Gray Army Airfield
The 66th Aviation Brigade of the Washington Army National Guard, is headquartered at Gray Army Airfield, which is located on the base at Fort Lewis. The 66th Aviation Brigade provides transportation support for fighting wildfires. The Ft. Lewis Battle Simulation Center Headquarters is located at Gray Army Airfield.
The US Army helicopter stationed at Gray Army Air Base at Fort Lewis, assisted with medical evacuations at Mount Rainier National Park on numerous occasions in the 1970s. Army helicopters were also used to insert search-and-rescue [SAR] teams into inaccessible areas on the east, north, and west sides of the mountain, lowering rangers to the ground by a cable device known as a "jungle penetrator." Helicopters began assisting with high altitude (above 10,000 feet) SAR operations in the 1980s. Helicopters were also used for "short haul" rescue operations, in which a ranger and litter were carried in a sling below the helicopter to the scene of the accident.
Company A, 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, conducts high-altitude search-and-rescue operations. Based at Fort Lewis's Gray Army Airfield, the Army Reserve aviation unit transports National Park Service emergency search-and-rescue teams to and from the mountain. The company inherited the SAR mission in July 1998, when the active-Army unit tasked with the responsibility was inactivated. During regular training sessions before and during the climbing season, the unit's CH-47 Chinook helicopters fly to Kautz Creek near the base of the mountain to pick up the SAR teams. Then the combined group performs insertion and extraction drills at locations from roughly 10,000 feet to the summit at 14,410 feet above sea level. SAR missions are varied. Company A participated in a search for a missing snowboarder on the southeast side of the mountain. Hampered by foul weather and heavy cloud cover, the mission extended into several days as Chinook pilots and crew-members transported SAR teams and flew search patterns, working routes, crevasses and tree lines where the snow-boarder might be. The victim never was found. Another mission involved two climbers who lost vital equipment during a climb on the Liberty Ridge ice face, at 13,000 feet. They requested help by cell phone, but the first Chinook sortie was turned away by an intense squall line, requiring additional flights to drop off and later pick up rescue teams. e
The 1st Weather Squadron is located in the Gray Airfield Operations building (Bldg 3082) at the end of 18th Street on Gray Army Airfield. The Fort Lewis Army Flying Activity is open to membership for all active duty military, retirees, reserves, national guard, DOD civilians, Civil Air Patrol and the FAA. Flight training is provided from the Private Pilot ratings to the Airline Transport Pilot.
All flight plans (except locals) are filed at Gray Base Ops, in person or by fax through Guard Ops. Local flight plans may be filed at Base Ops or Guard Ops. Local flight plans are authorized for VFR flights within the local flying area which originate and terminate at either Gray AAF or YTC (Yakima Training Center).
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