Army Aviation Brigade maintains readiness in flight over Cherry Blossom Festival

Story by Master Sgt. Will Reinier, photos by Mr. Nicholas Priest

WASHINGTON – On Monday, March 25, two helicopters from the U.S. Army Military District of Washington’s Army Aviation Brigade (TAAB) took flight over the National Mall in Washington, District of Columbia, during a training mission designed to increase TAAB pilots’ ability to navigate the unique airspace.

One of the helicopters, a VH-60M Black Hawk, referred to as a gold top, is one of only four of its kind in the U.S. Army. Gold tops are routinely used to transport senior Army and Department of Defense officials throughout the National Capital Region, but also maintain the capability to quickly fly into action for contingency mission response.

Capt. Christopher Bissett, who piloted the gold top on Monday’s flight, said these training missions are important.


“Here in the National Capital Region there are a lot of important people,” he said. “Just giving them the peace of mind that we’re standing by, ready to respond if we need to.”

Warrant Officer Eric Mendoza, Bissett’s co-pilot, describes flying in the District of Columbia as truly amazing.

“It’s been a life changing experience for me,” Mendoza said. “Coming from the enlisted side, becoming a pilot, and then getting stationed here has really been an experience.”

“I never thought I would have been here coming out of high school.”

Mendoza, originally from the Bronx, New York, enlisted in the Army and served 11 years as a firefighter before he applied to become an aviation warrant officer. He has been flying helicopters for almost two- and-a-half years now, but said .

“Being a pilot in D.C. is different than any other place in the Army,” Mendoza said. “There are four Class Bravo airspaces in our immediate training area.”

The Federal Aviation Administration reserves the Class Bravo airspace designation for only the nation’s busiest airports in terms of airport operations.

“This is the only place in the Army that’s involved with class bravos, nobody else gets the type of airspace that we do,” Mendoza explained. “The radios are always intense, you’ve always got to be on alert because of aircraft coming in left and right, so you’ve always got to be paying attention.”


Because of these unique conditions, Mendoza says training and repetition in the airspace is an absolute necessity for TAAB pilots who must be prepared to launch at a moment’s notice.

“We’re always on duty, we’re always in a phase of being called upon in case something happens in the National Capital Region,” he said.

However serious the repetitions and training may be, both pilots find time to appreciate the opportunity they have.

“I know about 1.5 million people come from all across the world just to see the cherry blossoms in D.C.,” Mendoza said, pausing to laugh. “And we get to just fly right above them.”

Bissett says in addition to easily passing over congested D.C. traffic, seeing all the people looking up from the ground is his favorite part of flying.


“Over the summer there’s a lot of people out on the Potomac River on their kayaks or boats,” he said. “Flying over them, they’re waiving at you and you can waive back at them, and they’ll see you and start jumping around.”

He said if he had a chance to land and talk to those people, he would recommend a career in Army aviation.

“If you have a curiosity about aviation or feel that urge to serve, don’t let it pass you by. Take a chance on it and you could end up doing something you really enjoy.”