Visitors had the opportunity to fly on a piece of history last week in Orange Beach. The Friends of Army Aviation (FOAA) were in town with their Vietnam era UH-1H Huey helicopter, a piece of Army aviation history.
Retired Army Lt. Col. John “Doc” Holladay, president of the Friends of Army Aviation explained that the Huey was the taxicab of the Vietnam War.
“Anywhere you wanted to go in Vietnam you went by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft. It was a proven concept,” Holladay said.
Throughout the Vietnam War, the Huey became the soldiers’ lifeline - shuttling them to the battlefield, bringing them food and bullets and taking the wounded and dead out.
Now, the UH-H1 has a new role as an educator and a healer.
“We take care of our veterans, and that aircraft is a healer. It provides closure to Vietnam veterans and their families. It is also an educational platform for young kids to get on and fly and maybe be motivated and want to be a pilot. We may have future Army aviators running around here we don’t know about,” Holladay said.
The Friends of Army Aviation purchased three aircraft from the State Department in March 2016 for $100 apiece. Each was nothing but a hull with an engine and transmission. It took the organization 14 months, 29 days and 45 minutes and $140,000 to complete the first Huey. It has been in service since July 2017 and a second is due to come out of the hangar this month.
The FOAA goes to veteran reunions and air shows throughout the south. Orange Beach is one of the only stops they make that is not tied to a larger event. Holladay said the FOAA recently attended the 33rd Veterans Reunion in Melbourne, Florida and flew 830 people in two and a half days. The majority of those were veterans. When they visit Orange Beach most are the American public with a few veterans like Orange Beach resident Joe Collins.
“The ride brought back old memories. I have a lot of hours in the Huey from back in my younger days. They did a great flight, a little tamer than we used to fly with them,” said Collins who served as a crew chief and then a platoon sergeant during Vietnam.
The Friends of Army Aviation plans to return to Orange Beach later this summer, but the date has not yet been set. The ride is one that will not be forgotten. The chance to fly over Orange Beach with the doors open as the helicopter banks and dives is a thrill.
“The important thing for people to realize is the maneuverability of the aircraft. If you think it is a ride you are going to get at Gulf Shores where you are flying in a little R-22, it is not like that. The only time you see that aircraft straight and level is when it is hovering. The rest of the time it is turning and banking and moving up and down. It’s a ride of a lifetime,” Holladay said.
For more information about the Friends of Army Aviation or upcoming events, visit www.friendsofarmyaviation.org.