USAF Helicopter Pilot Association

Reunion 1994

Reunion 1994 Information

Reunion #6 – October 21-23, 1994 – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The 1994 USAFHPA Reunion in Albuquerque turned out to be a splendid event. The affair offered something for every one of our 275 attendees. Our "peripheral" events, the tours, proved to be quite popular. The weather couldn’t have better. We really lucked out with clear skies, calm winds and great autumn temperatures.

This allowed us to take advantage of the large patio area between the pool and the hospitality room. In fact, it was so nice on Friday evening that we couldn’t get the folks to come inside. The Mariachi band finally had to come outside to play to the crowd.

Perhaps the most surprising was the number of folks who went for a balloon ride. Scott Appilmann of Rainbow Ryders gave us a terrific deal on the price and we responded. Scott gave our group 65 rides over a four-day period with no flight cancellations. The great weather conditions made the rides most pleasurable. Other folks took the bus ride to Santa Fe to check out the arts and crafts of the Native American open air market. They also toured historic missions and got to drive by some of the celebrity's (like Oprah) homes.

The tour of the 58th Special Operations Wing proved to be the "sleeper" event. It was simply great. A number of members opted out upon realizing it would be long. But those who did go got much more than they expected. Let me quote from the letter of appreciation I sent to Colonel Farage, the unit’s commander.

"I knew you set up an outstanding tour, but I believe the word ‘outstanding" underestimates the actual presentation if one factors in the effect the orientation had on the attendees. They came back literally abuzz, energized as it were by what they saw.

"The exhibit with the most impact had to be the full vision H-60 and H-53 simulators. The wives, even more than the men, loved flying them. Having the APU’s going to power the glass cockpits on the ramp "static display" aircraft really brought today’s technology to life. The NVG display gave our members an "eye opening" appreciation for today’s flying environment. The pararescuemen finished the picture with their outstanding display of their arsenal of sophisticated equipment."

"Perhaps most surprising, as I talked with the returning members, many commented most favorably about the quality of the people going through training today. Many of our members remember studying as something one guy in each class did for the rest of them between bar calls. Yet today’s student pilots and crewmembers seem more eager to learn than to drink. They are physically fit and eager to be the best they can be. Our members found this most impressive. It gave them great pride to know that today’s people are actually improving upon the proud legacy that our members like to think they have left."

We were fortunate to have three great guest speakers this year: Jean Ross Howard Phelan, Jim Phelan, and Mr. Bart Kelley. One invited speaker, Major Corby Martin, had to cancel at the last moment when our boys were alerted for standby duty (possible deployment to Saudi Arabia – or was it Bosnia. There were a number going on simultaneously). Corby flew the lead MH-53 Pave Low guiding the Apaches on the first strike missions of the Gulf War.

Jean Ross Howard absolutely charmed us with her story about how she got into flying, first fixed wing and then helicopters. No professor ever gave a more entertaining lecture about aviation operations during the pre-WW2 and WW2 era, especially regarding the obstacles facing female pilots. Fortunately for her (and us) she managed to succeed and became the eighth female in the free world to receive a helicopter rating. She eventually went on to found the Whirleygirls, a professional organization for female helicopter pilots.

Jim Phelan is Jean’s husband. That is one big claim to fame. However, his other claim to fame is that he was the crew chief on the first helicopter used in a combat mission in WW2. He was crew chief for Carter Harman, the pilot on that first mission and our guest speaker last reunion. Jim didn’t speak much, but entertained us throughout the weekend with stories of improvisation in the early days. Small world, no?

Mr. Bart Kelley, now 85, spoke to us Saturday evening about the early days in the development of the Bell helicopter. Mr. Kelley was a personal friend of the machine’s developer, Arthur Young, and became the first helicopter engineer hired by Bell, retiring some thirty years later as Senior Vice President of Engineering. He played an instrumental role in the development of the Huey Cobra.

Mr. Kelley narrated a priceless fifty minute collection of film taken by Arthur Young from the early 1930’s through 1947. Most surprising to me was the fact that the film was in color! The film also caught one of the first accidents. Flying a tethered aircraft, Bell’s chief pilot, a man who thought he could fly anything because was chief of flight test (mid 1943) discovered that the helicopter demanded special skill. The man lost control, hit hard, and launched himself up through the rotor blades to be flung to the ground, escaping with only a broken bone. Truly breathtaking film clip.  

Note: Information taken from USAFHPA Newsletters and other sources. Kyron Hall, historian.

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