Vietnam War re-enactment with UH-1H "Huey" Helicopter
http://www.mlive.com/news/muchronicle/index.ssf?/base/news-9/1153563370173960.xml&coll=8
2006-07-23

Chip Robinson was thrilled after his ride in a UH-1H "Huey" Helicopter. He rode one of the helicopters that will take part in the Vietnam War re-enactment called "Sky Soldiers." The Army Aviation Heritage Foundation's "Sky Soldiers" re-enactment uses seven Vietnam-era aircraft, pyrotechnics and combat veterans to portray a rocket attack, artillery barrage and an airborne infantry assault.

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Chip Robinson was thrilled Friday after his ride in a UH-1H "Huey" Helicopter.

Robinson rode one of the helicopters that will take part in the Vietnam War re-enactment today and Sunday, called "Sky Soldiers," at the Muskegon County Airport as part of the Muskegon Air Fair.

The Army Aviation Heritage Foundation's "Sky Soldiers" re-enactment uses seven Vietnam-era aircraft, pyrotechnics and combat veterans to portray a rocket attack, artillery barrage and an airborne infantry assault.

The Air Fair, which runs through Sunday, also will feature the Red Tail Foundation's Derric Lee in his Russian E-3 stunt plane and former U.S. Navy pilot David Burdine with his Cold War-era Russian MiG-17 fighter jet.

In the "Huey," like most of the dozen other contestants who won a flight in one of the Vietnam War workhorses, Robinson was wearing a big grin when he landed.

"Oh, it was beautiful. There's no describing it," said Robinson, 37, of Muskegon. "It's beyond words. The clapping of the rotors. It's amazing."

Robinson also brought something else back to the ground with him -- a sharp appreciation for the infantrymen who rode the Huey into combat in Southeast Asia.

"It would be truly terrifying," Robinson said. "Truly terrifying."

Winners of a Muskegon Chronicle contest, which generated 14,755 entries, went on a 10-minute hop over Muskegon Heights, Muskegon Lake, Lake Michigan and back to show center.

Even without ground fire from a tenacious enemy, a ride in a Huey is noisy, chilly and dizzying.

Seated in the gunner's seat, Robinson's toes were inches from a 1,000-foot drop into Lake Michigan.

Crewmen directed riders to remove sunglasses to keep the slipstream from ripping them off their faces and sending them sailing into the chopper's tail rotor.

It was hard to resist the urge to grab for a handhold to keep from tumbling out when the helicopter seemed to tip completely on its side in a banking turn.

Unlike combat infantrymen, passengers Friday evening were securely strapped in. Soldiers going into combat simply sat, unsecured, on the Huey's bare metal floor.

"You're moving your legs out against the other guys' so you've kinda got some security," said retired Air Force F-4 Phantom pilot, Roger Knopf, 75, of Muskegon.

As a "Forward Air Controller" during part of his tour in Vietnam, Knopf rode the Huey into combat with the 1st Air Calvary Division.

"You're keyed up, hoping you can do your job when you get there. Everybody is uptight, ready to go," Knopf said.

It was Knopf's and his radioman's job to direct bombing missions flown to help the ground troops, a job best done with the troops doing the fighting.

On his first mission as a FAC, Knopf learned why the helicopters flown into combat didn't have any seats.

"The helicopter didn't land. It touched down, skidded and took off," Knopf said. The infantrymen slid out of the 'copter and were on the ground running before Knopf and his radioman realized what was happening.

"We didn't get off until we were back in the air again," Knopf said. "We knew we had to get off so we bailed off that thing."

The helicopter was five feet in the air and quickly headed higher when Knopf tumbled out. "The others were off on the ground and we were doing pratfalls," Knopf said.

Knopf never went into a "hot" landing zone, with enemy soldiers shooting at him.

But he saw his share of ground combat. He was with the "Air Cav" when it was ambushed in Ia Drang valley.

"It was not a good experience," he says. "We were seperated from the main group. We didn't know what was happening over there a quarter mile away. Things really deteriorated. You're trying to get back with the main group and that doesn't work out and now you're trying to get the wounded back to an area to try and get them lifted out and that's not working because the helicopter's taking rounds in it."

One of the helicopters used by "Sky Soldiers" is a veteran of combat in the Ia Drang Valley and participated in the battle depicted in the Mel Gibson movie "We Were Soldiers."

Showtime for the Air Fair's feature acts is 12:30 p.m. both days. General admission tickets are only available at the gate. General admission is $17 for adults, $9 for seniors and $9 for children 6 to 12 years old.

Sky Soliders are offering short helicopter rides during the show for $45.

This year's show also will include World War II-era planes in a starring role for the first time.

U.S. bombers from the 1940s will bring the throaty grumble of 14-cylinder piston engines to "Thunder over Time" -- a flying display that will include the Disabled American Veterans' twin-engined B-25J Mitchell "Panchito" and two four-engined heavy bombers, the B-17G Flying Fortress "Thunderbird" and a B-24 Liberator.

Other returning headliners include the U.S. Army's Golden Knights Parachute Team and a demonstration flight by a U.S. Air Force's F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The F-16 also will perform a special "heritage flight" with a rare WWII twin-engined P-38 fighter.

The bat-winged black B-2 "Stealth" bomber will make a flyby sometime during the approximately four-hour long show on Saturday.

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Vietnam War in the News