By Chuck Cannon, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerJune 12, 2009
FORT POLK, La. -- When you're talking age, 40 doesn't seem that old.
However, when you're talking about an aircraft that's 40 years old, it's a different story.
One of those "different stories" calls Fort Polk home.
An OH-58 "Huey" helicopter, tail number O-16696, assigned to Fort Polk's 5th Aviation Battalion, reached the ripe old age of 40 June 3 and a birthday party of sorts was held for the distinguished lady at the helipad next to the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk headquarters building. Not only did she turn 40, in doing so she cemented her status as the oldest flying aircraft in the Army inventory.
"The OH-58 was supposed to be removed from inventory in 1995," said Chief Warrant Officer Marlin Phillips, maintenance officer and test pilot for the 5th Avn Bn. "That's been extended to 2019 because she is such a good bird."
Capt. William Whitesel, commander, Bravo Company, 5th Avn Bn, said the Huey's attributes include cost effectiveness and the perfect aircraft for its mission at Fort Polk - an observer/controller platform.
"It costs about $300 an hour to fly the OH-58 compared to about $2,500 an hour for the Lakota, the Huey's eventual replacement," Whitesel said. "And she's perfect for flying observer/controllers over the battlefield."
Whitesel said the Lakota is scheduled to replace the Hueys on Fort Polk as an observer/controller aircraft between 2012-2014.
When you're flying 3,400 hours a year - as much as most combat units, Phillips said - you might think maintenance on the OH-58 would be difficult.
"She's really easy to maintain," he said. "Our biggest problem is in keeping the old radios operational. We can get helicopter parts, but the radios are out of inventory."
Phillips was also quick to point out that taking care of a 40-year-old bird is a team effort.
"Consolidated Services Corporation does our civilian maintenance and performs probably 95 percent of the work on this aircraft," Phillips said. "They are probably some of the best maintenance folks in the business."
As the helicopter's crew and maintenance team gathered to wish the grand ole lady a happy birthday, Brig. Gen. James Yarbrough, commander, JRTC and Fort Polk, stopped by to pay his respects.
"This is pretty cool," Yarbrough said. "This is a landmark day. Somewhere in the Army is the oldest tank; we have the oldest aircraft."
Lt. Col. Scott Chaisson, commander, 5th Avn Bn, closed the birthday party by giving coins to some of the maintenance crew.
"This aircraft is a testament to the work we do at Fort Polk," Chaisson said. "You can look at this aircraft and see that it's well-maintained. It's something we should all take pride in."