By Sgt. 1st Class Steven Petibone
New York National Guard
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (6/22/09) - The “Huey” era ended in New York on April 27, as the last four UH-1’s operated by the New York Army National Guard left Army Aviation Support Facility 2 here for the last time.
The UH-1s, the iconic aircraft of the Vietnam War—and ever present in war movies of the era-- had served in the 249th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) since the unit converted from an Attack Helicopter Battalion in 2002. The New York Army National Guard first began operating UH-1s in the early 1970s.
Clearly, the UH-1 has carried the load for the U.S. Army and New York Army National Guard being a reliable work horse training aviators and crew chiefs, responding to emergencies throughout the state, and safely moving Soldiers into and out of combat.
The UH-1 was introduced into the Army inventory in 1959 and about 16,000 were produced before the assembly line shut down in 1976.
On April 27, eight Huey qualified pilots, including Chief Warrant Officer Frank Rotella, a Vietnam War veteran, “turned the blades” on one of the four ‘Huey’s for the last time from the Rochester flight facility and flew them off to be rebuilt in Temple, Texas.
“We selected pilots to make the last flight of New York’s UH-1’s based on who still was current from the 249th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) and those pilots still in our formation who flew them in combat,” said Col. Michael Bobeck, the state aviation officer.
The 249th was reorganized and renamed at Rochester in 2002 when the 142nd Aviation Battalion stopped operating Cobra Attack helicopters. Less than a year after being reorganized to the 249th, which also has elements in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, was soon put to work. The unit was federally mobilized in November 2003, to active duty to back-fill for the air ambulance company at Fort Benning, Ga. while active duty counter-part units and their aviation assets were deployed to Iraq.
The 249th and their ‘Huey’s were vigilant for 18 months covering Forts Benning, Bragg, Campbell, Knox, Stewart, and the Ranger Training Camps at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and Dahlonega, Ga.; one aviation unit doing the work of three.
For their support the 249th received the Meritorious Unit Citation.
“We had one mission where we were transporting a pregnant woman, who delivered in flight,” said Maj. Michael Charnley, the 249th commander.
The ‘Huey’s “work horse” reputation would once more be called into service in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The 249th deployed to Gulfport, Miss. to provide humanitarian assistance. Most missions consisted of flying medical teams to remote areas to check on sick or elderly residents and to deliver supplies for infants to local distribution centers.
The following year, the 249th responded to flooding disasters that hit the southern tier of New York. In one instance, the unit had to use the Huey’s hoist to lift stranded civilians from a flooded house in the Binghamton, N.Y., area.
It almost appeared that the ‘Huey’ was resurrecting another “life” for itself, because last year, the 249th was activated to assist with Hurricane Gustav. The unit deployed to Louisiana to assist in any potential recovery efforts. The aircraft and crew flew directly to Baton Rouge, La., but were released the day after because the damage was not as severe as Katrina but it was a good test to validate the 249th’s response.
The Huey aircraft was modified into the medical evacuation configuration in the 1980s. It is equipped with six standard litters for the wounded and can accommodate medical equipment and one medical attendant as well.
The Huey got its name almost instantly. When Army aviation units first received them they were designated as the HU-1 which stood for Helicopter Utility-1. Aviators quickly dubbed it the “Huey” and when the Army’s designation system changed it to UH-1 the nickname remained. The close-out date for all Army-owned UH-1 aircraft is set for September 2009.
Since the ‘Huey’ has endured as a dependable aircraft for the Army for so long, it is almost branded in the minds of the American Soldier. Uncannily and perhaps unintentionally, it has connected Soldiers from two eras: Vietnam and Iraq.
There are some in the Huey community who say that when the last UH-60 Blackhawk is flown to the bone yard, a UH-1 ‘Huey’ will be there to bring the crew back home.