Restored 'Huey' takes Vietnam vets, others back

Huey 823 — a fully-restored UH-1H helicopter that spent two years shuttling troops and supplies during the Vietnam War — took to the skies again on Saturday at Gilbert Field in West Manchester Township.

The Liberty War Bird Association, a nonprofit volunteer group of veterans based out of the Dutch Country Helicopters hangar at Lancaster Airport, acquired it from California in April 2015.

It's one of only about six restored Hueys in the U.S.— and the only one in central Pennsylvania, according to the association's members. 

"You hear that sound?" said Kevin Schnetzka, LWBA maintenance director, of the distinctive "whop whop" of the blades. "That's the sound of freedom."

About 20-30 people gathered at the field on Saturday, Aug. 10, to take a ride.

Bob Glatfelter, vice president of the local Chapter 1032 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who worked repairing F4s and F105s in Okinawa during the war, never flew in one.

"It's iconic of the Vietnam War," he said. Up in the air, he smiled big as it took a big dip to the side.

Janeen Peters (right) sits with daughter Ashley, 10 (middle right) as they take flight in a fully-restored Vietnam War-era Huey helicopter on Saturday, Aug. 10 at Gilbert Field, in West Manchester Township.

A pilot, co-pilot, crew chief and 10 passengers at a time rode for about 8-10 minutes — with veterans given first preference for a seat.

Chuck Bechtel served in the First Cavalry Division and was an infantry officer in Vietnam.

Now a flight instructor and member of LWBA, he said the group flies the restored Huey almost every weekend to different veterans' events and organizations.

The helicopter is now fully restored to its appearance when it supported the 170th Assault Helicopter Company — painted in olive drab and dark gray, with its original logo, depicting a woman in a red and blue bikini and a dragon.

More:Vietnam War-era helicopter heading back to the skies

Alan Peters, who brought his wife, Janeen, and two children — Jacob, 12, and Ashley, 10 — from Wisconsin while they were vacationing in Hershey, said he used to ride on a Huey in the U.S. Air Force about 25 years ago. 

"I said, 'we really need to go on this,'" he said, adding that he appreciates the history and the opportunity for his family to experience it.

Ken Bechtel, an Army veteran who served in Germany from 1971 to 1973, came with his wife, Marie, and adult son Brad. He said the two-rotor blade provides a different kind of ride — "a good different ride," he said.

The Huey helicopters were considered lifelines for soldiers in the Vietnam War. They delivered reinforcements, ammunition and water to the battlefield and transported the wounded to nearby field hospitals or aid stations.

As a result, the death rate from wounds fell to the lowest level of any previous war, a news release states.

It changed the way soldiers did battle, Chuck Bechtel said, because it could move much faster than tanks and could fly over water, rice paddies and mountains at 100 knots — about 115 miles per hour.

Reliving the experience can be cathartic for the Vietnam War veterans, he said, since they never received thanks when they returned.

"There were demonstrators waiting to greet them," he said.

Pilot Pete Bohn — a Vietnam War veteran — has 26 medals and served in the First Cavalry Division from 1969 to 1970 as a cobra gunship pilot.

"I smile all the time," he said. "Everyone today — everyone that got off that helicopter, they were all smiling, too, especially the veterans."