Thursday, July 7, 2016

Helicopter pilot reunion in Great Falls next week


Later this month, Great Falls will host the 20th reunion of Air Force helicopter pilots.

The group includes pilots from the World War II era to present day, but most served during the Vietnam and Korea eras, said Kyron Hall, chairman and historian for the USAF Helicopter Pilot Association. The first two female members were active duty pilots with the 40th Helicopter Squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

“There’s a lot of experience in the group,” Hall said. “It’s good to see everybody. Every year, we lose a few.”

Hall said over the last year, they’ve lost about 15 pilots.

The association was formed in 1985 by a group of former helicopter instructor pilots and initially only included those who had been at the Air Force Helicopter School at Stead Air Force Base in Reno, Nev.

But it was soon opened to any helicopter pilot who had served in the Air Force, an auxiliary membership for widows of the pilots and an associate membership for families or supporters of the association.

Hall was among those who taught in Reno and said they were the only flying unit at the base.

“We became a pretty close family,” he said.

Hall flew helicopters for the Air Force for 20 years from 1954-74. He spent his last two years stationed at Malmstrom and flew UH-1N Hueys.

After leaving the Air Force, he stayed in Great Falls and flew 12 years for Mercy Flight.

“I loved every minute of it,” he said of flying. “You get it in your blood.”

During the Vietnam conflict, he spent a year flying CH-3Cs in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia on secret missions, he said.

Hall said two pilots in their group were awarded the Medal of Honor, including Col. James Fleming, who rescued a six-man Special Forces team in 1958.

“We got our share of excitement,” Hall said.

Members of the group will begin arriving in Great Falls on July 12 and start with a bus trip to Glacier National Park. While in Great Falls, they’ll explore the region, visit with the Huey pilots at the 40th and share stories.

Source:  http://www.greatfallstribune.com

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