OZARK – Dozens of area residents and military veterans showed up at Blackwell Field Airport on Saturday for the unique chance to fly in Vietnam-era U.S. Army helicopters.
The Friends of Army Aviation-Ozark partnered with the Hampton, Ga.-based Army Aviation Heritage Foundation to present an open house event of sorts, celebrating the permanent arrival of a UH-1H Huey N104HF and an AH-1F Cobra Attack Helicopter N766HF to Ozark.
At the day-long event, groups of 10 were taken on a flight in the Huey, while individuals were able to ride along in the Cobra.
The foundation helped Friends of Army Aviation obtain operational control over the helicopters, which will remain at the hangar and likely be used for future flights.
“For several years, we were without a flyable aircraft,” said FAA-O member Michael Medlen, a Vietnam veteran who devotes much of his time to helping the nonprofit organization.“We want to keep the American people in tune with the legacy of Army aviation. Vietnam was known as the helicopter war. More people, soldiers and supplies were moved throughout the battlefield through use of helicopters than any other battle past or present.”
Medlen said the Huey actually flew in Vietnam in the late 1960s, logging about 1,200 hours of combat time.
“This craft is very important to veterans,” he said. “A lot of soldiers were medevaced in a Huey, and we saved many lives in the process.”
Glenn Knight served as a crew chief in the Huey on Saturday, making sure the flight was safely enjoyed by the passengers.
The experience was somewhat reminiscent of his time in Vietnam, where he served as a door gunner and crew chief in a Huey.
“Our primary mission was a hunter killer team, which means we had a little bird that flew above the trees and drew fire, and he had a Cobra that followed him everywhere he went,” Knight said. “We were like a command and control above them, and if one of them got shot down, we would go in and bounce the crew out.”
Both Knight and Medlen referred to a metaphorical duffel bag that Vietnam veterans still carry to this day.
“Vietnam had a lot of soldiers come back with (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Medlen said. “We went over as 18- and 19-year-old kids and were exposed to things they never envisioned, and when we returned home we were not well received. This helicopter helps them set down that duffel bag of Vietnam that they’ve been carrying for 40 years to get some closure. If we can help one veteran, then it’s worth it.”
Retired Master Army Aviator Richard Teipel, who attended Saturday’s event, spent two tours of Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, and he said the experience was unlike anything else.
“It’s really hard to put into words,” he said. “Flying in a helicopter is totally different. You have a total feeling of freedom. There’s a real contrast between flying in a fixed-wing airplane and a rotary wing aircraft. Rotary wing is by far the most exciting. Being part of a combat unit in Vietnam, it was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Knight said the FAA-O helped him put down his duffel bag, and he hopes to give that same chance to others who flew in the war.
“It’s very rewarding,” he said. “We have vets that come in here still toting that duffel bag, as we call it. I’ve had guys come in here, and as soon as they hear the (sound of the helicopter), they have tears running down their face.”
Army Aviation Heritage Foundation President Ed Clark said the organization was the only in existence to have the Federal Aviation Administration exemptions necessary to take the public on flights in both a Huey and a Cobra.