Vietnam Huey & Cobra Helicopters 

United States Army Center of Military History

HISTORIC OVERVIEW

After treatment of Cobra HelicopterThe UH-1 “Iroquois”—or Huey as it was more commonly referred—was one of the primary airborne elements of the Vietnam War. The aircraft was developed by Bell Helicopter in the early 1950s and quickly established itself as the US Army’s premier helicopter. The Huey was powered by a single turbo shaft engine and had a two-bladed main rotor and tail rotor. Though the Huey was developed initially as a medevac vehicle, it quickly became the Army’s utilitarian “workhorse”—filling roles such as support gunship and troop transport. The first flight of the Huey occurred on October 20, 1959 and was ordered into production by 1960. Today, the Huey remains one of the most widely used helicopters in the world.

 

Sharing the same engine and rotor configuration, the AH-1 Cobra (produced also by Bell helicopter) is the Army’s premier attack helicopter of Vietnam. Flying for the first time on September 7, 1965, and entering production in 1967, the Cobra was designed specifically for close combat air support and could carry a heavier weapons load out than the Huey. This load out included a 20 or 30 mm cannon, rocket pods, and/or TOW anti-vehicle missiles. The unique design of the Cobra—co-pilot to the rear of the pilot—made its profile much smaller than the Huey thus making it harder to shoot down. The successful implementation of the Cobra in combat eventually earned it a nickname among the Viet Cong. They called it “Whispering Death.”

 

PRE-TREATMENT CONDITION

Bird nesting found in engine compartmentIn 2008, B.R. Howard & Associates was awarded a federal contract to maintain the historic artifact collection for the United States Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC) located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. As part of this contract, we had the responsibility of providing ongoing treatment for the outdoor exhibits on AHEC’s Trail of History. The Huey and Cobra helicopters are part of this exhibit and were in need of conservation treatment.

 

Both the Huey and Cobra were in unstable condition due to the environmental conditions in which they were exhibited. These factors included extreme temperature changes, exposure to precipitation, wind, and wildlife infestation. Additionally, their proximity to an interstate highway subjected the objects to high levels of salts and multiple acidic agents produced by passing traffic. These factors attributed to actively flaking paint, high quantities of bird guano, straw and other nesting materials within the air intakes, moisture infiltration and associated oxidation of multiple interior components, and severe oxidation of exterior painted surfaces.

 

TREATMENT

Reinstallation of sealed panelUpon commencement of treatment, the Huey and Cobra helicopters were individually photographed and extensively documented. The location and display method of the Cobra necessitated the erection of scaffolding to afford easier and safer access to the upper surfaces of the helicopter fuselage. The Huey is displayed atop steel pillars; making scaffolding inappropriate and unsafe. It was therefore temporarily removed from its pillars via crane and placed on the ground for easier and safer access. Both helicopters were then barricaded to prevent unauthorized contact by the public.

 

The exterior surfaces of the helicopters were cleaned with a specialized cleaning solution, rinsed, and then towel dried using lint free cotton cloths. Areas stained by bird guano were further cleaned using mildly abrasive pads. Areas of paint loss were spot primed and selectively in-painted using appropriate products and matching colors. Engine panels were removed to facilitate access to the interior of the objects. All openings—such as the air intakes and openings around the rotor mast—were then sealed using fabricated fiberglass panels. These panels were then adhered using existing hardware in conjunction with silicone or acrylic caulking where necessary. All exterior surfaces then received two applications of a proactive wax coating. Upon completion, scaffolding was removed, the Huey was placed back on its pedestal, and the objects were again photo documented. A treatment report was then produced and delivered to AHEC in both a digital and hard copy format.