By Air Force Staff Sgt. Nicole Manzanares
Colorado National Guard
EAGLE, Colo., (9/14/09) - It’s like a scene out of an old war movie.
Five UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopters fly low to the ground overhead in formation as dust swirls up and the chop of the blades resonates throughout the land. Observers shield their eyes from the whirlwind of dirt as the 40-year-old historical choppers fly above Sept. 8.
At the end of the month, the last five Hueys located here at the High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site will officially retire. Two will be sent to China Lake Naval Facility in Nevada and the other three will be sent to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Hueys have been around for more than 40 years. They were the warhorse of the Vietnam era and have proven themselves to be one of the most versatile aircraft ever. What the Jeep was to American Soldiers in World War II, the Huey was to those who fought in Vietnam.
The choppers flew millions of flight hours in support of a wide variety of Army missions. They were extensively used in the war for command and control, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and transport. They were also modified for use as gunships.
Every helicopter in the Army inventory, with the exception of the AH-1 Cobra, is named after a Native American people, place or tribe. The UH-1 was named after the Iroquois Nation.
“The nose art on the front of the aircraft is the symbol of the Iroquois and the five tribes of the Iroquois nation," said Army Col. Joel Best, director of aviation and safety for the Colorado Army National Guard. "It is the oldest living democracy known to mankind, formed back in about 1,000 A.D., and the modern tribes as we know them today are comprised of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca nations.”
“The UH-1 Iroquois is a very special aircraft. It is the most recognized helicopter in the world. The aircraft itself has been responsible for the primary flight training for most American aviators,” said Best. “It was the principle work horse of Vietnam. I think a lot of people came to know the UH-1 and its capabilities. This aircraft was used to move troops in and out of battle and move them out of harm’s way. It earned such a reputation as a rugged and dependable aircraft, which is symbolic of the Native American people, so we honor it.”
A few Vietnam veterans came out to say goodbye to the old warbird. While some expressed deep sadness, others that knew it was the choppers’ time to go.
“We have a couple of Vietnam veterans that flew this aircraft in combat and a couple of veterans that got out of this aircraft on the battlefields in Vietnam that are riding along with us, so it’s going to be a pretty special day and we’re not going to be in a big hurry to turn them in,” said Best. “We are going to take our time and savor the last two days of flying these aircraft to their final destination.”
Robby Robinson, a Vietnam veteran who flew in Hueys during the war, went to HAATS to fly one last mission. Robinson will retire as the deputy director of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs in September.
“I’m a vintage guy on the way out,” said Robinson. “When I came in the Army it was all about Hueys. When I went to Vietnam both times it was all about the Hueys. Anything good that ever happened to you, happened because of a Huey.”
“Your food came in by Huey. When somebody was hurt, they got medevaced by Huey. When you’re going to the rear, you did that by Huey. If you were doing a combat assault, that was in a Huey. … When you get in these old Huey’s and get up in the air, the doors would always be open and there were no seats. You would just pile on the floor and get a few minutes of nice cool breeze and all the sweat would dry off,” said Robinson.
Robinson spent more than 600 hours in Hueys during his career. He said the Huey is a legacy of an aircraft and was the hero of Vietnam. When they go, he goes.