R and R in the Skinny

Blackhawk settles down at aerodrome

Places around the globe have become havens for soldiers desiring a little off base time. It's called "R and R" -- rest and relaxation? Or is that recreation? Or for some it is a rowdy good time. Whatever the "R," Skaneateles was tapped into last week by a helicopter crew out on a training run.

In truth this wasn't official R and R as pilots are required to log in flight time to keep their licenses current. But the double R's led Pilot-in-Command Andy Musfeldt (Arlington, Texas) to Skaneateles, as he had spent a holiday here with family friends, Dan and Colleen Fisher. The rest of his flight crew -- pilot Tim Gilmore (Connecticut) and mechanics Louis Livatino (Jacksonville, Fla.) Jeff Lockwood (New Orleans) got their first taste of Skaneateles, will try to come back as well. All four are stationed at Fort Drum. All four have done tours of duty in Afghanistan and all four will soon be back overseas.

A 16,000-lb. bird

The UH60 helicopter, nicknamed the "Blackhawk" is made by Sikorsky with GE engines. This Blackhawk swooped in from the north, flying over the Ethridges' Benson Road home, and hovering for a few minutes before landing on a portion of the old grass landing strip that the late Mr. Wikstrom favored.

Colleen Fisher and friends were gathered to meet the servicemen and take them to the BlueWater Grill for lunch. The welcoming committee hesitated. The 'copter looked like a giant insect -- only more menacing. The four main blades were still circling. Two men jumped out, then a third. One man reached up to grab a blade, so it could be put into lock down mode. There was a lot of give before he stopped it.

What to fly?

The army flies Apaches as gunships, Blackhawks for troop and cargo transport and resupply, and Chinooks for larger transport. Musfeldt said in army flight school he first qualified on a Bell 206, then picked the mission he wanted to fly. He has moved troops and supplies, but also members of congress on visits. Sept. 11, 2001 he had been working at American Airlines in information technology. He also had his private pilot's license. Almost immediately he decided to enlist, and he hasn't regretted that decision for a moment.

The training

Musfeldt said the army is very strict about equipment safety and servicing. Lockwood recently reported to Fort Drum; part of last week's mission included familiarizing him with the geography of Fort Drum's fly zone, particularly the Tug Hill Plateau, where hazardous weather can move in quickly. From Skaneateles the crew flew to Saratoga, then back up through the Adirondacks and home to Drum.

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