Inside the Huey
A visit to a legend
In a rather beautiful part of the UK near Blackpool is a village with a farm on one edge of it. Nothing unusual at first glance – in the buildings there are sports car specialists and other companies – but in the hangar is a rare delight, the only flying Bell UH-1H Huey in the UK that served during the Vietnam war, along with many other surprises.
The Huey Helicopter Team is based in its own purpose built hangar with every amenity imaginable built in to maintain and support the aircraft and crews. The place, like the aircraft, is immaculate, the floor spotless like all really good aircraft hangars are. If you wonder why that’s important, imagine an aircraft had an oil or a hydraulic leak. If the floor were dirty, how would you see it? There is no such danger here. Inside the pristine hangar are two very historic aircraft, both veterans of the Vietnam War. Sitting on its purpose built towing and launching platform is a Hughes OH-6A Cayuse, better known as a Loach, next to which is the only Vietnam veteran UH-1H flying in the UK. Alongside the aircraft is a crew support vehicle and a small tractor to tow the aircraft to the helipad outside. Owned by pilot and businessman Phil Connolly, the helicopters are popular performers at air shows all over the UK and Europe, particularly the Huey with its unmistakeable sound. This UH-1H, 72-21509, was deployed to Vietnam with the 129th Assault Helicopter Company in July 1972, where it took part in 108 sorties with that unit until it was returned to the US in February 1973. A varied career with the Army and National Guard followed, after which the
aircraft was sent for storage in the Arizona desert in August 2000. Like many other Hueys, 509 was purchased and used as a parts donor airframe, being found in a largely dismantled condition at NW Helicopters in Seattle by Phil and his team. A long and painstaking restoration began after the airframe was purchased in 2003, resulting in the gleaming helicopter that forms the centrepiece of the display team today as a fitting tribute to the UH-1 and its crews. If you would like to contact the team to arrange their participation in your event, find out more about the team’s people and aircraft or arrange a visit to the hangar, their contact details can all be found on their website at www.huey.co.uk or you can telephone +44 (0)1772 687775. Aviation Classics was allowed to visit the team in their hangar and photograph this superb example of the helicopter from nose to tail, inside and out, for which opportunity we are indebted to Phil and his team. Words: Tim Callaway
The fin mounted navigation and warning lights. Looking straight up the fin at the tail rotor hub assembly.
The underside of the tail boom looking forward showing the VHF navigation antenna nearest the camera, followed by a close up of the air vent in the underside of the boom, then the starboard and port sides and markings and finally the boom attachment point at the rear of the centre section, where the whole boom is held on by only four bolts. Looking inside the starboard side inspection hatch under the engine exhaust at the back of the centre section, the point where the tail rotor drive shaft emerges from under the engine.
The port side engine bay seen from above. Note the support structure to the engine and the electrical, fuel, hydraulic and oil connectors as well as the engine control linkages. The base of the main rotor transmission and mast is just ahead of the engine bay. Note the particulate filter on the air intake on this aircraft to the rear of the mast.the vertical slot at the rear of the filter box is the ejection point for any collected debris.
Two views of the engine exhaust pipe. Note the red anti-collision beacon mounted above it. The rear port side electrics bay. The starboard side of the centre section with the main cabin and all hatches and access doors closed.the main fuel filler in red fills the two tanks mounted at the bottom of the centre section immediately below the engine bay.
The nose compartment houses the battery and avionics systems for the instruments and lies between the two main longerons which form the basis of the entire structure of the cabin and centre section. Since 509 no longer carries all the military systems, a number of lead plates have had to be added to the nose bay to keep the aircraft in balance.
A close up of one of the air vents in the roof of the main cabin.
The Hughes OH-6A and Bell UH-1H at home in their purpose built hangar.
The MD of the Huey Helicopter team, Phil Connolly, on the left, with Sue Holden (team marketing administrator) and Stuart Oldham (site maintenance) to all of whom many thanks for the welcome, the access and the nonstop coffee!
The starboard side of the fin showing the tail boom skid, often referred to as the stinger. Bell UH-1H 72-21509 alongside the Huey Helicopter Team’s display support vehicle. The 90° gearbox at the top of the fin showing the oil level window on the starboard side. The hangar also boasts a fully equipped team briefing facility. Unusually this is equipped with 40mm grenade rounds, a very relevant weapon to the period the team are commemorating.
The fin base with the navigation and tail-lights and tail boom skid or stinger. The shroud over the 43° gearbox at the base of the fin with its oil level window clearly visible. The tail rotor showing the pitch control linkages on the outside of the hub and the reinforcement layers at the root of the blades.
The rear tailboom and starboard side of the fin with the rotor steady rope running through the VHF navigation antenna loop and out to the protective rear skid. The port side of the rear tailboom and fin.
Like the main rotor the tail rotor blades have honeycomb cores with glass fibre skins and an extruded metal leading edge.the 90° gearbox, hub and pitch control rods are all clearly visible in this view.
Above the Huey showing the upper surface of the rotor blades. The blades were painted in different patterns by different units to make their landing areas easier to see in a mass unit assault.
The port side of the tailboom and base of the fin showing the cooling louvres in the shroud covering the 43° gearbox.
