It’s a sunny Sunday morning and a loud womp-womp-womp sound is coming from outside a hanger at Hayward Executive Airport. A sound that is immediately recognizable to anyone who served in the Vietnam War or lived in South East Asia during that time.
EMU Inc., a non-profit in Hayward California painstakingly restored Vietnam-era Huey to flying condition. A couple of weekends ago, I got to meet the founders and volunteers that keep this part of American history alive.
Geoff Carr and Peter Olesko served as crew chiefs and door gunners in the 135th AHC. In Vietnam the 135th was unusual as a joint Royal Australian Navy and US army unit. The unit motto, “Get the Bloody Job Done“ has a very Australian ring to it.
Peter and Geoff where both Crew Chiefs for the “EMU 309” during their tour in Vietnam. The 309 was a special helicopter because it was the longest serving slick* in the unit with 2724 flight hours. The average flight time for the unit was 830 hours before a Huey was sent away for major repairs or damaged beyond repair.
Geoff Carr in the Crew Chief/Gunners seat
So the EMU crew bought a similar aged Huey (not the original EMU 309) from the Sacramento Police Department and completely refurbished it. Using this helicopter, they recreated the EMU 309 in every detail. Now it’s a flying museum and tribute to their old unit and other Air Assault Units. The actual EMU 309 did make it back to the US but I don’t know that history of it after that.
EMU is part living history, part healing tool. At the Hayward Air Show I watched a Vietnam Vet get very emotional at being able to go up and sit inside. It would be hard not to relive some memories when sitting in something that took you in and out of the battlefield.
Of course, keeping a helicopter this age in perfect order doesn’t come cheap. The fuel alone for one hour’s flight is around $600. Donations are always needed to keep her going. Check out hueyvets.com for more information on the history of EMU309 and the 135th AHC, events, donations and membership.
Pilots Peter Olesko and Croy Pelletier preflight EMU 309
Peter and Croy flying southeast of Hayward
Pushing back to the hanger after the flight
*A UH-1 helicopter used for transporting troops in tactical air assault operations. The helicopter did not have protruding armaments and was, therefore, “slick”. From: http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Glossary/Sixties_Term_Gloss_Q_T.html