By Lyna Tucker, Fort Eustis Wheel PhotojournalistSeptember 23, 2009
FORT EUSTIS, Va. (September 23, 2009) -- Though time and distance have kept them apart, a common bond brought them together for the annual CH-54 Skycrane Association reunion Sept. 8 through 13 at Fort Eustis.
More than 40 Vietnam War veterans including pilots, copilots, electricians and crew members gathered at Eustis to reminisce and commemorate the aircraft that shaped their Army careers and experiences.
The weeklong reunion included a tour of the U.S. Army Aviation Logistics School where many of the vets received their Advanced Individual Training and a luncheon at the Fort Eustis Club with Eustis commander Brig. Gen. Brian R. Layer.
The highlight of the week was the tour of the Army Transportation Museum and the refurbishment of their beloved craft.
Friends and family members looked on as the veterans and Soldiers from USAALS replaced safety wires, seat cushions and washed the aircraft, joking and reminiscing of their adventures and memories all the while.
Veteran crew members John Schuster and B.K. Miller watched from the ground as former Skycrane flight engineer Jack Humphreys stood on a stool and fastened safety wire to a load-leveler cable.
"See' You do remember how to do it," Schuster laughed.
Humphreys smiled and reached down for a pair of pliars.
"It's been a while, but I guess I didn't forget," he said with a grin.
Working on the aircraft made former Skycrane crew chief and association secretary-treasurer and Webmaster Wiley Brooks nostalgic for the past.
"I just wish I was young enough to still be able to climb on this thing," Wiley said as he pointed to the aircraft.
Operated by a three-man crew, the Sikorsky (Model 64-A) CH-54A Tahre Skycrane was designed as a multi-use helicopter to lift and move heavy bulk loads of up to 20,000 pounds with a sling.
The U.S. Army added the aircraft to its flying stock in 1964 to move cargo too big and bulky for the CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
The Skycrane also was utilized for ship-to-shore cargo movement and for aircraft recovery operations. The 1st Calvary Division used the helicopter to recover more than 360 downed aircraft from the jungles of Vietnam.
The craft was also fitted with specialized containers installed into the open section of the body for command and control operations, troop transport, and portable medical operating theaters.
The Army retired Skycranes in the 1970s and the aircraft was completely retired from military service in the 1980s.
A modified version of the original Sikorsky craft, the Erickson Skycrane Heli-tanker, is still in use today, most notably by the national fire service for wildfire suppression.
For more information about the association, visit the Web site at www.CH54Skycrane.com.