For J.R. "Skip" Lam and the other members of the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation's Sky Soldiers demonstration team, bringing Vietnam-era aircraft back to life is a call of duty.
The team has made it its mission to bring the sights, sounds and spirit of the Vietnam conflict alive for air show audiences. The Sky Soldiers will appear at the Boshears Skyfest this weekend.
Mr. Lam said the goal of the Sky Soldiers is to re-create many of the mission tactics employed by Army aviators in Vietnam and, in doing so, dispel misconceptions,
"This was a lost chapter in history," he said in a recent telephone interview from Puerto Rico. "It's a real part of the reason we do this. It has been depicted in Hollywood as a little flippant. But the aviators really are the backbone of the Army mission, and that's something that began in Vietnam."
The veterans, many of whom fly the same type of aircraft they piloted nearly 40 years ago, also assist in the restoration of the birds. Mr. Lam said bringing a Vietnam-era helicopter up to current standards usually takes about three years.
"They are restored to a point where not only can they be flown, but flown in the dynamic way we need them," he said.
The show the Sky Soldiers are bringing to Boshears, which Mr. Lam referred to as the "big show," features an array of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, pyrotechnics and real-life mission scenarios. He said the goal is to educate and entertain.
"We cover both of those extremely well," Mr. Lam said. "We're able to demonstrate the capabilities of these aircraft and talk a little bit about the history."
Sky Soldiers also will offer festival patrons rides in vintage Huey helicopters. Mr. Lam said it's a rare opportunity for people to get a first-hand feeling of what flying the big birds felt like.
"These are aircraft with more than 3,500 assault missions between them," Mr. Lam said. "They've been restored and are flown by veterans who flew them over there. We're the only organization given permission to take the general public up in these war birds. It really is a rare experience."
As exciting as the rocket's red glare might be for an audience assembled at the Boshears flight line, Mr. Lam said the opportunity to get the rotors spinning again is equally important to the Sky Soldiers vets.
"This is our opportunity to tell a story," he said. "The story of how these experiences affected us and have been responsible for our successes in life."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: Boshears Skyfest
WHEN: Saturday-Sunday; gates open at 9 a.m.
WHERE: Daniel Field, 2803 Wrightsboro Road
COST: $12 in advance, $15 at the gate. Children 12 and under free. Advance tickets available at all Circle K locations.
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