The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 17, 2013

Raleigh County Memorial Airport sees increased traffic

If you’ve been aroused from peaceful summer slumber by the telltale whomp-whomp of helicopter rotors knifing across the night sky of Beckley, don’t be alarmed.

In recent days, the Army National Guard’s medevac unit, based in Parkersburg, has been conducting various exercises out of the Raleigh County Memorial Airport, in concert with the Boy Scouts Jamboree.

After dark, the Black Hawks have been out flying a number of sorties in the Beckley area, Airport Manager Tom Cochran said Wednesday.

“They’ve been quite active,” he said.

“They’re doing exercises in support of the Scout operations.”

In fact, both regular Army and National Guard units are busy conducting various but unrelated training missions out of the airport.

One unit is based in Fort Polk, La., in an exercise prior to deployment to Kosovo, a region in Europe divided by severe ethnic tensions that erupted into war in 1999.

Cochran was unable to provide many details of the operation.

“The only thing I do know is they have a certain unit each day that goes to four surrounding counties,” he said.

“It’s part of what they do through the State Department when they go to a foreign country. They go out and talk to departments of a county, mayors of local towns, to see what kind of issues are they having in that community. It’s same thing they will be doing in Kosovo when they get there.”

Cochran said such training isn’t uncommon and is routine with such military units.

Another part of the training entails nine Black Hawk helicopters in simulated medical evacuation exercises, Cochran explained.

“We have activity every 10 to 15 minutes of them flying sorties to exercises between the airport and the summit,” he said, referring to the Summit Bechtel Family Scout Reserve in Fayette County, where some 40,000 scouts are gathered.

“It’s just something as a training exercise as far as the security issues of the Scouts,” the manager said.

Using people as designated victims, the Black Hawks have been sent out in coordination with the C-130- Air Guard unit in mock disasters, Cochran explained.

“They actually flew the Black Hawks in some of the surrounding areas and met the C-130s at the airport, and that made their evacuation exercise,” he said.

Air traffic has been up lately, but even before the Boy Scouts Jamboree opened, Cochran noted an upswing in business — about a 20 percent jump in the past two months.

“Our air carriers have improved,” he said.

“Their departure and arrival dependency — guaranteeing a more dependable service. I think that’s certainly complementary to what we’re seeing in our increase.”

Besides the influx of military aircraft, Cochran said corporate flights have increased, including much linked directly to the Boy Scouts Jamboree.

“We are expecting an influx of that again on Saturday, with some of the top people who have been involved with the project all the way through,” he added.

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