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Municipal Airport Supervisor
Mineral Wells Index
Municipal Airport Manager
Mineral Wells Index
CITY OF MINERAL WELLS-AP
"Everything worked fine," Bobby Bateman, Mineral Wells Municipal Airport supervisor, said.
Putting down a plane with malfunctioning landing gear is not unusual in the world of aviation, Bateman said. However, Bateman said the last time Mineral Wells saw such an incident was about 10 years ago when a pilot forgot to put down his landing gear.
Bateman hoists some Huey memoriesFlying the U.S. Army's version of an airborne sport utility vehicle - the UH-1 "Huey" - was a brief but indelible chapter in Mineral Wells Municipal Airport Supervisor Bobby Bateman's flying career.In fact, it's how this Mineral Wells native began to fly.Growing up in Mineral Wells, Bateman and his friends could not help but notice the mechanical birds flying overhead or imagine the glamour associated with piloting a machine straight into the sky.Bateman said several of his Mineral Wells High School classmates joined the Army to become helicopter pilots and learn in their hometown - for at this time, all Army helicopter pilots started primary training at Fort Wolters in Mineral Wells.But he didn't go this route immediately.Bateman said it was only after he worked part-time and attended college part-time that he elected to try to join the Army's helicopter pilot squad in 1969."The military said they really wanted people and I had known about this flight school.I was part of the baby boomer crowd who had parents in World War II.We felt we had a duty to serve," he said, adding, "I was a little tired of doing what I was doing."He said he was not ready for was the 12-14 hours each day of "stress conditioning," which meant he had to keep all brass shined, including belt buckles that had to be "as shiny on the inside as the outside" while also learning to pilot helicopters. "This was the Army's way of conditioning you to the attention of detail," he explained."There were certain duties you had to pay attention to and you were getting harassed 12-14 hours each day."Bateman said those doing the harassing would intimate that if he and his comrades failed at flight school, they would "go straight to the infantry and straight to Vietnam."After Fort Wolters, Bateman and fellow Army pilots graduated to flying Hueys at Fort Rucker, Ala., before heading to Vietnam in the summer of 1970.Flying Hueys in VietnamAs a member of A Company of the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, Bateman was a utility pilot in Vietnam, "to help support the guys prosecuting the war."His three main duties included inserting troops into war zones, re-supplying them in the jungle or delta and evacuating them out.The AH-1 Huey was his tool; his was one of just over 7,000 total Hueys in Vietnam."The Huey is synonymous with the Vietnam War," he said.Part of his training at Fort Wolters prepared him somewhat for the tight landings and take-offs between groves of trees, which was something they practiced on area ranches.However, in Vietnam, he said the troops were typically embedded in low areas of forests, in between mahogany and teak trees towering over 100 feet tall.Often the helicopter rotors would trim the higher portions of the forest canopy as they performed what Bateman called "hovering into a hole."Although the infantry would blow up a patch of the forest to enable the Hueys to land, Bateman said that during descents and ascents, sometimes the crew chief and door gunner would give them directions for maneuvering every 5 feet to avoid hitting the behemoth trees."We had to make sure we weren't excessively loaded," he added.Flying the Hueys up and down was one challenge, but communicating with troops when the enemy eavesdropped on their discussions was another."Pilots were given troops' call signs and their radio frequency," he said.Additionally, ground troops used a system of smoke grenades in a variety of five colors so their exact location was visible to the pilots.When they were ready to set off the smoke grenades, or "pop a smoke," they would have to use creative descriptions of the color to confuse the eavesdroppers, like "goofy grape" for purple, Bateman said."We used a code wheel every day," he said, adding that pop culture helped them share the codes.He explained that someone might ask, "Do you know the frequency on the radio?"and the reply might be, "From Jack Benny go up 12.5." He said that this would tell someone that the frequency was up 12.5 from 39 - a number commonly known as the "perpetual age" of Jack Benny from one of his gags."He was always 39.We figured the NVA wouldn't know how old Jack Benny was," said Bateman.At the age of 25 during his tour of duty in Vietnam, Bateman was older than most pilots."Later in the war the North Vietnamese became more sophisticated in the northern part of the country when they started using larger caliber radar-guided anti-aircraft weapons from the Russians and Chinese," Bateman said of assaults on helicopters.He recalled a particular conflict in March of 1971, which took the life of one of his pilot friends along with many U.S. and South Vietnamese soldiers and airmen.Back in the statesAfter his year in Vietnam, Bateman was assigned to Fort Wolters as an instructor pilot for a year before transferring into the community relation's office."When the word came out that the base was closing … I finally talked myself out of staying in the Army," he said.After five years in the military, Bateman flew helicopters for various companies all over the U.S. In '74, he flew firefighters in Alaska.Then he worked around the nation spreading fertilizer, insecticide and herbicide on crops.He returned to Alaska where he "hauled a geologist around.""At 30, I decided to go back to school and get a degree.At that time, there really weren't a lot of helicopter operations around here," said Bateman."To make money, you had to be a long way from Mineral Wells."After finishing college, Bateman worked in his family's manufacturing business and later worked in marketing for another company when the airport supervisor job was posted.In 1997, he re-entered the flying scene as the new supervisor for the Mineral Wells Municipal Airport.During the past seven to eight years, Bateman said the airport has been a staging ground for the Texas Forest Service and contract fire-fighting crews during fire season.Once a jungle pilot with a crew supporting him, Bateman now spends his time helping support recreational and business pilots.He occasionally flies small airplanes when he feels the need to get airborne.At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Bateman and other members of the National Vietnam War Museum will watch as a Huey is hoisted for permanent display at the museum site on U.S. Highway 180, just east of Mineral Wells.
According to Airport Supervisor Bobby Bateman, this is the first time, to his recollection, the airport has received this award.He explained that the award was presented at the end of the Texas Aviation Conference hosted by the TxDOT Aviation Department."Thursday night is the banquet where they give out six or seven awards and we got one of them," he remarked.The award, framed in wood and matted on blue velvet, contained a TxDOT medallion and a small, engraved plaque.Bateman accepted the award from David Fulton, TxDOT's aviation director, who shared with the evening's audience a brief history of the airport as well as its recent improvements."There's 389 airports that TxDOT supports, funding-wise," Bateman explained.Bateman agreed that the award is beneficial towards promotion of the facility.He noted that they could put the recognition on the vehicles they use for advertising as well as on their Web site. Mineral Wells Municipal Airport Manager Bobby Bateman displays the award the city received after the airport Thursday night was named the best in the state by the Texas Department of Public Transportation.None/ (Click for larger image)
Airport Supervisor Bobby Bateman said his assessment of the incident led him to believe a tire blowout upon landing was responsible for the crash which he said only damaged the nose assembly.
He said the two-seat aircraft was carrying the pilot and one passenger.
Bobby Bateman, Mineral Wells Municipal Airport supervisor, said the pilot — who regularly visits relatives in the area — was planning to land when he received indication that his landing gear was malfunctioning.
He made a low pass over the airport before receiving confirmation that his landing gear was not down. The pilot circled for about half an hour trying emergency procedures but was unable the correct the problem. Around 6:30 p.m., the pilot decided to land before it became too dark. "Everything worked fine," Bateman said. "The Mineral Wells Fire Department was on standby. As soon as [the pilot] stepped out, he said 'Well, bent my prop.'" Putting down a plane without landing gear is fairly common in the aviation world, Bateman said. However, Bateman said the last time Mineral Wells saw such an incident was about 10 years ago when a pilot forgot to put down his landing gear.