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News | Sept. 21, 2022

North Country airport hosts NHARNG Black Hawk helicopter, crew, for open house

By Tech. Sgt. Charles Johnston

Berlin Regional Airport, a spartan airstrip nestled near the White Mountains, hosted an open house for the New Hampshire Army National Guard and area residents last Friday.
North Country locals lined the runway to welcome a Black Hawk helicopter from Charlie Company, 238th Aviation (Medevac) as it touched down—an appearance requested by Marcel Leveille, the airport manager.
Local residents have expressed concerns about noise levels, if a proposed lease agreement between the NHARNG and the airport is consummated. The facility’s location has been identified as ideal for aerial rescue operations, maintenance, and training in the area.
“I think they got to see the Black Hawk wasn’t as noisy as they thought it would be,” said Leveille, who made sure attendees were present to witness the landing. “They also got to meet with pilots, if they had concerns.”
NH Adjutant Gen. David Mikolaities and the flight crew mingled with attendees to answer questions about the aircraft and plans to build a new hangar there.
“We’re trying to simulate a deployed environment through training and reps in the geography of the White Mountain National Forest,” Mikolaities said. “This can also be an economic driver to help the airport and the town.”
For two hours, people excitedly snapped selfies with soldiers and the helicopter. Attendees, including a group of K-6 students from nearby Milan Village School, were also treated to an in-close view of the cockpit and controls.
Berlin’s mayor shared in the enthusiasm.
“The amount of fuel they’re going to purchase from the airport authority will make this airport totally self-sufficient,” Paul Grenier said.
Crowd support was overwhelmingly positive.
Kevin Masters, local resident and Air Force veteran, said the airport is currently underutilized and would benefit from an increased Guard presence.
“If it’s going to be for mountain rescue, it’s a lot closer to where they need it,” Masters said.
Esther Gilbert of Berlin was optimistic about the potential financial benefits.
“We need something to help our economy,” Gilbert said. “I think it’s a nice idea.”
At least one Milan homeowner was skeptical.
Bonnie Hamel called the open house a “dog and pony show,” and said the proposal lacks an official noise study. She owns a horse property near the runway and explained the helicopters frighten them.
Although the airport is geographically in the town of Milan, it is owned by the neighboring city of Berlin. Hamel said the proposal’s support stems mostly from those more insulated from noise, vibration, and usage frequency.
“I’m in support of our military, but I’m not sure what the benefit is yet,” she said. “I’ve got somebody intruding on my peace and quiet on Earth.”
Others scoffed at such concerns.
“The tractors make more noise than [guardsmen],” said Scott Briere, Milan firefighter and airport employee.
“It’s better than the four-wheelers,” commented Melvin French of Gorham, which drew laughter from attendees.
While Mayor Grenier supports the proposal, he said he takes the criticism seriously.
“I don’t want to minimize the issues these people have, so we’re going to work to make sure there aren’t any,” Grenier said. “The general and I are committed to addressing any residential concerns that may arise.”
Mikolaities specified that future training and operations would always be conducted with a “fly neighborly” mindset. Pilots would fly runway approaches most considerate of nearby homes, for example.
“We want to be good community partners while affording guardsmen the opportunity to train up here,” Mikolaities said.