With a Caribou, Mohawk, Bird Dog, Hueys, and Cobras, Army aviators are teaching the loudest history lesson you ever heard.
- By Shelby G. Spires
- Air & Space magazine, November 2003
(Page 3 of 6)
The Huey’s inventors at Bell Helicopter were the first to see that a dedicated attack helicopter was the answer to the problem. To save development time, Bell engineers used the engine, transmission, rotors, and some avionics of the UH-1C but reconfigured the airframe, squeezing the 100-inch-wide chassis of a Huey into a 38-inch-wide attack helicopter by transforming the cockpit seating from side-by-side to tandem, with the gunner in front. What would become the AH-1G HueyCobra went from drawing board to flying prototype in less than a year.
Brady smiles at the mention of the Cobra and acknowledges that the two flown by the foundation are the stars of the show. “Mostly, it’s what people come to see, but I like to think they get exposed to a larger part of Army aviation through our shows,” he says. “[The Cobra] certainly has a great profile,” Brady continues. You look at it and know there’s danger in the sky. Something’s going to happen.”
“It’s the sports car of helicopters,” says Ron Osborne. “The Huey was your dad’s Ford wagon and the Cobra was like a souped-up drag racer. There’s no question that I would fly the Cobra all day long if I could.”
Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Peyton DeHart, a Cobra pilot, flies the foundation’s TAH-1P at five or six airshows a year. He’d heard from friends that there was an organization maintaining and flying Hueys and Cobras at airshows, and at first he was skeptical. “I know what it takes to keep a Cobra running, and I’d heard that the organization was going to fly a couple of them and some Hueys on volunteer maintenance and donated parts. I didn’t think that could be true,” he says. “So I came out here”—to the foundation’s three hangars at Tara Field, 15 miles south of Atlanta—“and found out for myself.” DeHart says when he saw that licensed airframe-and-powerplant mechanics were doing the work, he decided to join.
A Cobra veteran of Desert Storm, DeHart learned first-hand that the helicopter’s slim profile gave it an advantage: It’s hard to see and hard to hit. “You can run an attack profile and come almost straight down on top of an enemy’s head,” he says. “They never have time to know what’s hit them.
“Clearly you can’t stay over the target forever, but the speed, the slim profile, and the Cobra’s ability to carry such a mix of weapons are its strengths. That’s why the Marine Corps still flies them today.”
Today Marine Cobras carry either Hellfire or TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) missiles, but the foundation’s AH-1G is configured as it would have been in Vietnam, except that its weapons are demilitarized—modified to make them unfireable. Two rocket pods for firing 2.75-mm folding-fin aerial rockets are mounted under each stubby wing, and in the turret beneath its nose are a 40-mm grenade launcher and 7.62-mm machine gun. The TAH-1P, a 1977 cold war model, carries the same rocket pods and an M197 20-mm cannon in its nose. The Cobras may be the showboats of the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation, but the Huey is the workhorse, just as it was in Vietnam. The group’s three flying models not only perform and give rides but also ferry members between airshows and the foundation headquarters in Georgia.
“For every hour of flight, the Hueys require four hours of maintenance,” says John Woodward, the foundation’s executive director, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Cobra pilot who also directs the foundation’s maintenance program—“the glue that holds it all together,” according to Mike Brady. The Cobras, he says, require a ratio of about six to one, and those five helicopters account for only half of the foundation’s maintenance and inspection responsibilities. At any one time, Woodward and his band of volunteers keep a dozen aircraft flying. Besides the Hueys, the Cobras, and the Loach, the fleet includes a Piper L-4 Grasshopper, which was delivered to the Army as a liaison aircraft in February 1943; a Korean War-era OH-23D medevac helicopter, made more famous by the type’s appearance on the television series “M*A*S*H” than by its war service; a Cessna L-19 Bird Dog, used for forward air control; two Beech twin-engine military trainers; the Mohawk OV-1B; and Bob Schrader’s Caribou.