USAF Helicopter Pilot Association

Claims to Fame


This section is devoted to notable, and sometimes humorous, claims to have done something that no else has done (at least in their right mind). It also highlights some of the outstanding recognized feats of helicopter pilot's accomplishments in decades past.  


Old Question of the Day:

Who is the Oldest member of USAFHPA?

Ed Stevens, one of our newest members was born in October 2, 1916. He was drafted 19 May 1941. He lives in Lakeland Florida.  That  makes him our oldest member. (Orlando 2006)    *(Ed passed away in 2013).

  Frank Kelley checked in with 18 August 1921 birth date *(Frank passed away in 2013).

We will have to search for our next oldest member.

Who was first member to check out in helicopters?

It appears the earliest checkout goes to Walter Riley Jr. who received his checkout on March 26, 1946 at Sheppard Field, Texas.

Joe Barrett became Rotary wing qualified at San Marcos on Feb 4, 1947.

Ed Stevens, Sr. was checked out in April, 1947.

 New question of the Day

 Who was the first helicopter pilot to enter the Military?

 Val Don Hickerson lays claim to 16 Nov 1943.

 Grant Bird  - I'm afraid I'll have to trump Val Don Hickerson on the "earliest to enter the military".  I enlisted in the Army Air Corps at 18 in Joplin, Missouri on September 23, 1941.  After completing Radio Operator school I was assigned to MacDill Field, Florida as a RO/Gunner on B-17s. When the last of them left for England in the summer of 1942 I was kept behind waiting for assignment to Aviation Cadets.  I completed pilot training and at 19 was commissioned May 28, 1943 and was sent back to MacDill in Martin B-26s.  I flew a new B-26 via the northern route to England in July/August and flew my first combat mission in September of 1943.  There is a real story about that! 

        Congratulations to all of you on the new Website and Newsletter. Obviously, a lot of work went into this classy project.  An old dinosaur like me really appreciates your labors. I'm delighted to see that a young friend, Syd Gurley, is 1st Vice Chairman.  I'm too old and obsolete to know the other officers.

If Ken Hatton was a USMC Pfc searching for Amelia Earheart in a 1937 Air/Sea Rescue Mission, that makes him the earliest to enter the military.  See his “Claim to Fame” below.

In a past Newsletter in the section "This From The Past " we stated that the USAF H-19s were taken out of service in 1964. WOW ! Did we ever get some feedback on that incorrect date. First, let me tell you all where that information came from. We looked at web site and extracted that date. We were suspicious of the date but decided to put it out and see if someone would take up on it.

Don Dair
in Hampton, Va. was first to get back to us. He indicated he was still flying the H-19 out of Osan, Korea in 1968.

Lawrence (LD) Jones from Plymouth, N.C. was stationed at Sheppard AFB in the sixties and says that in April, 1968 all the H-19s were flown in a group (could that be a gaggle ?) from Sheppard to the bone yard at DM. As the last one in the flight to land and taxi in, he is laying a Claim-To-Fame to being the last pilot to fly an active duty USAF H-19. According to his logbook the date was 20 April 1968.

Paul Ashley at Navarre Bch., Fl. said he was C.O. of a Det. at Ramstein AB flying the H-19 in 1969 and feels positive they were still flying in 1970.

Mike Armstrong
- his last H-19 flight (stateside) was 10 March 1970.

Stan Stamps
- claims to be the last to fly an H19 in Japan. His last flight was on 30 December 1970 at Naha, after which the helicopters were cut up and destroyed.

 George Durham -claims the last operational H-19 to be at Ramstein AB, Germany with his last flight in late 1971 or 1972. .

"How High the Sky?"

