Staff photos by Lynne Hermansen
A crowd waited for the special arrival of a helicopter Saturday, July 23 at the Heart of America’s hanger at New Century Airport.
A YL-37, a Marine Corps 1961 Sikorsky UH-34D visited from Inola, Oklahoma on its way to the aviation festival in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The helicopter remained on display Sunday and departed Monday.
The YL-37 was first manufactured in Bridgeport, Connecticut and served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1968. The helicopter bears 54 patches over bullet holes sustained in Vietnam. At one point, its damage was so severe that it had to be airlifted out of the combat zone by a CH-53 helicopter for repair.
It is the only Marine UH-3D Sikorsky helicopter with documented combat history that survived the Vietnam War. It is used as a flying memorial to veterans who died and survived and to educate new generations.
Mike Schneider pointed out features of YL-37 to visitors. Schneider calls himself a “pilot, polisher, cleaner, mechanic and general guru” to the restored helicopter.
“It flys great,” he said.
When asked how it remains in its sustained condition, Schneider said it takes a lot of work and money to keep it in its pristine condition.
He said while the windshields are original though, they can’t find blades to buy for it anymore.
Schneider since when they can no longer fly it it will be donated to a museum.
The helicopter served with the squadron HMM-362, known as “The Ugly Angels.” A bronze plaque is featured on the side listing the 33 Marines who served as an Ugly Angel and gave their lives in Vietnam serving.
Some of the surviving crew members fly it today to help provide an educational experience to new generations.
Mike McMahon, maintenance officer for the Commemorative Air Force Museum, said bringing the aircraft for a stop at New Century was “an intersection with enthusiasts hosting.”
The Air Force Museum is housed on the second floor of Hangar 3 at 6 Aero Plaza and displays war memorabilia and historical artifacts from WWII, The Korean War, the Vietnam War and battles in between.
The museum was founded to restore and preserve combat aircraft from all military branches in flying condition.
McMahon said 124 of their 165 aircraft is in operational flying condition.
They host two monthly events. The first Saturdays of the month are for kid-friendly open hangar days and the third Saturdays are for meetings with guest speakers.
The hangar is part of the former Olathe Naval Air Station and faces the former Olathe Naval Air Station Control Tower. ONAS was a training center for Naval Aviation during the Vietnam War.
The helicopter is owned by The YL-37 Group Foundation. The non-profit is fully supported by Veterans groups and friends.