VIDEO and PHOTOS: 5 Black Hawk helicopters visit Steamboat for training mission |

VIDEO and PHOTOS: 5 Black Hawk helicopters visit Steamboat for training mission

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As Steamboat Springs residents craned their necks Tuesday morning to see what was hovering above them rattling their windows, Luster Vickrey Jr. was at Steamboat Springs Airport feeling a bit homesick as he watched the five Black Hawk helicopters touch down.

Vickrey, a former tactical reconnaissance pilot who flew 197 combat missions during the Vietnam War, had to end his 62-year long piloting career this year. He said continuing his passion wasn’t worth the risk of crashing his plane into a school or anywhere else on the ground.

So the former pilot wanted to make sure he didn't miss the rare landings of the Army choppers at Steamboat’s municipal airport.

"The flying and the career all gets in your blood," Vickrey said. "It's my life, it's my home … I came up here to smell the fumes. I was home.”

Five Army Black Hawk helicopters land at Steamboat Springs Airport Tuesday afternoon

The sound of so many helicopters so close together reminded Vickery, who goes by Vic, of his service in Vietnam.

The five Army Black Hawks swooped into town from Fort Carson as part of a mountain training mission.

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The 35 soldiers who came in on the helicopters enjoyed a long lunch at Rex's Bar and Grill in Steamboat and got a quick history lesson about the town while they rode in shuttles.

As the soldiers prepped their UH-60 Black Hawks for takeoff, Captain Bryant Knef joked the soldiers didn't want to leave.

"What we get by coming to places like this are the guys are planning difficult flights and making sure they hit a time just like our missions would call for while accounting for the power limitations we might experience … landing at a place at high altitude," Knef said.

It was the first time the helicopters had flown to Steamboat.

Knef said the missions go to different airports around the state so that pilots get more experience landing at different runways.

The helicopters that flew into Steamboat were just put into service in the summer, and some of them have just a few dozen hours clocked on the engines.

While the soldiers were at lunch, pilots, real estate agents and other interested people gawked at the helicopters while they were parked at the airport.

Knef allowed some city staff members to carefully climb on top of one of the helicopters to admire the engines. And a young man who is hoping to pilot military aircraft got to sit in one of the cockpits.

After a quick photo, the helicopters took off and flew low in formation right over downtown Steamboat.

Soldiers from Fort Carson perform pre-flight checks on Black Hawk helicopters at Steamboat Springs Airport Tuesday afternoon.
A formation of Black Hawk helicopters flies toward Emerald Mountain on Tuesday.
U.S. Army soldiers from Fort Carson pose with one of their Black Hawk helicopters Tuesday at Steamboat Springs Airport. The soldiers flew to Steamboat for a training mission and lunch.

Steamboat Airport Manager Stacie Fain herself flew a UH-60 Black Hawk while serving in the Coast Guard.

The helicopter is used for medium-range search-and-rescue missions.

"I love having fellow military members come and visit this airport,” Fain said. “I still serve in the Coast Guard Reserve, so it's nice to have the military folks come, and it's just exciting for me to have them enjoy Steamboat. I just like to show off Steamboat."

The visit also had a positive economic impact on the city.

Each Black Hawk needed just over 200 gallons of fuel before heading back to Fort Carson near Colorado Springs.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.