By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMarch 24, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- When entering the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, one of the first aircraft people may encounter is one that most wouldn't recognize as an Army aircraft.
That's because the Brantly B-2, which carried the Army designation YHO-3B and now sits in the museum's visible collection, had a short-lived military career and never got past the evaluation phase, according to Robert Mitchell, U.S. Army Aviation Museum curator.
"The Army bought a total of five of these aircraft (in the latter half of the 1950s), and it was being evaluated as an observation aircraft, but the Army never accepted it," he said.
Mitchell said there were some issues with the aircraft, which was a relatively small aircraft with a length of just 28 feet and height of just under seven feet. The YHO-3B included a top-heavy design, as well as a reciprocating engine, or gasoline internal combustion engine, during the advent of the turbine engine, which held it back from becoming a part of the Army inventory.
"[The Army] had seen the advent of the XH-40, or the Huey, and shortly after that, a turbine-powered helicopter came out, so they realized that it was the wave of the future," said the curator. "This was toward the end of the aircraft's evaluation around 1959, but this is a unique aircraft that tells a specific story about the evolution and development of rotor-wing Aviation."
Although the aircraft had a short-lived military career, Mitchell said its story is one that's worth telling when it comes to showing how Army Aviation has evolved over the years to the familiar aircraft people see in use today.
After the Army decided not to pursue the YHO-3B, one of the aircraft found its way into the museum's collection in 1959. Later, during transportation, the aircraft suffered significant damage when it fell from a platform while being moved, leading up to the restoration.
"We had an opportunity through our gracious foundation, (the Army Aviation Museum Foundation), to restore it, and we made the decision to move on that," said Mitchell. "This restoration didn't entail a lot of money, and our foundation has an interest in funding some of the less expensive restoration projects and refurbishments while the Army usually funds the really high-dollar restorations."
Throughout the restoration process, the hull of the aircraft had to be fixed, as well as the door and the unique bubble windshield, which, according to Mitchell, is a difficult replacement to find.
"We're fortunate that we had a vendor down in the panhandle of Florida that took on the project, and they were able to repair the damage and find another bubble," he said. "They told me that it was the only bubble left in the country -- it would have been very expensive to have one custom made."
The restoration process took about six months to complete, which was longer than expected for such a small aircraft, but entailed very specific details, including recreating custom graphics and finding the correct fonts to use.
"We had to find the correct font for all of the stencils, which took a couple of months," said the curator. "We want to get it down to the very last detail, because if you don't do that then it's lost to time -- accuracy is very, very important. There's no such thing as an easy job."
It's that level of detail that Mitchell said is important to preserve, otherwise details get lost to history, adding that he couldn't be more pleased with the way it turned out.
"We were very impressed with the quality and workmanship -- it's one of the best restorations I've ever seen," he said.