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PHOTO:CHRIS MOONEY

Lt. Col. Greg Bush

Garrison Commander Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site

Elite Helicopter Pilot Training By Romi Carrell Wittman Elite pilot training isn’t something you would expect to find in Marana, with its cotton farms and old rural homesteads – but the location is actually ideal given the temperate year-round weather conditions. The U.S. Army National Guard Silverbell Army Heliport has provided premier attack and aero-scout training to thousands of pilots from all over the world. The site’s convenient location – just 30 miles northwest of downtown Tucson and about 90 miles south of Phoenix – also adds to its premier status. The heliport sits just to the north of Pinal Airpark, a county-owned publicuse facility. It is home to the Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, known as WAATS, as well as many other National Guard units. 142 BizTucson

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The WAATS mission is to improve the overall aviation readiness of active and reserve guardsmen, as well as pilots from several partner nations. The facility specializes in training pilots to fly Apache and Longbow Attack helicopters. The region’s warm weather and clear skies enable the facility to have, on average, 360 training days per year. The 3,600-square-mile site serves both active duty and National Guard pilots, providing a variety of flight simulator training modules as well as helicopter emergency procedure training. Twothirds of the space has been approved for tactical landing zones and the training area has eight commercial-instrumented airports. The region and its military ties go way back. Originally known as Marana

Army Air Field, Pinal Airpark opened in 1943 and was used as a pilot training base during World War II. After the war, the facility closed until 1948 when the U.S. government deeded control of the site to Pinal County, which in turn leased the property to Evergreen Maintenance Center – a commercial aircraft servicing and storage company now called Marana Aerospace Solutions. In 2011, Pinal County renegotiated its lease to achieve Federal Aviation Administration compliance and maximize the potential for federal funding, and began a series of facility improvements. The airpark is a central focus of Pinal County’s economic development activities.

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