U.S. Air Force Airmen paint a Bell UH-1C Iroquois helicopter as part of a restoration project taking place at the Jacksonville Recycling Center in Jacksonville on Oct. 9. Airmen from the 913th Maintenance Squadron helped restore the Vietnam era chopper for the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, which was returned to its display on Nov. 4.
Vietnam-era helicopter gets new lease on life
Story and photo by Master Sgt. Jeff Walston
913th Airlift Group
913th Airlift Group
After more than a year of hard work, military and community members gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony which unveiled a newly restored static helicopter affectionately known as a “Huey.”
On Nov. 9, 2015, a cold and cloudy Saturday morning, members of the 913th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 913th Airlift Group, took part in the dedication ceremony at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History, signaling the end of their restoration efforts.
Years of presiding in front of the museum had taken a toll on the Bell UH-1 Iroquois. The iconic Vietnam-era helicopter was in desperate need of repair when a decision was made to restore the aircraft’s original paint scheme.
From the beginning, there were a number of challenges that could have doomed the project had it not been for the dedication of many different individuals and groups.
“Estimates were high for the restoration of the Huey, which were actually based on prior expenditures for the museum’s F-105D Thunderchief,” said DannaKay Duggar, museum director. “They ranged from $30,000 -50,000, which included labor, materials and equipment rentals to do the work while it was still on the pedestal at the museum.”
Last spring’s “A Night at the Victory Canteen,” a World War II themed fundraiser held by the museum helped raise needed funds to pay for the project. The show included a dinner, a live and silent auction, and donations.
But … it didn’t generate enough money.
Money was one problem and labor was another.
By a stroke of luck, Duggar met U.S. Air Force Col. Edsel Frye Jr., then-913th commander at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas.
“During our conversation, he told me that, ‘If you ever need help with any (museum) projects let me know. We are all about community engagement,’ Duggar said, who then made a call to Frye for help with the project, “Operation Restore Angel.”
Airmen from the 913th Maintenance Squadron stepped up to assist. The initial plan was to complete the restoration work while the Huey was still on the pedestal, as it was done with the F105, but cost became a major factor.
“There were many cost and safety factors of doing the work while it was still on the pedestal,” said Chief Master Sgt. Ralph E. Babcock II 913th MXS superintendent. “It was more effective to take it down.”
Once down, the restoration team needed a suitable place to work on the helicopter.
“One of the biggest obstacles was finding a place out of the weather, for little or no cost to the museum, that could accommodate the Huey for the length of time it would take to complete the restoration work,” said Senior Master Sgt. Harry Watson 913th MXS aircraft electrician supervisor.
That place ended up being the Jacksonville City Recycling Center, not far from the museum, and in little more than two months of actual hands-on work from civilians and military went into restoring the Huey at the recycling center.
“It’s taken us a while to get here, but it’s been good for the organization to do work of this magnitude,” Watson said. “It’s been such a positive experience working and interacting with the community, who is always so very supportive of us.”
Those attending the dedication ceremony expressed their appreciation for all the energy, planning and hours of work that went into the restoration.
One of those was Sam Grimes, a crew chief on the Huey for a nine-month period from April 1967 through January 1968, during the Vietnam War. Grimes travelled from Snowflake, Arizona, with his wife of 35 years, Trudy, to be part of the dedication ceremony.
“She looks beautiful. It looks better than what I had,” Grimes said. “The best part, it’s not on a scrap pile where so many end up.”