Helicopters Make Their Mark at AirVenture

By Scott Spangler on July 27th, 2011

Performing missions no other aircraft can accomplish, helicopters are a vital part of the aviation industry. But they are a minority among flying machines, so their presence is often overshadowed by their fixed-wing peers, especially when they gather in numbers, as they do every year at EAA AirVenture.

But the rotorheads made their presence known this year with the debut of the Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Center.

AV3-2On the main drag that parallels the flight line, HAI’s unique 60-by-80-foot chalet has a covered balcony that offers an unparalleled view of the flight line and air show.

At a media reception dedicating the Heli-Center, HAI President Matthew Zuccaro addressed questions of why with why not? Plying the same airspace, helicopters are a contributing member of general and commercial aviation subject to the same regulations that affect all flying machines from ultralights to the latest transport category jetliners.

Achieving its goal of attracting public and pilot interest in rotary-wing flight, the chalet offers information for all levels of interest. The Kids Copter Corner was next to a desk where a flight instructor explained what it took to become a helo pilot or to add the rating to an existing certificate. In an alcove next to meeting rooms a big screen displayed a series of videos of civilian and military helicopters performing myriad missions. At in information kiosk in the center of the floor, people answered any and all questions relative to HAI and vertical flight.

AV3-1A less visible, largely unknown but no less significant aspect of helicopter history was parked in a corner of the Warbirds area. From a distance the silhouette of the UH-1B Huey was unmistakable. Close inspection revealed a shade of military green darker than Army issue, which made its military branch stand in stark contrast: NAVY. The colorful crest of Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron Three explained it. Known as the Seawolves, from 1966 to 1972 HA(L)-3 supported the brown water Navy’s river boat flotillas and SEAL mission in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

Remarkably, this Huey is a true Seawolves vet, complete with patched battle damage on its nose. Overseas Aircraft Support of Arizona acquired the bird in a lot of 13 surplus Hueys and restored it to its former glory, complete with rockets, twin M-60s, a .50 cal Ma-Deuce, mini-guns, ammo supply chutes, and targeting systems. Its pilot, Larry Clark, who made the cross-country from Arizona to Oshkosh at 90 knots, said a Seawolf vet painted the squadron’s emblem on the nose, just as he did 40 years ago. As he regaled the crowd with stories of this unsung unit’s mission and accomplishments, I was filled with a measure of silent pride. As a new aerial photographer at NAS Alameda in 1972, the aviator I most often flew with was a Seawolf. –Scott Spangler

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