FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Army Aviation bid a bittersweet farewell to an old friend that an estimated 90% of its aviators learned to fly in when it hosted its TH-67 Creek Final Flight ceremony at Cairns Army Airfield Feb. 17.
Two TH-67s, escorted by an AH-64 Apache, two UH-60 Black Hawks and a CH-47 Chinook, first flew to Howze Field for a salute from Brig. Gen. Stanley Budraitis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker deputy commanding general, Col. George Ferido, commander, 110th Aviation Brigade, and CW5 Jonathan Koziol, chief warrant officer of the Aviation Branch, then on to Cairns for a hose down courtesy of the airfield fire department and a short speech from Lt. Col. Keith Hill, 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment commander.
“If you’re an Army Aviator who began your Aviation career between 1993 and 2020, the odds are pretty good that the TH-67 Creek helicopter was the foundational tool on which you built your Aviation tradecraft,” Hill said. “The TH-67 has spent three decades preparing our Aviators to eventually transition to the UH-1 Huey, the AH-1 Cobra, the OH-58 Kiowa and Kiowa Warrior, the UH-60 Black Hawk, the AH-64 Apache the CH-47 Chinook and even the C-12. The TH-67 prepared our Aviators for operations in the Balkans, for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Pacific Pathways, Atlantic Resolve, and many other subsequent regional and contingency missions that followed.”
The TH-67 also served as the primary trainer not just for U.S. military students, but also for allied partner students from Afghanistan, Brunei, Denmark, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago and the United Arab Emirates, the commander added.
The TH-67 arrived at Fort Rucker in 1993 to begin its service as the primary trainer for Army Aviators – eventually earning its title as the longest-serving primary flight trainer in the Department of Defense. The fleet grew to 181 aircraft and over the decades flew more than 1,915,000 hours and trained more than 25,000 students in the initial entry rotor wing program, he said.
The retiring of the TH-67 was probably a “pretty sad moment for a lot of Aviators,” said Kenneth Tilley, USAACE Army Aviation Branch historian who attended the ceremony.
“It’s sad to see any helicopter leave the inventory, but it’s especially sad when it is one you’ve flown,” Tilley said. “You rarely hear any pilot speak negatively about this airframe – they really like it a lot. That makes it a little bittersweet to see it leave the inventory.”
Hill is one of the aviators who felt that way.
“It’s the day that a lot of aviators are watching their first love leave our inventory. This is the helicopter they were in when they first learned to start the engines, first picked it off the ground and flew their first cross-country flight in. It’s kind of a big deal, but it is symbolic,” he said, adding that Army Aviation has officially moved on completely to the UH-72 Lakota to help beginner aviators transition smoothly into the more advanced helicopters.
“Seeing the Creek helicopter fly among the formation of its helicopter teammates no doubt should invoke a little bit of sentiment in our Army Aviators, and our maintainers who tirelessly committed their hands and their minds to pulling off maintenance magic every day to meet the unyielding demand,” Hill said. “Along with our support personnel who managed the burden of resourcing, logistics and mountains of administrative requirements, our air traffic controllers and tower operators who have managed to get thousands of nervous aircrews safely back on the ground when unfavorable lower Alabama weather rolls in unexpectedly.
“And, of course, I’d like to thank our team of instructor pilots who are the nucleus of our operations,” the commander added. “For nearly 30 years they have used this great helicopter to transform civilian pedestrians into confident, proficient and daring Army Aviators.”
He thanked the Creek Nation for lending its name to the TH-67, and also surrounding communities, such as the people of Daleville, “who for over 50 years have hosted the Fort Rucker team, which includes all of the students and their families who will always have a soft spot in Daleville no matter where life takes them.”
The TH-67s, which have served as the Army’s primary flight trainer since 1993, will now move on to serve with other agencies, said Hill, adding that the UH-72 Lakota, which began being used at Fort Rucker to train pilots in 2016, will now fully take over duties as the trainer for Army Aviation.
As with many Soldiers, while the TH-67s are retired from the Army, they will find employment elsewhere, throughout the world, Tilley said.
“I don’t know specifically where they will go, but these helicopters are all over the world with sheriff’s departments, police departments, forestry, other government agencies and also with agencies in other countries,” he added. “They will be flying for a long time all over the world for years and years to come.”