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12th Aviation Battalion bids farewell to last Huey

By Jennifer Brennan

DAVISON ARMY AIRFIELD, Va. (Army News Service, Sept. 21, 2004) -- Aircraft mechanics, pilots and crew chiefs from Fort Belvoir's 12th Aviation Battalion said farewell Sept. 14 as the unit's last UH-1 Huey helicopter flew out of sight.

Fewer than 150 Hueys will be flying Armywide by the end of the month, including 60 that belong to the National Guard, according to the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. A spokesman there said another 270 are waiting for final disposition at an aviation maintenance facility in Temple, Texas.

This month is the end of an era and the beginning of another for retired Staff Sgt. John Davis, 58, and many others at Davison Army Airfield. As the 12th Avn. Bn. retires its last Huey, it becomes a full UH-60 Black Hawk battalion with an assigned technical rescue engineer company.

"This is a very historic day for the 12th Aviation," said Lt. Col. James Brandon, battalion commander, who addressed 12th Aviation Soldiers and guests gathered in a hangar at Davison Army Airfield.

The last Huey, No. 308, leaves behind a 30-year history at Davison Army Airfield, where it served since arriving from the manufacturer.

While Davis, now a civilian aircraft mechanic, is ready to spend more time repairing and maintaining Black Hawks, he said that he still will hold close memories of flying the Huey.

Davis wore a black T-shirt with "UH-1 Huey" written in yellow during the ceremony. His ball cap read: "9th Infantry Division Vietnam Veteran."

It's not unusual for a camera to hang from Davis's neck. He tried to keep one close by while serving four tours during the Vietnam War. Davis said he's sad to see the Huey go, after spending 40 years flying and repairing Hueys.

"It was gonna' happen, eventually," Davis said.

Davis flew in a Huey in Vietnam, and as part of a reconnaissance unit, rescued service members from danger on the ground.

"Sometimes they were chased," Davis said. "We had no gun cover or anything.

Those missions, I remember more than anything,"

History of Huey No. 308

When Donald Neeley came to Davison Army Airfield in 1969, 48 Hueys filled the hangars. At the time, Neeley was a part of the Executive Flight Detachment that operated from 1958 to 1965.

Huey No. 308 arrived at the airfield in 1974, fresh from the factory. It replaced an older model, said Neeley, who is now the Delta Company aircraft maintenance chief. No. 308 never flew in combat but was used during various missions, Neeley said. In 1985, the battalion received Black Hawks. A decade ago, the battalion started to bid farewell to Hueys.

Some Hueys were used during firefighters' training and others were turned over to foreign sales.

Things will be different around the hangar where the battalion once repaired and maintained its Hueys, Neeley said.

"The normal Huey is just worn out," Neeley said. "It's the end of an era, if you will."

Since No. 308's arrival, it tallied 4,857 hours of flight time, said Delta Co. commander Capt. Derek Barker, 31. Barker sees that the maintenance needs are met for the battalion's 18 Black Hawk's.

Cost wise, Barker said the company couldn't maintain two separate aircraft types. The Huey's replacement, a Black Hawk, arrived from Corpus Christi, Texas, in August and is currently in service, Barker said.

Although another aircraft came to take the Huey's place, Bennie Brooks, Delta Co. aircraft shop supervisor, is still sad to see it go. "The best aircraft the Army ever had," is how he described the Huey. "Been a workhorse, no doubt about it."

As he looked at the Huey undergoing maintenance two weeks ago, he noted that the UH-1 family of aircraft served as the Army's primary utility helicopter for decades.

Vietnam workhorse

"It did all the work in Vietnam," Brooks said.

The Huey first flew in 1956 and served in front-line service in the U.S. military and militaries around the world. The first Hueys operating in Vietnam were medevac versions, designated UH-1As, which arrived in Vietnam in April 1962, prior to the United States' official involvement in the conflict.

That October, the first armed Hueys flew in Vietnam. Hueys served in Grenada, Panama, Desert Shield, Desert Storm and on the front line of Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the battalion commander. "It's a great but sad day," Brandon said. "As the Army is transforming, this battalion is no different."

Pressing forward

"The UH-1 is a generation old. The Black Hawk is the current generation," Brandon said.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Thomas D. Lawson, 12th Avn. Bn, has served most of his flight career flying Hueys. "The Huey is just a machine that everybody is fond of," Lawson said.

The Huey and Black Hawk have their differences.

The Huey's rounded nose, twin-bladed rotor and loud sound distinguish it from the Black Hawk. The UH-1 cruises at 90 knots compared to the faster Black Hawk that cruises 120 to 150 knots, Brandon said.

The Black Hawk can also lift more than two tons, more payload than the Huey. A Black Hawk can hold 11 people in comparison to the Huey's seven, Brandon said. Although Black Hawks may be faster and carry more weight, Brandon holds on to memories of the Huey as the battalion embarks on a new era. "It's a good ol' friend," Brandon said.

(Editor's note: Jennifer Brennan writes for the Belvoir Eagle newspaper.)


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