Not to be outdone if his first Claim doesn't fly,(pun intended), LD Jones submits this account:
"While stationed at Luke AFB in the late 1950s, I used to be asked quite often how high I had flown a helicopter. I had never thought much about it, but since I got tired of being asked and not having an answer, I decided to find out. By this time our 4 H-19s had been traded for 4 H-21s. Early one morning I got two walk-around oxygen bottles and our smallest crew chief, cranked up an H-21, pulled in the collective and left it there. At maximum altitude our airspeed was 35 kts. Any faster and it would descend, and any attempt to reduce speed to gain additional altitude resulted in mushing and a loss of altitude. After several minutes at max altitude, during which time an F-100 flew past our nose, I was satisfied and descended back to Luke. I hereby submit the claim as the only pilot to fly an H-21 to 20,000 feet."

K.V. Hall --I will try for one in an H-19. (1966). We had previously done some "high altitude" photography of the auxiliary field at Grandfield, OK at 10,000' plus. Cy Williams and I were out this day and decided to see how much higher the old "19" would go. At 14,700 it's about all she would do. Blade stall at 30 kts and settling at 15 kts. I guess the advertised 15,000' service ceiling was about right. We then proceeded to autorotate for about 20 miles.

In my "later" years (1973), flying UH-1F's at Malmstrom, we flew "security" circles around convoys transporting missiles to a site. B-0-0-R-I-NG ! I decided if a couple thousand feet was good for surveillance then why not, say, 5,000? Then, why not 10? As I got higher I kept checking my fingernails to see if they were turning blue. Without supplemental oxygen and the Huey still climbing like a "bat" I figured it might go to the moon. So at 16,000' MSL, I decided to "come back to earth".  

Bob StroutWhile stationed in the Canal Zone, SouthCom laid on a potential mission to recover crash victims from about the 18,000 foot level on a mountainside near La Paz, Bolivia. With Lou Vasquez riding Co-Pilot, and John Fiser keeping track of the walk around bottles we were carrying, I took a UH-1P to up to see if we could actually fly at that altitude. At about 22,500 over the Canal Zone, (magnificent view of both coasts, by the way) we quit climbing. I started to feel blade stall at 16 knots, so it was time to head for home. Wisely, South Com canceled the mission alert.


Willis "Joe" Kusy, and friend George Hicks, created the "Ten Commandments for Helicopter Flying". Joe was also instrumental in obtaining the Sikorsky CH-3 for the USAF.  (see his story in Outstanding Persons Page)

 Charles O. (Charlie) Weir - started flying helicopters in 1944 and claims to be the first helicopter pilot to go through test pilot school at Wright Field in 1945. He claims over 1000 hours in three different choppers, R/H-5, H-19 & H-21. His most impressive claim is to have flown approximately 45 types of helicopters including Tri-motored co- axials, twin engine laterally opposed rotors, etc., etc., etc.  

Capt. Lawrence Barrett and Lt. R. Sullivan flew more that 100 miles behind North Korean lines in Jan. 1953 to rescue a downed F-51 pilot.

Doug Armstrong - My claim to fame is that I bailed out of a helicopter without a parachute and survived without a scratch. No, I was not sitting on the ground. Gary AFB, Texas, July 1, 1954, H-13 had an engine failure over a lake south of the field. I tried to autorotate across the valley to a road but hit wires crossing the valley. The bubble burst and the wires broke off the rotor blades. At 50 feet and 50 knots I bailed out and into the lake. When I got to the surface, the helicopter was upside down on the bottom. Glad that I didn't have to swim to the shore with it strapped to my back.

Bob Ferry - Official Record - still holds world's distance record for helicopters set on April 6-7, 1966 by a coast-to-coast non-stop, non-refueled flight in a YOH-6A flying from Culver City, CA to Ormond Beach, FL. The distance was 2136 miles and was flown at altitudes up to 24,000'.
Unofficial Records:
     1. The only pilot who got lost while hovering.
     2. Longest rearward flight - San Diego to San Clemente, CA. (About 60 miles)
First helicopter pilot to shoot down another aircraft. Howard Field, 1949, shot down an OQ-3
     4. Only pilot to fly 3 XV type aircraft. Also flew the XV 9A hot cycle.
5. First pilot to do a power off reconversion in a convertiplane. (XV-3 Tilt Rotor - 1959)
     6. First pilot to do a full auto rotation in a Huey (XH-40) with a dead engine and no autorotation practice in that aircraft. (1957)
First pilot to get blamed for the USAF purchase of the H-43.
     8. Most sideward flight time. Three months of Apache flight tests and two tours at the USAF Helicopter School.
     9. Only pilot to do a zoom chop full autorotation. Cut power at high speed on the deck, climb to 500 feet and do a 720 turn and landing all power off.
        10. Luckiest helicopter pilot.  

