Vietnam-era Huey helicopters giving way to German-made Lakotas
HOHENFELS, Germany — Five UH-72 Lakota helicopters arrived at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center on Wednesday to replace the fleet of UH-1 “Hueys” used to train troops deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. Army is fielding 200 of the German-made, U.S.-assembled Lakotas worldwide as “light utility helicopters” used for training missions, medical evacuations and VIP flights, said JMRC spokesman Maj. Nick Sternberg. The center is set to get 10 helicopters in all. The “non-tactical and non-deployable aircraft” will replace old helicopters and free up more UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for combat operations, Sternberg said.
The twin-engine Lakota will take over the single engine Huey’s role as a platform for observer controllers who are training aviators at Hohenfels, according to Maj. Jonathan Tackaberry, executive officer for the JMRC Falcon Team, which trains the aviators.
The Lakota has more advanced navigation and communications systems and is significantly quieter than the Huey but has less space for passengers, Tackaberry said. “We can’t use it for air assault [training],” he said, adding that Black Hawks from Europe-based aviation units and helicopters from other NATO nations would fill that role.
Another member of the Falcon Team, Chief Warrant Officer Chris Prater, 36, who landed at Hohenfels on Wednesday in the 100th Lakota delivered to the U.S. Army, said the new machine is pilot-friendly.
“It can fly on autopilot with hands off,” he said. “On the route back from Ramstein I programmed the GPS with way points selected prior to the flight. The entire flight could have been hands-free.”
Prater, who has been flying in Hueys since 1992, said he feels nostalgic when he thinks about retiring the storied aircraft.
The JMRC Hueys were built in the early 1970s and some saw combat in Vietnam, although they have had most of their parts replaced many times. 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.”
“If you relate helicopters to motorcycles, the Huey is like a Harley and the Lakota is like a Japanese crotch rocket,” Prater said.
Sternberg said the 21st Theater Sustainment Command will dispose of the JMRC Hueys. Some are likely to be turned into monuments on U.S. bases in Germany while others may be sold to foreign militaries, he said.