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Aviation group honors flight heritage

By Michael Davis

Forty-one years ago, Bob Schrader was an assistant crew chief, flying a twin-engine Army Caribou into Saigon on the Fourth of July.

This week, he's flying that same plane to an air show in Port St. Lucie, Fla., with the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation, based in Hampton.

Pointing out a series of metal patches in the plane's surface, he's happy not to be taking enemy fire when he lands these days.

"It kind of brings back memories," Schrader said as he and other members of the foundation serviced its propeller engines on the taxiway at Clayton County's Tara Field.

The foundation, begun in 1997, is headquartered at the Hampton airfield and visits shows around the country with the Sky Soldiers Demonstration Team, re-enacting scenes that would have been typical during the Vietnam War with aircraft built and operated during that era.

The oil spots under the wings of the Caribou, Schrader said, were normal for a plane of its age: a 1962 model.

Last year, Schrader said, he and the Caribou had the privilege of hosting the Army's 82nd Airborne division.

"That was the first time in 40 years I'd had the privilege of working with the 82nd," he said.

Skip Lam, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and one of the foundation's founders, flew to Florida Thursday in one of the foundation's Cobra attack helicopters as part of a three-helicopter contingent due to tape an episode of the History Channel's "Tactical to Practical" television series.

Seven more fully-restored Army aircraft from the foundation are due to help them pull off the air show this weekend.

"It's a bunch of us guys that work hard to keep these things together," Lam said.

The foundation owns 23 fully restored and working aircraft: both airplanes and helicopters.

Lam said some of the planes are from the World War II era but most were used during the Vietnam War.

The foundation provides, with a federal sanction, rides to the general public so that they can see "aircraft (that) are combat veterans being flown by veterans who flew them in combat," Lam said.

The foundation's membership has grown from a handful in the beginning to almost 1,000 worldwide with three more chapters across the U.S.

President and founding member Mike Brady said his mission was to help connect the military with the general public through aviation and "show a living history, as it was."

When the air show begins, it "truly looks like ?Apocalypse Now'," Brady said, referring to Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam-era war film.