hoists some Huey memories
...Flying 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
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.
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
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
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
was one of just over 7,000 total Hueys in Vietnam.
"The Huey is synonymous with the Vietnam War," he
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
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
"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
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
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