The Port Arthur News
Jack Brooks Regional Airport has been playing host to an unusual guest the last week: The U.S. Army.
More than 100 Chinook, Apache and Blackhawk helicopters have been using the airport as a temporary resting and refueling station before being shipped overseas to Afghanistan.
The aircraft fly in from Fort Bliss in El Paso, make a quick trip to the coast and are packaged into cargo ships.
“They’re coming in different waves,” said Capt. Cassie Wyllie. “By the end of this we’ll have moved 105 aircraft.”
Wyllie, who served in Afghanistan two years ago, said Jack Brooks was a perfect fit for the operation because of its open space and proximity to the coastline. She said the airport has been very accommodating.
“The community seems very military-friendly,” she said. “Citizens keeps coming up and thanking us. It’s nice being here.”
The flight from Fort Bliss to Jefferson County takes about seven hours, Wyllie said, but its only a six-minute flight to the coast.
“We have certain crews that stay here to take aircrafts to the port, then the pilots who flew from Bliss to here get on a bus the same day and go back,” she said. “It’s a long day.”
Most of the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters had already been deployed by the time media access was granted, though two Chinook carriers had yet to take off.
Chinook, or cargo helicopters, use a four-man pilot crew and can transport up to 36 combat passengers. They also have the ability to “sling load,” or carry equipment underneath their body.
“There’s a lot of power in that aircraft,” Wyllie said.
When the aircraft get to the port, their blades are folded and the helicopters are shrink wrapped to fit into a cargo ship.
Alex Rupp, the airport’s interim manager, said this was not the first time Jack Brooks has hosted military aircraft.
“It’s usually when they’re coming in from port to go home,” he said. “This is the first time I can remember them using us to head out.”
Rupp said the only expense the military had to pay was to fill up their gas tanks.
“We didn’t charge them landing fees or for using the runways,” he said. “It was strictly fuel.”