Adrenalin junkies, military retirees and patriotic groupies spent their Easter Sunday riding in or watching combat seasoned helicopters lift off from the Hixson Museum of Flight airstrip in a fund raising event for a local children’s hospital while promoting public awareness of aviation’s role in American history.
Nearly 100 people lined up to ride in a Vietnam Cobra fighter helicopter, at one passenger per trip, or a UH-1H Huey with seats for 8 to 10 individuals.
“It was really cool,” said 24-year-old Brandi Johnson, who with her dad Randy Johnson, both of Ringgold, Ga., rode the Cobra ‘copter. “It just looked like so much fun, watching (the pilots) do (stunts), I wanted to go.”
A variety of people ponied up the $89 per person for the Huey or the $600 to ride the Cobra the event ended just before 6 p.m. The aircraft were provided by the Sky Soldiers, demonstrator teams for the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation, a volunteer organization headquartered Hampton, Ga., near the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The helicopters used in Sunday's event were part of four Hueys and six Cobras AAHF sends out every weekend - weather permitting – from April to November, said Ed Clark, organization president.
“We fly in (fund raisers) and re-enactments all over the country,” said Clark, a 10-year U.S. Army Ranger, infantry officer and flight instructor. “We are a one-of-a kind volunteer organization with about 1,000 members. We do this to raise funds to raise awareness of aviation’s historical role and to maintain the aircraft.”
This is the second year the Hixson Museum of Flight has hosted the Sky Soldiers, according to museum member, pilot and volunteer Pete O’Hare. The AAHF’s mission dovetails with that of the Museum’s, O’Hare said.
The group will return in September for another fund raising event, O'Hare said.
“Our mission is to increase awareness of aviation through the flying of local craft while supporting the Children’s Hospital,” O’Hare said. “In four years, we’ve raised $20,000 for the hospital and restored several air craft including ones that flew in Korea, Vietnam and Japan.”
The museum has a T-28 Alpha that was sold by the U.S. Navy to Honduras for $1 in 1969, O’Hare, a 32-year-veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, said.
“It was the last prop airplane to fly in armed combat with prop planes; it flew in what was called the “100 Hours War,” he said, referring to a 1960s four-day conflict between El Salvador and Honduras.
The museum has several restored military planes including a Russian Zek, which is used in reenactments. Museum members have purchased and restored two Trojan Alphas, or T-28s, including the Honduras model, all of which are used to promote awareness and raise funds, O’Hare said.
The steep price of admission to ride in a helicopter with no doors or ride in one that flies at 150 knots (150 equals 172.8 miles per hour) reflects the high price of jet fuel, Clark said. At $6 a gallon with tanks holding around 20 gallons, it is costly, he said. Finding parts to maintain and repair the machines made in the Vietnam era, starting in the late 1960s, is also a challenge, he said.
Soddy-Daisy resident Mark Haskins flew on the Huey, a ‘copter that was used to ferry troops, fly medical evacuations, search and rescue missions, and air assaults. It’s the helicopter with no doors and seats that face out from the inside.
“It was really a good ride,” said Haskins, who celebrated his birthday Friday. “It got a little tense when (the pilot) flew sideways; I could feel the pull. But I loved it.”