, as such, training missions are conducted within D8's Area of Responsibility (AOR) – which includes Colorado.

District Eight conducts Homeland Security (DHS) missions, as well as natural disaster response within the central part of the U.S. and, due to proximity, Air Station Corpus Christi deploys its HU-25s to assist with these operations. Flying unique approaches with complex procedures, varied Air Traffic control support, high altitude landing performance, differing lighting systems and runway environments (including narrow or short runways in mountainous terrain) allows the Coast Guard to be ready to respond to support District Nine Ice Operations, West Coast high altitude support, Flood Operations in the Midwest and worldwide operations. (All Coast Guard assets are worldwide deployable and are often tasked with a wide variety of DHS missions. In fact, the Coast Guard has deployed HU-25 Falcon jets to South American high-altitude airfields for years in support of drug interdiction operations.)

The primary thing to take away from yesterday's incident is that the flight crew remained calm, deployed the chute, and prevented a more tragic outcome. This highlights the necessity for training as Coast Guard members rely heavily on their experience and training when faced with adverse situations. Yesterday's mishap is a prime example of training in action.

LT Sue Kerver
Public Affairs Officer
U.S. Coast Guard District Eight

This is an official United States Coast Guard posting for the Public’s information. Our posting does not endorse this site or anything on it, including links to other sites, and we disclaim the responsibility and liability for the site and its contents.

Dave Barnes said...

@Sue Kerver

"This is an official United States Coast Guard posting for the Public’s information. Our posting does not endorse this site or anything on it, including links to other sites, and we disclaim the responsibility and liability for the site and its contents."

I hate weasel words.
Be a woman and stand up.

Anonymous said...

LT Kerver, thank you for taking the time to provide additional information, especially when "journalists" speculate without doing any professional research. I'm sorry you have to add the caveat at the end of the posts so people do not claim the Coast Guard and.or federal government said or endorsed every private website or blog that shows up on the internet. I'm even more sorry Mr. Barnes has access to the internet. Based on your post, it is apparent that you are operating in an official capacity and are following the regulations required by your Service.