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Foundation maintains Army helicopter history

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

In a hangar at Tara Field, four stages in the evolution of Army helicopters are on display. They were parked there, rotors still in the calm, Friday morning chill: the Loach, the early Huey, the later Huey, and the Cobra.

John P. Woodward, executive director of the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation, in Hampton, explained the development of the helicopters from the end of the Korean War, through the Vietnam War, and to the Cold War, when Woodward flew a helicopter.

"We talk about the Army and service and patriotism," Woodward said of the foundation and its flying museum. The foundation preserves, maintains and fixes up "legacy" helicopters, putting on Army flight demonstrations, Vietnam War re-enactments and giving rides in Huey helicopters, the kind seen so ubiquitously in Vietnam.

"For the first time, many of the families have said they were able to talk about and understand the veterans service. You know most of your memories are connected with visual objects, so when a Vietnam veteran sees the Huey, it all comes back. The good times, the bad times, the friends and the experience is really overpowering for many people," Woodward said.

To date, Woodward said the foundation has given more than 70,000 rides in Hueys, most to veterans and their families. Local residents will get a chance to ride the Hueys on March 6, 7 and 8, for a $50 donation. The foundation, the only organization in the United States licensed to give rides in the old Army aircraft, has planned the event to coincide with races at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

With more than 50 helicopters in various stages of disrepair and nine Hueys and Cobras ready for flight, parts of the Tara Field hanger look like some sort of helicopter chop shop. The flight-worthy helicopters, however, being constantly maintained, capture a significant slice of the development of military helicopter technology.

The Loach -- officially named the Hughes OH-6 -- sits on an extra large pallet beneath an oversized American flag. The helicopter was built in 1963, a decade after the Korean War ended in a stale mate at the 38th parallel, as the United States was slowly entering the war in Vietnam. With a bubble-shaped body, the Loach was a light observation helicopter designed to carry a pilot, an observer and four passengers.

The earlier models of the Huey, the UH-1 Iroquois, began arriving in Vietnam in 1962, used to move infantry in and out of the jungle.

"If you think about the infrastructure of the jungle," Woodward said, "There's no good way to get anywhere."

The original Hueys were redeveloped, with later models. They were built wider, longer, and with heavier weapons.

But even the iconic helicopters left a need unfilled, during the ongoing jungle war, and in 1967 the Army adopted the Cobra. The AH-1 was a heavily armed helicopter designed to provide air cover for the soldiers, Woodward said.

"They're pretty effective," he said. "I flew one for 21 years, patrolling the east/west divide in Germany during the Cold War."

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On the web:

www.armyav.org