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Tom Cleaver
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The only UH-1B gunship left, and it's a HA(L)-3 Sea Wolf!

November 3, 2013 · in Show Reports · 6 · 3.3K

I now know what the WW2 guys feel like when they see a P-51 or an F6F or one of the other machines from their youth. Was out at Chino today, and all of a sudden I hear the unmistakeable WHOP-WHOP-WHOP of a Huey, and then over the hangars an OD Huey pops into view and the pilot brings her right around in to the tarmac in front of the hangars as pretty as you please, and as he swung her around in a 360, I went "Holy cowabunga! (not really) It's a UH-1B!" and then I saw NAVY on the tail, and the 7.62 minigun on the left side and the big M-2 50-cal on the right, and I said "Oh my God! It's a gunship! It's a Sea Wolf!" Hadn't seen one in 50 years. It is in fact one of only two UH-1Bs that flies, and the only one that's been restored as a gunship. Brought back as a wreck, restored over 10 years by a group of guys from HA(L)-3, and it is in fact a former HA(L)-3 bird. That's Helicopter Light Attack Squadron Three, aka The Brown Water Navy's Air Force, the only Navy helo gunship unit in the war. All the Vietnam guys gathered around, and the Army guys were amazed when they looked at the armament - no bungee mounts for these babies, nice solid mounts. "How the hell did you guys fire a fifty like that and stay in the air?" I heard one guy ask. To which the pilot replied, "Well it wasn't as hard as when I mounted 7.62 miniguns for my door guns and set the rate of fire at 8,000 rpm..."

Here's shots of her taking off to go back to Temecula where she lives. Sorry I had to shoot into the sun, but the School Safety Patrol wouldn't let me go out to the other side to do it right.

Also some closer shots of the armament.

Reader reactions:
1  Awesome

17 additional images. Click to enlarge.

6 responses

  1. Sweet! And of course being a retired AECS I am all about anything with NAVY on the side!

  2. Tom, There's another Huey with HA(L)-3 markings at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fl. I couldn't post the pic, but below is the description from their site. While not an actual HA(L)-3, it is painted in comemorative markings of that unit. Let me know when that OV-10 from VA(L)-4 "Black Ponies" shows up. They would be great together.

    HH-1K | The museum's HH-1K spent much of its career flying with Helicopter Attack Squadron Light (HAL) 5, which it joined upon the squadron's establishment at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pt. Mugu, California. During its service in HAL-5, a Naval Air Reserve squadron, the HH-1K flew support of special operations missions, including insertion and extraction of SEAL teams and interestingly bears the scars of hits by ground fire during an airborne firing exercise at San Clemente Island off the coast of California. In 1988, seeking to commemorate the service of HAL-3 (the 'Seawolves') in Vietnam, the museum sought to add an HH-1K to the collection. Arrangements were made to receive an aircraft due to be stricken from HAL-5 and under the supervision of Petty Officer Bill Russell, a veteran of service in HAL-3 in Vietnam, the HH-1K was painted in the markings of the Seawolves and outfitted with the weapons systems carried in Vietnam. On April 17, 1989. the HH-1K was flight delivered to the museum. It currently is on display in the south wing.

  3. Interesting. Not being a Huey fan/expert, I called it a UH-1B and that's what the HA(L)-3 guys called it, too. I kbnow HA(L)-3 was operating in Vietnam before 1970, which would mean they would have been using Bs or Es.

  4. Here's an article by Fred Johnsen about this Huey (which is in fact a UH-1B, I was right):

    Lean in for a close look and you can see battle damage repairs on the nose of a UH-1B Huey helicopter parked on the grass in the Warbirds area. This is no ordinary Huey, if there is such a thing. This is a veteran of Navy combat in South Vietnam, and it has been lovingly restored by Overseas Aircraft Support in Arizona as a tribute to those who served in the Navy’s short-lived HA(L)-3 Seawolves unit from 1966-1972.

    Pilot Larry Clark brought the veteran Huey to Oshkosh from Arizona at a leisurely 90 knots, “and we get about 1 mile to the gallon,” he adds. But it’s all worthwhile to show this piece of living history to the public. Even more so for the Navy Huey veterans who are expected to come to Oshkosh to reacquaint themselves with this reminder of their past.

    This Huey fought for the Army and the Navy, coming back to life in several rebuilds following battle damage during the war in Southeast Asia. Huey 63-12923 finally joined hundreds of its fellows in surplus storage.

    Clark’s employer, John Boucher, owns Overseas Aircraft Support, the company that bought three rare Navy Hueys in a batch of 13 UH-1s out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. This Huey priced out at $611.57, but then, its tail boom was missing. No matter, Clark says; tail booms were always considered expendable and interchangeable in the rugged world of the UH-1 in combat. Something else catches the eye on this Huey; it has perforated wind deflectors permanently mounted ahead of the side doors. This was a Navy modification, as unorthodox as anything the men of HA(L)-3 did in South Vietnam.

    When the Army suggested close support of Navy SEALs and freshwater operations (the “brown water Navy”) would be better performed by Navy crews operating Navy helicopters, HA(L)-3 was formed around former Army UH-1s. Clark says the Seawolves “were a real rag-tag outfit.”

    Photos of their Hueys in combat indicate the men often flew in T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops, with the cockpit doors taken off their hinges. But their vigorous prosecution of the river war gained these flying sailors respect, and cost the Seawolves 44 men. Five Navy Crosses, 31 Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, 219 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 156 Purple Hearts, 101 Bronze Stars, and many other honors were earned in the unit’s brief lifespan.

    When Overseas Aircraft Support went about restoring Huey 63-12923 back to its days as Navy 324, the logical assumption was to paint the Huey in Army olive green, since it was an Army hand-me-down to the Navy. But soon, photos surfaced showing a darker shade. Seawolves veterans confirmed that they mixed olive green paint from the Army with black paint they obtained from Australians in country to create the almost-black, green-tinted hue carried by the Huey displayed at AirVenture. Overseas Aircraft bit the bullet and stripped Huey 324 back and repainted it in the correct mixed shade. The bright NAVY lettering on the tail boom is also nonstandard but accurate, Clark vouches, because a Navy commander told the Seawolves to paint it that way so the enemy would know they were dealing with the Navy.

    The final touch is the elaborate Seawolves emblem on the nose of Huey 324, just the way it was back in the day. For the restoration, Seawolves veteran Dennis Russell of El Paso, Texas, re-created the same art he applied to these UH-1s in Vietnam four decades ago, in the same hand-painted style. The result has a gritty realism unattainable with a modern decal or stencil.

    This Navy Huey came to AirVenture complete with dummy M60 machine guns and a mini-gun Gatling replica, a replica heavy-barrel M2 .50-caliber machine gun, plus boxes and belts of ammunition, flak jackets, gun sights, 2.75-inch folding fin rockets in launch tubes, and other G.I. trappings that evoke the life and times of combat helicopter operations. Larry Clark says he wants to fly the UH-1 during AirVenture so veterans can hear the hauntingly unmistakable slap-slap-slap rotor noise that defines the Huey and the Vietnam era to a generation of Americans.

  5. According to the Seawolf list of aircraft, this was the bird that was hit by 75mm recoilless fire on the flight deck of YRBM-21 in 1971. See for a sad picture of this bird after it was hooked back to Binh Thuy, and you will appreciate the great restoration job that is being done on it!

  6. Just found out that the Wings and Rotors Air Museum, which owns and operates this Huey, is also restoring a McDonnell F4H-1 Phantom to flight status. That's right! An F4H-1, not an F-4A, not an F-4B. One of the originals!

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