 John C. Flournoy Sr. - who was Bob Ferry's co-pilot on most of his lost (temporarily disoriented) flights:
     Flew an H-43 from Germany to Geneva Switzerland to participate as the only U.S helicopter crew at the International Red Cross Centennial celebration. (1964).
     Picked up a downed H-43 from the Greenland ice cap and delivered it via another H-43 to the deck of the USCG icebreaker Southwind, (Thule- 1967). Planned and developed (Scott AFB), tested (Chanute AFB), installed and operationally employed the first and only "smokeless fire pit" for USAF H-43 training at Hill AFB. (1973) Longest continiuous H-43 flying assignments, 1961-1974, (Spang, Moody, Thule,Robins, Scott, SEA)

     The most different models of helicopters.. I would like to submit the 
following: H-19, H-21, H-34, HH-43B, HH-43F, UH-1D, UH-1F, HH-1H, UH-1N, UH-1P, 
Model 412 (four bladed N), CH-3C, CH-3E, HH-3E, HH-53, HH-53H,
HH-53J, UH-60, MH-60, and HH-60. (That's 20)

On my fini flight at Hurlburt in 1988 I got to take off in the H-60,  land and switch to the H-53, and land and finish up in the H-3.    What a great day!

Jim Lamoreaux.   Most time in the H-43:  I checked my "Form 5" just recently and found that I have 3452 hours of  H-43 time,  H-43A & H-43B combined.  I flew them in the last eleven years I was in the Air Force.  Looking forward to the next reunion.  See you there.  

 Jack Zimmerman - Member of the first class of Army Air Corps helicopter pilots. Trained at Freeman Field, Seymore, Indiana, Jul - Aug 1944. Factory instructors had only 10 hours of chopper time in Sikorsky, R4B aircraft. First to land a helicopter on Pike's Peak, Sep 1955 in a Cessna CH-1.   

Two Air Force crews, Capts. Vincent McGovern and Harry Jeffers, and Capt. George Hembrick and Lt. Harold Moore flying two H-19's nicknamed "Hopalong and Whirl-0-Way", made the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, July 13-21, 1952. They flew from Westover, Mass., to Prestwick, Scotland covering 3,535 miles in 42 hours 25 minutes.

 Don Alford - Flew a helicopter non-stop from New York to Paris.

 Kyron (K.V.) Hall - most helicopter pilot flight time while on active duty USAF - 7800 hours. Over 2000 hours in three different helicopters, H-19, H-21, and H-3.

HH-3E Aircraft Commander on longest over-water rescue by land based helicopter, (AAC), 450 miles at sea south of Kodiak Island to rescue Korean merchant seaman with acute appendicitis. Elmendorf AFB, AK - 1971.  

 William E. Zins was the first helicopter pilot to become a fighter squadron commander. (92nd Fighter Sq. Wheeler Field Hawaii, 1947-1950)  

Ken Hatton claims to have been on the very first Air/Sea rescue mission on July 4th to 18th, 1937. He was searching the south Pacific for Amelia Earhart while a USMC Pfc.

 Vern Dander of Highlands Ranch, Colorado (Ed. note. Also known as "Little California") has sent in some dubious claims.

Last operational USAF H-21 flight in Japan. Jan. 28, 1960 ferry flight from Det. 3, 24th HELRON to JSFD on north side of Tokyo bay. Only pilot to "successfully" accomplish an in- flight reconfiguration of an H-21 from tri-cycle to bicycle gear. Success means shutting down engine and rotors without ground contact. Sept. 14, 1959.

