If you remember Vietnam, you remember the Bell UH-1.
- By John Sotham
- Air & Space magazine, May 2000
US Army photo. NASM 9A00345
(Page 7 of 7)
The remaining troops now eagerly waved their arms to attract Novosel’s Huey, including one soldier who ran toward the helicopter while holding his intestines against his body. Others were cut down by Viet Cong machine guns as they rose. Novosel’s Huey, riddled with holes, continued to fly. On his third trip, he got air cover from Air Force F-100s and Army AH-1 Cobras, and after rescuing nine more soldiers, Novosel prepared to depart until a 10th soldier rose from the grass, barely visible in the failing light. Novosel positioned his Huey so the most intense fire was coming from the rear and backed the helicopter toward the soldier while his crew lay on the deck. Horvath hauled the man aboard, and as Novosel prepared to gain forward speed and jerk the Huey into a climb, a Viet Cong soldier rose from the grass and emptied a clip from his AK-47 into the cockpit. The helicopter careened across the grass until copilot Tyrone Chamberlain could gain control and climb the helo into the sky. Incredibly, neither pilot was seriously injured, but shrapnel from the bullets tore into Novosel’s leg. After offloading the wounded, Novosel and his crew returned to their base. That day, they had spent 11 hours in the air.
In 1970, safely back in the United States and assigned as a pilot for the Army’s Golden Knights parachute demonstration team, Novosel answered a phone call from a Pentagon major who began the conversation by asking him to sit down. Novosel was to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on that terrible afternoon three years before. Novosel and his crew had saved 29 men from certain death—a mere fraction of the 5,589 wounded soldiers he had evacuated during two tours in Vietnam.
Today, nearly 30 years after the Huey’s introduction, crews still fly the venerable old choppers, but the airframes are tired and are being replaced by newer types like the UH-60 Blackhawk. While the Marines have plans to upgrade their comparatively small Huey fleet with a four-blade rotor system, new T700 engines, new avionics, and an auxiliary power unit, the UH-1 has almost disappeared from the active Army inventory, although it still flies in the reserve and national guard. “But us old Huey pilots have a saying,” says Jeff Stayton. “ ‘When the last Blackhawk goes to the boneyard, there’ll be a Huey crew there to pick them up.’ But don’t get me wrong. The Blackhawk is a superb helicopter. But there’s just a soft spot for the Huey. I mean, look at it—the UH-1 has been flying for 40 years. It’s the DC-3 of the helicopter world.”
The legacy is clear—no longer just a hauler of beans and bullets, helicopters have firmly taken their place on the battlefield, led by a simple and redoubtable standard bearer that could do it all.