U.S. Air Force veterans and Team Little Rock leaders commemorate the H-21B helicopter static display July 14, 2016, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The assault helicopter was originally delivered to the Air Force in 1955 and was known as a tactical airlift workhouse.
Story and photo by Senior Airman Harry Brexel
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A unique aircraft recently joined Little Rock Air Force Base’s fleet. However, it’s not a C-130J and it won’t be taking off any time soon.
The H-21B assault helicopter stands out among the other static displays at Heritage Park. The helicopter is painted bright silver metallic and has two tandem upward-angled rotors that give the fuselage a distinct shape.
The H-21B airframe was originally delivered to the Air Force in 1955 and was known as a tactical airlift workhorse, similar to the present day C-130. The Air Force had 163 H-21s in its fleet and could carry 20 fully-equipped infantrymen, or 12 stretchers, plus space for two medical attendants during medevac missions.
This H-21B was initially assigned to the 314th Troop Carrier Wing at Sewart Air Force Base, Tennessee. The aircraft provided assault and airlift capabilities, along with the wing’s C-119 aircraft, as simulated aggressor forces in Exercise Sagebrush in Louisiana.
Exercise Sagebrush involved 110,000 Army and 40,000 Air Force personnel in a simulated nuclear war. The training event resolved an ongoing Army-Air Force dispute over the role of helicopters on the battlefield.
As a result Exercise Sagebrush, the largest post-World War II training event, the Army proceeded with the development of assault helicopters, which had previously been strictly an Air Force troop carrier mission. Without an Army support mission, the 314th TCW’s H-21B helicopters were switched to Air Force support missions, such as resupplying radar sites, radiological testing, range support and rescue.
After several moves and a spending 15 years in the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center, also known as the “Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona., the H-21B finally made its way to The Home of Combat Airlift.
Volunteers from the 314th Maintenance Group refurbished, transported and installed the helicopter. Local community leaders and Team Little Rock members came together to commemorate the aircraft July 14, 2016.
U.S. Air Force Col. James Dryjanski, 314th Airlift Wing commander, and Mark Wilderman, 314th AW historian, led the dedication ceremony.
“History makes us smarter, but heritage makes us prouder,” Dryjanski said. “Airmen from the 314th maintained, supported and flew this aircraft. This is part of our heritage.”