Let's Talk About the Past: Huey helicopter

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The Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter, widely known as the "Huey," became an iconic symbol of the Vietnam War and helped transport thousands of wounded American soldiers to safety.

Bell Helicopter developed the UH-1 in the 1950s to meet the U.S. Army's requirement for a medical evacuation and utility helicopter. Ordered into production in March 1960, the UH-1 was the first turbine-powered helicopter produced for the U.S. military. The chopper's original designation of "HU-1" led to its nickname of "Huey." By March of 1962, the first Huey helicopters arrived in Vietnam with the 57th Medical Detachment.

The revolutionary UH-1 provided several services to the U.S. Army in Vietnam, including general support, air assault, and cargo transport, but its primary function was aeromedical evacuation. As soldiers were wounded or killed in battle, the Huey would swoop in and transport the casualties to safer ground.

At the war's peak in March 1970, two-thirds of the 3,900 helicopters operated by the U.S. military in Vietnam were Hueys, making them a symbol of the conflict and eventually one of the most recognized helicopters in the world.

The "thwapping" of the Huey's propeller blades was an all-too-familiar sound for troops in Vietnam, especially in 1968 -- the deadliest year of the Vietnam War.

Recently, a group of Vietnam Veterans from Western Pennsylvania helped to reassemble an original Huey UH-1 helicopter as part of the Heinz History Center's major exhibition, "1968: The Year That Rocked America." Manufactured by Bell Helicopters in 1966, the 20-foot Huey featured in the exhibit was active from 1967 through 1970 in Vietnam.

Originally purchased by the Minnesota Historical Society in 2010, the Huey #66-01008 is the largest item ever displayed inside a History Center exhibition.

This weekend marks the last chance for visitors to see the History Center's "1968: The Year That Rocked America" exhibition, which closes Sunday. Visitors can also hear compelling stories about the Vietnam War from local U.S. veterans as part of a special "Veterans Memories" panel discussion at 11 a.m. Saturday.

For more information, please visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

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