Historical aircraft makes stop in Panama City Beach

Local News

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — An Alabama non-profit is giving residents and visitors of Bay County a chance to visit a piece of the Vietnam War.

Friends of Army Aviation out of Ozark, Alabama landed a ‘Huey’ helicopter at Frank Brown Park on Friday morning.

“We’re a group of Vietnam, Iraqi, Afghan veterans and civilians that come in because we love to fly. We love to keep Army Aviation alive,” said Crew Chief, Tom Aretz.

This specific aircraft was built in 1971 but helicopters just like it was used throughout the Vietnam War.

“The ‘Huey’ is in fact over 50 years old and it is now considered a legacy aircraft,” said Friends of Army Aviation President, John ‘Doc’ Holladay.

Holladay says if a soldier was heading into the war, they came in contact with a ‘Huey.’

“We would take young kids into hell basically. Eighteen to 19-year-olds and just drop them and once when they got into contact with the enemy, we would become their lifeline. We took their food, we took their bullets. We took their wounded out. We took their dead out. Actually, we went back in and took them out of hell as well,” Holladay said.

The group is offering rides on the helicopter that simulate what those flights were like so long ago.

“This is an actual ride where you see the turns and banks as it pertains to what we did in Vietnam. Some of the maneuvers we do just to give you a real sense of reality about what really transpired over 50 years ago,” Holladay said.

Aretz says they enjoy sharing the history of the aircraft but helping fellow veterans through their own struggles is the most satisfying part of their job.

“The fact that they can get on this helicopter now. Tried to explain for 50 years to their family what it was like and now they can take their family with them,” Aretz said.

The group charges $50 per rider for the trips but all money goes back into the maintenance and upkeep of the ‘Huey.’

Aretz and Holladay say every one of their crew members is volunteers and don’t receive any of the money.

Since the group is a 501c3, the fee is tax-deductible.

The team will be set up at the soccer fields at Frank Brown Park through at least Sunday.

The helicopter fits a total of 10 people including the crew.

To learn more about the non-profit, click here.

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