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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed Restored Huey fought in 'Brown Water Navy'


STORY AND PHOTOS BY FREDERICK A. JOHNSEN
Huey
The crew of Navy 324 polished their combat-veteran Huey helicopter for show at AirVenture 2011. The nose art emblem was recreated by the same artist who painted it originally in Vietnam.
Huey
Ray Reinders manned a spray bottle atop the restored combat Navy Huey in the Warbirds area at AirVenture 2011. A dummy .50-caliber machine gun mounted on the right side of the helicopter replicates armaments carried by Navy Hueys in combat.

Lean in for a close look and you can see battle damage repairs on the nose of a UH-1B Huey helicopter parked on the grass in the Warbirds area. This is no ordinary Huey, if there is such a thing. This is a veteran of Navy combat in South Vietnam, and it has been lovingly restored by Overseas Aircraft Support in Arizona as a tribute to those who served in the Navy’s short-lived HA(L)-3 Seawolves unit from 1966-1972.

Pilot Larry Clark brought the veteran Huey to Oshkosh from Arizona at a leisurely 90 knots, “and we get about 1 mile to the gallon,” he adds. But it’s all worthwhile to show this piece of living history to the public. Even more so for the Navy Huey veterans who are expected to come to Oshkosh to reacquaint themselves with this reminder of their past.

This Huey fought for the Army and the Navy, coming back to life in several rebuilds following battle damage during the war in Southeast Asia. Huey 63-12923 finally joined hundreds of its fellows in surplus storage.

Clark’s employer, John Boucher, owns Overseas Aircraft Support, the company that bought three rare Navy Hueys in a batch of 13 UH-1s out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. This Huey priced out at $611.57, but then, its tail boom was missing. No matter, Clark says; tail booms were always considered expendable and interchangeable in the rugged world of the UH-1 in combat. Something else catches the eye on this Huey; it has perforated wind deflectors permanently mounted ahead of the side doors. This was a Navy modification, as unorthodox as anything the men of HA(L)-3 did in South Vietnam.

When the Army suggested close support of Navy SEALs and freshwater operations (the “brown water Navy”) would be better performed by Navy crews operating Navy helicopters, HA(L)-3 was formed around former Army UH-1s. Clark says the Seawolves “were a real rag-tag outfit.”

Photos of their Hueys in combat indicate the men often flew in T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops, with the cockpit doors taken off their hinges. But their vigorous prosecution of the river war gained these flying sailors respect, and cost the Seawolves 44 men. Five Navy Crosses, 31 Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, 219 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 156 Purple Hearts, 101 Bronze Stars, and many other honors were earned in the unit’s brief lifespan.

When Overseas Aircraft Support went about restoring Huey 63-12923 back to its days as Navy 324, the logical assumption was to paint the Huey in Army olive green, since it was an Army hand-me-down to the Navy. But soon, photos surfaced showing a darker shade. Seawolves veterans confirmed that they mixed olive green paint from the Army with black paint they obtained from Australians in country to create the almost-black, green-tinted hue carried by the Huey displayed at AirVenture. Overseas Aircraft bit the bullet and stripped Huey 324 back and repainted it in the correct mixed shade. The bright NAVY lettering on the tail boom is also nonstandard but accurate, Clark vouches, because a Navy commander told the Seawolves to paint it that way so the enemy would know they were dealing with the Navy.

The final touch is the elaborate Seawolves emblem on the nose of Huey 324, just the way it was back in the day. For the restoration, Seawolves veteran Dennis Russell of El Paso, Texas, re-created the same art he applied to these UH-1s in Vietnam four decades ago, in the same hand-painted style. The result has a gritty realism unattainable with a modern decal or stencil.

This Navy Huey came to AirVenture complete with dummy M60 machine guns and a mini-gun Gatling replica, a replica heavy-barrel M2 .50-caliber machine gun, plus boxes and belts of ammunition, flak jackets, gun sights, 2.75-inch folding fin rockets in launch tubes, and other G.I. trappings that evoke the life and times of combat helicopter operations. Larry Clark says he wants to fly the UH-1 during AirVenture so veterans can hear the hauntingly unmistakable slap-slap-slap rotor noise that defines the Huey and the Vietnam era to a generation of Americans.

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