U.S. UH-1 Hueys drop German personnel during air assault training Wednesday at Hohenfels, Germany. The Army will phase out the Hueys next year at the training center.

U.S. UH-1 Hueys drop German personnel during air assault training Wednesday at Hohenfels, Germany. The Army will phase out the Hueys next year at the training center. (Seth Robson / S&S)

HOHENFELS, Germany — The Army will replace its fleet of UH-1 "Huey" helicopters with new UH-72 Lakotas next year at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center.

Currently, JMRC’s Falcon Observer Controller Team uses its 10 UH-1s during training for Europe-based units preparing to go downrange, said Chief Warrant Officer Ben Maupin, a senior instructor pilot with the Falcons.

The aircraft were built in the early 1970s and some saw combat in Vietnam, although they have had most of their parts replaced many times, the 47-year-old Dexter, Maine, native said. The Huey became the signature aircraft of Vietnam, starring in television dramas and movies such as "Apocalypse Now," which featured a squadron of UH-1s assaulting a target accompanied by Wagner’s "Ride of the Valkyries."

This month, JMRC officials are training the last group of pilots who will operate Hueys at Hohenfels, said Maupin, who has been flying UH-1s since 1986.

At the training area, the Hueys stand in for Black Hawk and Apache helicopters during field exercises where troops are taught to medically evacuate wounded comrades or call for gunships during firefights, he said. The Hueys also serve as observation platforms for the Falcons during training for aviation units, such as the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, which served in Iraq last year.

One of only five senior instructor pilots for the Huey left in the Army, Maupin will retire next month.

"I love the Huey," he said, but added that the Lakota, which is designed specifically as a training helicopter, will be a worthy replacement.

"The Lakota is not a deployable asset. It is a support aircraft for the training posts, so we are not pulling a Black Hawk away from the fight," he said.

Chief Warrant Officer Sean Higgins, 45, of Windsor, Conn., another Huey senior instructor pilot helping train aircrews at Hohenfels this month, said the Army and National Guard have about 130 Hueys in service, although none is in deployable units.

The National Guard will retire its 70 Hueys in September with the last of the Army’s machines due to leave the service by 2012, he said.

Higgins, who recently returned from an assignment to set up a flight school for the Iraqi military, said the Huey has been a dependable aircraft, but the last time a UH-1 flew in combat was during the Persian Gulf War.

The Hohenfels flight crews are being trained to operate the Huey and to deal with emergencies such as engine failure, he said.

One of the Falcon pilots learning to fly the UH-1, Maj. Heidi Ridenhour-Jones, 33, of Rosenberg, Texas, said she was looking forward to practicing emergency landing procedures. Ridenhour-Jones, who flew Black Hawks in Iraq from 2007 to 2008, noted that the Huey must land without power if its engine fails, something that seldom happens in the twin-engine Black Hawk.

Anther Falcon pilot learning to fly the Huey, Capt. Sam Redding, 33, of Southern Pines, N.C., said he’s glad he’ll get the chance to operate the machine.

"To me, that is the best part (of joining the Falcons) — being a pilot in one of the last units with operational Hueys," said Redding, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 and to Iraq from 2007 to 2008 as an aviator.

"There were helicopters before the Huey, but that is the one everyone thinks about when they think about air assault over Vietnam. The Huey definitely influenced me into becoming a pilot."

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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