Even though police officer Andy Montoya has been flying the Albuquerque, New Mexico Police Department’s Neoteric hovercraft for 12 years, he recently enrolled in a week-long Master Training course at Hovercraft Training Centers.
Andy Montoya (left) receives his Master Hovercraft Pilot Certification
from HTC Senior Flight Instructor Chris Fitzgerald.
The rescue hovercraft Montoya flies was built by the Albuquerque Police Department in 2002 from a Neoteric Partially-Assembled Hovercraft Kit, and it has definitely proven its worth. “This hovercraft is just an amazing piece of equipment,” Montoya said. “We’ve used it for body recoveries, evidence searches, and missing persons searches on the Rio Grande River. We’ve used it for Presidential visits; we take the ATF or Secret Service out to search the bottoms of bridges for explosives.”
One of the hovercraft’s most publicized activities is its role in the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest ballooning event and reportedly the most photographed event of any kind in the world ...
The craft is vital in monitoring the ‘Splash-'N-Dash’, where balloonists touch their baskets to the surface of the Rio Grande, then take off again. If a balloon runs low on fuel, or becomes disabled in the trees and brush, the hovercraft is used to transport the disassembled balloon to a safe extraction point since most of the river isn’t accessible by other vehicles. Prior to the use of the hovercraft, helicopters were required to extract stranded balloons - at great expense to the pilots ...
When a rescue vehicle is used this extensively, it’s easy to see why Montoya wanted to hone his skills. “Professional training is the absolute way to go, because safety is paramount for a police department,” he said. “And learning how to train others to pilot the craft? If you don’t go to the professional to get certified in that, you’re just wasting your time. You’re not going to learn proper techniques, then you teach others substandard techniques and it creates a domino effect – a dangerous situation for everyone down the road. Small mistakes compound very quickly. Coming here makes it safer for everybody down the line.”
During his week of Master Training, Montoya definitely had the opportunity to work with professionals. Besides Neoteric President/Senior Flight Instructor Chris Fitzgerald and Flight Instructor Steve Stafford, he was also instructed by HTC-trained Mark Ellis and his highly experienced first responders from the Hazleton Fire Department ...
From the left: Hazleton firefighters Tom Shoemaker, Mark Ellis and Rachel Hyneman;
Senior Flight Instructor Chris Fitzgerald and Flight Instructor Steve Stafford.
The crew spent time in Mt. Carmel, IL where the White and Wabash Rivers conjoin and drain into the Ohio and conditions are ideal for practicing rescue techniques on rough water. In this video clip, Montoya uses the HTC Neoteric training hovercraft’s reverse thrust to maneuver next to a decoy victim …
In this next clip, Montoya practices flying the craft over obstacles. As Hazleton firefighter Mark Ellis says about the Neoteric hovercraft, “It can go right over a log, rocky shallow waters, sand, mud – you name it.”
After intensive rescue practice at Mt. Carmel, the crew prepared for night rescue operations on the river with night vision scopes, but a severe lightning storm, lasting several hours, forced them to abandon this usual component of Master Training.
Next, the crew returned to HTC headquarters in Terre Haute for Montoya to focus on becoming a hovercraft trainer …
Andy Montoya begins his first session as flight instructor with pilot trainee Heather Stafford.
Heather Stafford takes the controls of the hovercraft on the Wabash River
while Andy Montoya provides guidance and suggestions.
At the close of a week of intense training at HTC after flying hovercraft for 12 years, what was Andy Montoya’s reaction? “I’m going home with a whole new confidence. I have a new set of tools and a new set of skills that I could never have gotten anywhere else but here,” he said. “And I have a new respect for what this hovercraft can do – it can do twice what I thought it could do. I can get into places that, before I came here, I never thought I would even try to get into!”
His conclusion? “This has been the best training I’ve ever gone through – and I’ve been through a lot of training classes in 18 years of police work. It’s going to be a huge help, not only for my future on the hovercraft, but for those I’m able to train now.”