BILLINGS — Montana has among the biggest gaps in the country as far as helicopter coverage from the National Guard. In order to respond quicker, the Montana National Guard has plans to set up in Billings.
The Guard wants to put part of its helicopter operation in Billings to make it easier to respond to the eastern part of the state.
The plan is set up in a hangar at Billings Flying Service.
"In '17, we actually conducted a search and rescue operation off the Yellowstone River here," said Major Rob Allinson, Montana National Guard public affairs officer. "And we were only able to do that because the aviation unit was actually conducting some training operations, just outside of Billings."
Allinson said the trip from Helena to Billings can take from 45 minutes to an hour and a half.
"Montana does have one of the biggest gaps when it comes to military aviation support," he said. "We only have the one facility in Helena."
The Guard will lease the hangar from Billings Flying Service.
"We operate similar aircraft, Chinooks and Blackhawks.," said Erin Heringer, Billings Flying Service vice president. "And so, this may be a good spot and have a lot of synergy having both of our operations in the same place."
The company's future with the Guard falls in line with working with the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office and firefighters.
"A bulk of our operations are forest firefighting," Heringer said. "You know, that is our bread and butter, is helping respond to natural disasters. And so having more support with the National Guard here would be terrific."
"Fire support, search and rescue winter storm support," Allinson said about the Guard's mission. "We have the UH 60. We have the CH 47. And then we have the UH 72 Lakota."
"Being able to have air support here, have a presence here would really ultimately be able to help support our community in some cool ways," Heringer said. "So we'd be glad to be part of that with the National Guard."
"Hopefully starting flying operations out of Billings around fall of 2022 is probably the earliest that that would happen," Allinson said.
Jacob’s Engineering Group, Inc. started the environmental assessment to meet U.S. Army standards last month.
The public will soon have a chance to comment.