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Army choppers make noisy visit

Dick Clarke heard the rumble just before 8 p.m. Jan. 22 while sitting in his home on Orchard Drive.

"At first I thought it was a Blackhawk or a single rotor bird before looking outside," said Clarke.

What he saw -- and what many heard -- were two United States Army MH-47D helicopters making an emergency landing due to weather at the Ken Jernstedt Memorial Airfield in Hood River.

It was no wonder that Clarke had to take a peek outside and see what was happening. The Chinook-class helicopters are flying ships. The fuselage is 50 feet long, with a 60-foot rotor span for each set of rotors. Overall, with rotor's spinning, the helicopter is over 100 feet in length.

Both helicopters were out of the 3-160 SOAR "Nightstalker" unit based at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga.

According to Major Robin Smith, they were on a training mission en route to Fort Lewis, Wash., when Gorge weather forced them to make a unscheduled landing.

"I can't really say much about what we are doing," said Smith the following morning as his crews prepared to take off again for Fort Lewis. No details could be given about the mission, and all crew members where prohibited from giving their names. Hardly a marking appeared on the helicopters.

Both choppers, painted in drab black, are capable of flying 1,100 to 2,000 nautical miles without refueling. The MH-47D is also equipped with in-flight refueling capabilities. This class of Chinook helicopters provides long-range penetration and is classified as a medium assault helicopter used to support Special Forces operations.

The SOAR unit, specifically designated by the Secretary of Defense to assist with Special Forces missions, has been involved in numerous operations, including "Urgent Fury" in Grenada, "Desert Shield" in Kuwait, "Desert Storm" in Iraq and currently in "Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan.

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