I typically recall elderly WWII Veterans when I think of Veterans Day parades and ceremonies. Sadly, in 2022, those Greatest Generation veterans have passed away. This year my mind turns to Vietnam Vets, especially after a recent helicopter ride.
Army Aviation Heritage Foundation and Flying Museum
While in Hampton, Georgia, just outside Atlanta, I had the chance to ride in a UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter. The Huey was the chopper frequently used to bring and evacuate soldiers from hot spots in Vietnam.
Bruce Meyer, who served in the Army’s Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry, said,” I’ve had the opportunity to fly in a number of helicopters in the fifty-plus years since I served in Vietnam, all good flights but nothing like the experience of riding in a Huey with the doors off.
The Huey, along with an AH-1 Cobra, OH-6 Cayuse, OH-58 Kiowa, and the O-1/L-19 Cessna (Bird Dog), belong to the Georgia chapter of the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation and Flying Museum (AAHF). The purpose of the 25-year-old nonprofit organization is to “obtain, restore and maintain in flyable condition, examples of historic aircraft representing Army Aviation from Vietnam to present.” You’ll find other local chapters in Mesa, Arizona, and St. Louis, Missouri.
Local volunteers at each chapter, many of whom served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, are involved in the program. Some work on maintenance and others fly the aircraft. The appropriately military-dressed team offers educational programs, flyovers, and demonstrations, as well as free hangar tours.
My Flight in a Huey Helicopter
I met Fred Edwards and Ed Clark in the hangar at the Atlanta Speedway Airport. Edwards is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, and Clark, who served ten years in the Army after graduating from West Point, earned the rank of captain. They would pilot my ride in the open-door Huey helicopter.
Their pre-flight briefing was so passionate and convincing that I wasn’t hesitant to ride. I jumped onto the gunner’s bench for the best view (ahead and straight down) during the flight.
As the grass began to sway during lift-off, I tried to imagine flying over rice patties in ‘Nam. While I sat securely belted in, many vets would climb in and out of the Huey without doing so. Meyer, who served for 14 months in Vietnam said, “Riding in the Hueys was both thrilling and scary; with no doors, you were sitting on the floorboard with your legs dangling out of the chopper. You prayed that you didn’t slide out when the pilot took a steep curve.”
Knowing I was securely seat-belted in place, I found the ride exceptionally thrilling, with hair whipping around my face, noise pounding my ears, and adrenaline pumping through my veins. Clark banked us to the right and left and took some sudden dips – eliciting a few screams from the riders. Those dips let me see the ground directly below. Even though my seat shook from the reverberation of the rotors, I enjoyed an actual bird’s eye view of the surroundings. We were safely returned to the landing strip a bit too soon for my liking.
The dedicated volunteers in Georgia were preparing the craft to appear at an airshow in Tennessee. Many vets are among the crowds who watch skilled pilots perform aerial feats and fly vintage planes. Some go to the hangar to see the old Huey and take a ride. They often bring their families to show them “how it was.” Edwards said, “It can be emotional when all those memories start flooding back.”
Veteran Meyer added, “As an infantryman, your worst fear when riding in the Huey was being flown into a “hot” landing zone where the enemy was waiting to ambush you.”
Fortunately, those days are over for Vietnam Vets, but we need to remember these heros and their service, especially on Veterans Day.
Make a Visit to the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation and Flying Museum
If you’d like an up-close view of a military helicopter and other aircraft housed at AAHF, visit their website for further information: armyav.org.
Huey rides, accommodating 6-7 guests, last about 10 minutes and cost $100 pre-paid or $110 onsite. Prices may vary at airshows. For a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, sign-up for a ride in front of the pilot within the 2-person Cobra Attack aircraft. The cost is $625. However, visitors can climb into the Cobra cockpit for free.