Mention the Vietnam War to someone in the United States and for many the image that comes to mind is the Bell UH-1 Iroquois. There is perhaps no greater connection in the collective American conscious between a war and a piece of equipment. The UH-1 is most commonly called the Huey in reference to its original designation, the HU-1.The museum’s Huey sits in Hangar One, which is undergoing some very interesting changes. The work we have been doing in the hangar has given me the opportunity to spend some time around our Huey over the past few days. The Huey is an amazing helicopter with a military service life that began with the Army in the 1960s and continues on today with the Marine Corps and in limited numbers with the Air Force. I find it almost impossible to walk by it without feeling a sense of pride and nostalgia.
The work being done in Hangar One will change the focus of the building towards Southeast Asia and the Vietnam War. As part of this process many aircraft are being moved around, new dioramas are taking shape and the general ambience of the building is changing. Our restoration crew has been hard at work with both the aircraft and building preparations. The guys in that department do an incredible behind the scenes job and are an integral part of the Museum of Aviation team. Without them exhibits like the one being built around our UH-1 would not be possible.
The UH-1 on display in Hangar One is a P model. It served with several units in both the United States and Southeast Asia in utility and special operations roles. One of the most unusual things about this airframe is that the first curator of the museum flew it in the Vietnam War. Lt Col (Ret.) Darwin Edwards flew the museum’s UH-1P on combat missions while it was assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron. Edwards passed in 2004 while still curator at the museum, but his legacy lives on through the UH-1P that he was instrumental in bringing to the museum.
There was a Huey at a recent air show I attended, offering rides to anyone willing to part with a few ten-dollar bills and sign a waiver. It was a great experience to be able to see the Huey in low flight over green trees, with its trademark rotor thump. The scene brought to mind grainy footage of the Vietnam War and was further intensified when a B-52 did a few fly-bys. It was a humbling experience to be able to watch those two old warbirds in the air at the same time, made even more so by the thought of how different my experience with them in that moment was from many veterans experiences with them. With that in mind, next time you see a veteran make sure to shake their hand and give them a quick thank you. Until next time, keep your eyes on the skies!