Air(show) Assault

With a Caribou, Mohawk, Bird Dog, Hueys, and Cobras, Army aviators are teaching the loudest history lesson you ever heard.

Air & Space Magazine

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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.

“So far in the three years we’ve been going to airshows, we have always been able to get all the aircraft there and put on a show with all the aircraft,” says Woodward. “And that has a lot to do with the level of experience of the people here.”

The hangars at Tara Field start filling up with volunteers around 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, at the end of the real-job day, and on Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. Woodward says there are 30 to 45 volunteers living in the area who show up for work regularly. The privilege of attending an airshow—of flying an aircraft there or staffing the static displays to talk to the many visitors—is earned by spending hours at the hangars, working on aircraft, canvassing suppliers for needed parts, sweeping the floor, or answering the phone. A typical airshow performance lasts about 40 minutes and requires days of preparation: Volunteers ready the pyrotechnics, test navigation systems, and conduct dress rehearsals at Tara Field.

“Like any human resource operation, it’s a matter of matching skills with desires,” says Woodward. He laughs. “We have some people that I push away from aircraft maintenance.”

Woodward keeps a roster, and any volunteer who builds up 100 hours—“sweat equity,” Mike Brady calls it—earns a ticket to an airshow. Jeff Clark, who as a member of the Georgia Army National Guard had worked on UH-1 Huey helicopters and as a crewman on OV-1 Mohawks, earned the coveted position of door gunner—the view is great—on the Hueys during the Vietnam assault portion of the show. “I was in the Army, and I left for my own reasons, but this is as close to having that brotherly camaraderie as you’ll ever find anywhere,” says Clark. “You don’t have all the politics and the personalities with this group.”

Dick Teipel says, “It’s just like being in a military unit. The leadership structure is there, and everybody has a job.”

Last year, three volunteers each accumulated more than 700 hours: Ron Disney, a recently retired Federal Aviation Administration controller who flew CH-47 Chinooks in Vietnam; Ron Warner, another former CH-47 Chinook pilot and licensed A&P mechanic, who trains 727 pilots for Delta Air Lines; and Glenn Carr, a retired lieutenant colonel and Army pilot who flew CV-2 Caribous and, he says, just about everything else the Army had to lift men and material off the ground in the 1960s. Carr is known by the guys at Tara Field as “Grumpy” on some days and on others as “Papa ’Bou.”

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