Restored aircraft honors casualties of war
April 1, 2013
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Structural aircraft mechanics spend their days restoring aircraft to workable conditions, sometimes having to fabricate parts not available.
A dedicated team of structural aircraft mechanics with Company B (the "Bandits"), 563rd Aviation Support Battalion, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, has devoted numerous hours of their personal time to restoring a Hillard OH-23B Raven helicopter at Fort Campbell, Ky., soon to be on display outside the Warrior Transition Battalion here.
"The Raven was used to transport wounded Soldiers from the battlefield to the (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) units," said Capt. Rodney Potter, the executive officer for the WTB. "It's symbolic because we as a WTB also help Soldiers either get back to the Army or transition out."
"This project is very near and dear to my heart, not only because it's for our wounded Soldiers but because it's one of the last major projects I envision finishing while on active military service," said Cpl. Roy Gorris, a structural aircraft mechanic with the Bandits.
To Gorris, the end result is what matters, not the time involved.
"I don't keep a running tab of the amount of hours invested, but I would about 100 would be a fair assumption," he said.
Each hour spent rebuilding the historical artifact only bolsters the skills required of structural aircraft mechanics.
"It's a good way to train," said Spc. Paul Nielsen, a structural aircraft mechanic with the Bandits. "We've had to fabricate doors and rivet them in place, which took about a month to a month and a half. We've had to rebuild the rotors because the original ones were made of wood and had rotted. They couldn't be saved so we made new ones, and that's a challenge."
"The Raven the men are restoring came to the museum in 1972 as the Ravens were being phased out as post historical property," said John E. Foley, the technician and collections manager for the Don F. Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell.
It remained on display at Fort Campbell until 1977.
"Then -- for reasons unknown -- this Raven, (still) in flyable condition, was left to rot until 2010 when it was partially restored by the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade for The Week of the Eagles," Foley said.
"Many parts have been stolen (and) vandalized off this Raven since it was left in an unsecured area for many years," he said.
Vandalism and the elements took its toll on the tiny bird, leaving almost nothing but a skeleton.
"The airframe was in very bad shape," Gorris added. "The paint was deteriorated and the canopy was non-existent. We had to create that out of nothing -- with no blueprints."
However, Gorris and his team are some of the best when it comes to fabricating aircraft pieces. In fact, the Bandit's reputation precedes them.
The WTU requested Co. B, 563rd ASB, specifically for this task after Gorris spearheaded a project to spruce up a Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar last summer.
"Our production control asked me to make an assessment if it was possible for us to restore it and this is how I got involved with the OH-23 and the WTU," Gorris said.
Gorris agreed to take on the project, but had to do some research on the aircraft before any work began.
Initially, the U.S. Army used the UH-12, which was later designated the H-23 Raven, and, in 1962, designated the OH-23 Raven (Observation Helicopter). The Army used the B-model as its primary helicopter trainer. A considerable number were built: the Primary Flying School at Fort Walters was assigned 216 and another 237 were used for various tasks.
In all, the U.S. Army used more than 1,600 UH-12 Ravens in Korea and Vietnam before they were phased out in 1972.
"First flown in 1948, several H-12 Ravens were deployed to Korea and served as reconnaissance, artillery spotting and aerial --medevac birds," Foley said.
As a flying ambulance, the UH-12 could evacuate two casualties at a time on stretcher cases.
"Many of the Soldiers at the Fort Campbell WTU were evacuated by medevac," Gorris said. "Since the (Raven) was used in the Korean War in many roles such as that of a medevac, this aircraft represents the link between its history and its importance in bringing our troops out of harm's way to receive the next level of care they need."
Gorris is proud to say with his final project he is honoring people he knows personally.
"It's a very noble (undertaking)," Gorris said. "Some of my friends went through the WTU process and by restoring this aircraft to display quality, I honor them."
"This is the first time since 1977 that this part of our Air Assault history will be back to what it once was," Foley said.
The 101st Airborne Division is a legacy, and each Soldier who has been a part of it has made it so. Gorris' work will only enrich that heritage.
"It's my legacy to Fort Campbell," Gorris said. "I take pride in those 13 years and all we stand for as service members."