(Published on The Stream, July 2, 2016. Republished with permission)
It is like the memory of a smell from your mother’s kitchen. The scent takes you back years before. Suddenly, the file cabinet of memories is opened and the chop-chop sound of that bird returns you to a time long lost. (Preston Ingalls, Vietnam combat vet, on Quora)
“What do Vietnam Veterans think of when they hear the distinctive sound of a Huey helicopter?” The question was answered by the veteran above. More formally known as a Bell UH-1 Iroquois, the Huey flew in Vietnam and remained in active Army service until 2005. It was eventually phased out by the UH-60 Black Hawk.
Still after 46 years “like the memory of my mother’s wonderful apple pie cooking, the sound of a helicopter flashes me back every time” said Ingalls. For Ingalls and other Vietnam veterans, the sound of the Huey is like the sound of home, a welcoming sound. But what if Mr. Ingalls and hundreds of other Vietnam veterans had the opportunity to not just hear a Huey, but to take one last ride? That is the goal of the Liberty War Bird Association, a Pennsylvania-based non-profit devoted to acquiring and restoring UH-1 helicopters, building a flying museum to honor all those that served and sacrificed in Vietnam.
Last month I saw the first UH-1 acquired by Liberty War Bird. Huey 823 flew in Vietnam 1968-70 with C Company of the 101st Aviation Helicopter Battalion and then with the 170th Assault Helicopter Company. It was the star attraction at Army Heritage Days in Carlisle, PA.
My old high school classmate David Jones spends almost every weekend working on the Huey in the hangar of Dutch Country Helicopters aviation school at Lancaster Airport. Jones, an Army veteran who started as a UH-1H crew chief and ended his active service as a Maintenance NCO for a fleet of UH-60A Black Hawks, is the Director of Quality Control at Liberty War Bird. A great deal of restoration work has already been done on the Huey since the group acquired it from a civilian owner in early 2015, but there is still much to be done before it can fly again.
Thankfully, Huey 823 was in good shape. Most parts only need to be brought up to standard and re-certified. The main rotor blades were completely missing, but the group found a compatible set for $40,000. They have set up aGo Fund Me page for the blades as well as a general Donation Page for other expenses. For instance, the Huey’s engine was intact, but still needed to be shipped out for upgrading. It will take about $475,000 to finish paying for Huey 823 and complete the restorations on the war bird.
The nose of Huey 823 has also been restored to its former glory. It is bedecked with a fire-breathing dragon and the words “The Flying Dragons,” accompanied by a curvaceous bikini-clad blonde inspired by the 170th A.H.C.’s call sign, “The Bikinis.” In country, pilot Russ Mowry painted this nose art on the helicopters. And it was Mowry who offered to replicate his Vietnam War design on Huey 823.
The sooner the helicopter is in the air, the more veterans will still be able to ride. Liberty War Bird Association Vice President and Navy veteran Michael Caimi says that the Huey is “a magnet for Vietnam veterans” and Jim Haga, Vietnam veteran pilot and Association President revealed, “Every vet that we talk to would like one last ride in a Huey, and we are here to do that for them.”
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