Hueys given ceremonial send-off at Eagle airport after Army decommissions aircraft
GYPSUM, Colorado – Retired Army Col. William “Robby” Robinson was always happy to see a Huey coming over the hill during the Vietnam War.
Robinson noted that Hueys, as the Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters are popularly known, brought food and ammunition to troops in the field. When a soldier was wounded, Hueys carried medivac crews.
“And even when the Hueys took you on assault missions, it was better than walking in,” Robinson said with a grin. “And flying in them, you got a nice breeze because the doors were always open. It was the only time in Vietnam when I was cool.”
The Huey is credited with launching the modern aerial cavalry, serving as an air-assault, training and evacuation vehicle. But the technology the Huey launched has now passed it by. On Tuesday morning, the Huey was given a ceremonial send-off when the Colorado Army National Guard marked the Army’s decommission decision. The Huey is being phased out in favor of the faster, more powerful UH-60 Black Hawk.
Only five Hueys remain in the Colorado Army National Guard fleet, but on Tuesday the aircraft earned a final salute during a ceremonial fly-by at the High Altitude Army Training Site at the Eagle County Regional Airport.
Tuesday marked a bittersweet moment for Col. Joel Best, former commander of the training site. While he was happy to participate in the ceremonial send-off, he noted it was difficult to say goodbye to the Huey.
“I’ve flown this aircraft now since 1983. It’s never let me down,” Best said.
Crews flew Hueys on numerous local search-and-rescue missions, including the famed A-10 Thunderbolt crash on Gold Dust mountain.
“The Huey always did what we needed and more,” Best said. “It’s smaller and a good mountain-flying helicopter.”
Best described the Huey as a very instinctual aircraft.
“It lets you know when you need to be paying attention,” he said.
Over the past 20 years, downvalley residents have become accustomed to the distinctive sound of the Huey helicopter blades as pilots traveled from around the world to train. As the commander of the training site, Best appreciated the Huey as an instructional vehicle.
“Its kind of like your student-driver car,” he said.
Crew member Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Harrison, of Grand Junction, is another Huey fan. He’s served in the National Guard for 24 years.
“This is my favorite aircraft. When you start on something, you get kind of attached to it. This is just a good, reliable aircraft,” he said.
But for many, the signature rotary sound that a Huey makes will be forever associated with Vietnam. Several veterans attended Monday’s ceremony to take a final spin in the aircraft they will never forget.
Robinson, who is now the director of veterans and military affairs for the state of Colorado, said he is marking the aircraft’s retirement with one of his own.
“I told them, ‘When the Hueys go, it’s time for me to go,'” Robinson said. “I’m retiring at the end of the month.”
As he prepared to step up to a Huey cockpit for the final time, Best noted that his son, Brandon, produced a special Iroquois stencil to decorate the nose of the final five helicopters. It was Best’s personal tribute to the aircraft.
Three of the final five Hueys in the Colorado fleet are headed to White Sands, N.M., while the other two will go to China Lake, Calif. The five helicopters made ceremonial passes over both Eagle and Gypsum Tuesday before circling around some of the surrounding mountain terrain. Best and the other pilots noted they will savor their final Huey journey.
“When we leave here, the Hueys will be a kind of extinct species,” Best said.
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