When Shellie Kirby saw a big, green Chinook helicopter flying low over her home in the remote southeast corner of El Paso County early this summer, she was aghast.
"We could see the underbelly, the knobs, the wheels," she says. "I can't even describe the noise."
In 14 years of living on the 70 acres of land she shares with her husband, she'd never seen military aircraft come so near.
Nor had Kirby's mother, Melba Van Huss, who lives across the dirt road. "It came up over the hill. It shook the house. I could see numbers on the bottom, it was so close. It scared me to death."
Since that encounter, which sent two of Kirby's horses thundering across the range, Kirby set her sights on Fort Carson, the Colorado Springs Army base that lies about 40 miles due west of her ranch.
With the help of Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., she appeared to have solved the problem.
Fort Carson Adjutant General Mary L. Foster, in a June 27 letter to Hefley, stated that the base's aircraft would not fly over Kirby's property. Foster wrote that the base had "instituted a temporary 5 kilometer No Fly Area" and that the base was in the process of creating a "permanent 2k No Fly Area ... above and beyond what is prescribed for in regulations."
"For two months after that, there was nothing," Kirby says, but "then the helicopters returned."
So she contacted Fort Carson and Hefley's office.
This time, nothing changed, she says.
On three occasions in October, according to a log she keeps, she and her horses were rattled when military helicopters flew over or near her house. She captured some incidents on videotape.
Fort Carson takes the no-fly area seriously, says Lt. Gregory Dorman, a spokesman for the base. Pilots "are aware of restrictions," he says.
He adds that some aircraft might emanate from other military installations in the Colorado Springs area or even as far away as the Colorado National Guard's High Altitude Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, near Vail.
"We're not the only people with helicopters in the world," Dorman says.
Yet efforts to link such installations to Kirby's allegations were unsuccessful.
Peterson Air Force Base spokesman Jeff Bohn did not have enough information to rule out whether the Colorado Springs air base could be linked to the problem. However the air base is an improbable source of the helicopters, he says.
"There are relatively few helicopters in Air Force inventory, at least this side of the Mississippi," says Bohn.
Huge C-130 Hercules transport planes out of Peterson sometimes fly over Kirby's land. But Kirby knows what those look like, and says the planes don't buzz her property.
The aviation training site in Gypsum is not conducting maneuvers near Kirby's ranch, says Lt. Darin Overstreet, a Colorado National Guard spokesman.
"We don't have any aircraft flying out of that area," he says, adding that the site's Chinooks are all deployed elsewhere.
And Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs does not have any such flights, says Capt. Jean Duggan.
Kirby says she will continue to fight, and has written to Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., asking him to help.
"Why can't they leave me alone?" she says.
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