Three views of the tail rotor drive shaft from the 43° gearbox at the base of the fin to the 90° gearbox at the top. Note the bicycle chain alongside the shaft which runs over a sprocket behind the gearbox and controls the pitch of the rotor blades, the cables attached to the chain are controlled by the pilot’s rudder pedals.
The original tail rotor chain was a specially made toothed chain which ran over a cog. This proved weak in practice and was replaced by the bicycle chain and sprocket design. However, whenever an early Huey was shot down or crashed in Vietnam, the crew tried to recover the original toothed chain, which was made into crew bracelets usually engraved with the tail number of the Huey on the clasp.
The entire fin leading edge shroud in the open position exposing the tail rotor drive that runs up its length.
The 43° gearbox at the base of the fin with the shroud removed.
Views of the port and starboard synchronised elevators showing the unit number painted on the upper surfaces, again to assist in keeping the unit’s helicopters together on an assault. Note the inverted airfoil section of the synchronised elevators which move with the pilot’s cyclic control.
Looking aft in the inside of the tail boom showing at the bottom the push rod control to the elevators and the air vent in the underside, then on the starboard side the push rod to the tail rotor pitch control and the pulleys where the push rod converts to the cable controls that eventually attach to the bicycle chain. The tail rotor drive shaft with the entire protective shroud folded back in its maintenance position, showing the shaft exiting under the engine exhaust, then the bearing points along the tail boom and the two gearboxes on the fin. Six views around the main undercarriage of the Huey at floor level, showing the mounting tubes in their connecting slots in the lower cabin body and the large circular opening directly under the main rotor where the external cargo hook was fitted. Note the protective bolt-on steel shoes to protect the skids from damage, the various attachment lugs and antenna under the fuselage, and the cable cutter blade mounted in the centre under the nose.
The top engine cowling hinges straight up.the wire running round the inside of the upper cowling door is the connecting line to the fire sensors.
Two views of the cargo hook out of its under fuselage recess, alongside its control springs.
The port side engine bay first with the lower door open then with both doors fully open.
Looking down on the starboard engine bay lower door showing its location when fully opened.
Inside the front of the starboard engine bay is the main engine oil tank and the connector for the hydraulic system ground test equipment. The lower side engine panels have their own swing out support framework and a latching arm that locates in a slot in the fuselage to tail boom joint.
The starboard side engine bay seen from above.
Port and starboard views of the transmission and base of the main rotor mast with the forward cowling open. Note the main generator, the black electric motor shaped object and the yellow transmission fluid tank mounted ahead of the transmission.
Both sides of the main rotor mast and head with the stabiliser bar above.the control system for the rotors is a masterpiece of simple and strong engineering. The hub end of a used blade on display in the hangar reveals the two mounting points and the layers of reinforcement at the hub mounting end. A section through a Huey main rotor blade with the honeycomb rear section filler, extruded aluminium D-box forward spar and trailing edge, glass fibre skin and stainless steel anti-erosion strip protecting the leading edge.
Port and starboard views of the main rotor mast and transmission with the forward cowling open. Note the swash plate and blade pitch controls on the mast and the stabiliser bar mounted above the main rotor.
The rear starboard side bay contains the cabin heater unit. Three views across the cabin and cockpit roof showing the variety of air intakes, antenna, pitot heads, navigation light, hand rails, walkways and windscreen wipers mounted there.the large blade like device in the centre is exactly that, a blade to deflect, trap and cut wires or cables before they become entangled in the main rotor.
Looking into the bottom of the rear starboard bay reveals the heater trunking.
The forward starboard bay did contain weapons avionics and other systems, but is now mostly empty.
The starboard door gunners position with its M60 machine gun on its mount.
The reason for the Huey Helicopter Team’s existence is the commemoration and preservation of a unique time in history. On the main cabin doors are recorded the names of all those who died while serving with the 129th Assault Helicopter Company during the Vietnam War.
The starboard side of the main cabin with the two rear sideways facing seats, four rear row and two forward seats.
The port main cabin door in the fully open position showing the two rear catches.
The floor in the centre of 509’s cabin has a number of patched bullet holes marked by yellow dots at their corners. Several of the rounds exited through the roof of the cabin.
The forward cabin door opens forwards and outwards or can be removed completely.
The port door gunner’s position with its M60 machine gun and 7.62mm ammunition feed.
The port side of the main cabin with the three rows of seats.
The port cabin door has the centre of gravity percentage plate in the sill.
The roof of the main cabin showing the sound suppression lining and various openings for air vents and removable stanchions to support additional seats or stretchers.
The pilot’s and co-pilot’s doors showing the hinge and window details. The inside of the pilot’s cockpit door. The inside of the co-pilot’s door.
The pilot’s collective lever. The pilot’s yaw pedals, note the name Bell Huey embossed into them. The pilot’s side of the cockpit with his extensive instrument panel. The co-pilot’s collective lever.
The co-pilot’s cyclic control.
The pilot’s seat with the armour plate side protection in the retracted position.
The forward ends of the two main structural longerons are visible through the lower nose glazing.
The co-pilot’s yaw pedals.
The co-pilot’s seat with the armour plate side protection in the retracted position.
The pilot’s cyclic control.