Friday, September 26, 2008

Warbirds to be given new mission

Group hopes to use Huey, vintage planes for rescues

By Carrie Ritchie - Indianapolis Star, United States

About three years ago, Charlie Walker began restoring a Huey helicopter used during the Vietnam War.

Walker, a 44-year-old metal smith who owns Edward E. Petri Co. in Downtown Indianapolis, wanted to replace his Korean War-era helicopter with a larger aircraft, and he had special reasons for choosing the Huey.

Walker grew up just outside Peru, Ind., near Grissom Air Force Base during the Vietnam War. He knew several people who served in the war, and he learned how important Hueys were in it. The helicopters dropped troops in the jungle, rescued them when they were hurt and delivered supplies. The Hueys' loud, distinctive sound could be a comfort or cause for panic, and it's still deeply ingrained in many veterans' minds.

"They go up and put their hand on it," Walker said. "Some of them cry. It's unbelievable how it affects the veterans."

He knew he had to do something special with his new aircraft.

About a year after his purchase, Walker formed Indiana Air Search and Rescue, a nonprofit group that would put that helicopter to good use.

The group's goal is to use historic aircraft to provide aid during natural disasters and help rescue people who are lost or in danger, Walker said. When they're not involved in a rescue, members will display their aircraft at schools and military events to educate the public.

The group will host its first event Saturday in Fishers to showcase newly restored aircraft and raise money to begin the mission. Members' goal is to begin providing services in the spring.

Those who attend the event will be able to look at the Huey and World War II planes and take a ride in a civilian helicopter, Walker said. Jewelry, military memorabilia and other items will be up for bid in a silent auction. Games will be available for children.

Indiana Air Search and Rescue is trying to raise as much money as possible so it can get off the ground. Walker said the group already has received about $175,000 in money and donated parts.
The group's next project is to restore a C-47 from World War II. Walker said the plane would be beneficial to Indiana Air Search and Rescue's efforts because of its versatility and ability to land on almost any surface.

The group has a donor interested in building it a hangar. It would like to stay based at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport in Fishers if possible, said Walker, a Northside resident.
Walker attributed the group's success to its 20 members. They range from experienced war pilots to two teenagers who help with research and construction, but they're all crucial to the operation, he said. Eight of them are certified first responders, which means they've met standards established by the Department of Homeland Security.

Skip Budny, 68, Danville, joined the group about two years ago. He piloted Hueys during the Vietnam War and wanted to work with them again. He said he liked the idea of restoring an aircraft that would've sat unused.

"This aircraft will actually be out there flying and providing a service for the community," he said.

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