The Friends of Army Aviation has a simple mission: to provide the public a chance to experience aerial flight in vintage aircraft and to educate everyone about the importance of Army Aviation, past and present. By the numbers, that was achieved Saturday, July 18, during FOAA’s “Fly with the Best” event, as nearly 500 people took flight in a Vietnam-era UH-1 Huey.
FOAA Director of Operations Mike Fox said they had expected to make only about 20 flights throughout the day, but that number more than doubled as the day wore on and flight manifests kept filling up. The event was slated to end by 5 p.m., but crews and patrons were still loading and unloading at 7 p.m. A maximum of 10 persons, plus three crew members made each of the lifts on an aircraft known as the workhorse of the Vietnam War. “We rode approximately 460ish people (members of the public) on Saturday. We actually flew 48 lifts and every seat was filled… some of our volunteers flew on a lift or two (increasing the total number),” said Fox.
The event took place at the group’s hangar at Blackwell Field at the Ozark airport. Dozens of FOAA volunteers, including veteran and current military pilots, took time to educate each group of passengers on pre-flight and flight safety, the history of organization and the background of the actual Huey being used.
“This event was a tremendous success for our organization. As a 501(c)3 non-profit, the beginning of this year has been incredibly challenging for us as we continue to grow our ability to share the contributions Army Aviation has made to our nation,” said Fox. “The participation from the students and the local community was overwhelming and we can’t thank them enough for their support and patience and for graciously following all of our COVID procedures and wearing their masks the whole time while participating in this incredible memorial event. We are truly humbled. I would also like to say our volunteers are the best of the best. This event could not have been possible without their amazing selflessness and determination. Thank you all.”
On the group’s Facebook page, Stefani Garcia commented, “Loved, loved, loved your event today. Was our first helicopter ride, our son and I truly enjoyed it! We felt so welcome and taken care of! You guys are an awesome crew/team. Thank you for all you do, you sure are the best!” The smiles of hundreds of others as they exited the aircraft throughout the day was an indication that many felt the same as Garcia.
Saturday’s event was also special because “We dedicated it to one of our members who passed away this year. His name was George Bartlett and he was quite a character. He is sorely missed and this was a fitting event to honor him,” said Fox.
The FOAA will soon have a second Huey to use at similar events and at static displays nationally. The “newest” addition is being refurbished now and is is dedicated to MG (retired) Patrick H. Brady, a Medal of Honor recipient. Brady served two tours in Vietnam, flying more than 2,000 combat missions and rescuing 5,000-plus injured soldiers, according to the Medal of Honor Museum website. The Huey is named “Nancy Lee.” Fox said, the additional Huey will be flyable by the end of the year, with Federal Aviation Administration approval. The FOAA historical aircraft fly under the FAA’s Living History Flight Experience program.
To become a member of the FOAA or to locate other fly and static display events nationwide, check out the website, https://friendsofarmyaviation.org/ or the group’s Facebook page.