Most flying time as active duty USAF pilot in the Hughes TH-55 - 204 hours. Most flying time as USAF active duty pilot in the Hughes OH-6A- 72.4 hours.

Longest time between carrier landings on the same carrier. 14 years, 1 month - carrier USS Valley Forge. First landing: June 1954 at sea in the Atlantic as a Midshipman, Next landing July, 1968 at sea in Tonkin Gulf as a Major.

Only Naval Academy representative in a combat helicopter squadron with members from 4 of the 5 service academies. 37th ARRS Da Nang AB, RVN, 1968

Best USAF active duty Helicopter assignment. Production test pilot, Hughes AFPRO, Palomar Airport, Carlsbad, CA 1966 - 1967. (The only drawback was having to listen to war stories told by ex-"Naval Service" company pilots).

Doug Armstrong - Well, Vern, I have to dispute that last one. I was stationed at a Gunnery range on the beaches of southern France. From there I made 2 helicopter flights up past the Arctic Circle in Norway and many trips to Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. What a life!  

Francis "Blackie" Carney, in October 1961, set a new official altitude record of 32, 840 feet in an HH-43B. He also set 3 new "time to climb" records.  

Scott Johnson flew an H-19 from Mobile, Alabama to Panama (1957), being at that time the longest unescorted over-water helicopter flight. (Copilot unknown) The first day they made it to Havana, Cuba where they stayed at the Comodore Hotel and witnessed the sugar cane fields burning in the distance - Castro and his gang were soon to arrive.

Page Brake claims to be the first H-3E pilot to receive Battle Damage in Alaska. "On an early rescue mission with the newly arrived HH-3E's, found two lost hunters. Our MSgt. Pararescueman unloaded their guns as they came aboard and checked them by pulling the trigger. The second gun fired - straight up through the ceiling - missed blades, nice hole in the roof".

Ron Ingraham claims an earlier incident. Upon return to Myrtle Beach in 1957 from a local mission in an H-19, the ground crew discovered apparent .38 caliber entrance and exit holes in the tail cone. Considering the noise level in the H-19, it's not surprising that the crew didn't notice the sound. It was assumed that he got too close to a moonshiner's still. Results could have been nasty had the tail rotor drive shaft been hit.  

Fred Gregory was the first USAF Helicopter Pilot to upgrade into a space vehicle. Fred flew H-43's at Vance AFB and DaNang SVN and UH-1F at Whiteman. After completing fixed wing school, he was assigned to fly F-4's at DM. Fred was assigned to the Flight Test Wing at Wright-Patt flying various fixed and rotary wing aircraft until selected for Astronaut Training in 1978. He went on to become the first black American to pilot the space shuttle and was aircraft commander on 2 more shuttle flights acquiring over 455 hours in space. He later rose to NASA Deputy Administrator.

 Don Carty - first USAF pilot to fly the X025A Benson Gyrocopter that now hangs in the USAF Museum at Wright-Patt. Managed to be blown backwards 25 miles while coaxing a UH-1B up to 20,000 ft.  

Carl Damonte - Project pilot, CH-3C III Test Program, 1964-65, Patrick AFB, FL. First USAF pilot to log 1,000 hours in the H-3 helicopter. ARRS Project pilot for "Operation Fast Gas", H-3 Air Refueling Test Program at Wright-Patterson AFB.

John Holt - Shot down near DMZ in Laos, Feb 1969, in HH-3 on last helicopter sensor mission of Vietnam War.

Clark Lovrien - DFC for saving 2 Navy pilots in Feb night snowstorm at 11,000 feet on side of Mt. Whitney, CA. (crash landed their A-1)

"Wild" Bill Lyell flew the first YH-40 (H-1) in January of 1958. Checked out Gen. Curtis Lemay in H-13.

Jim Richardson, Andy Archer and Dick Van Allen have flown the most H-1 models.- UH-1B, UH-1C, UH-1D, UH-1F, AH-1G, UH-1H, UH-1N, UH-1P.

Rich Blackwell has most military H-1 time - 4,506 hours.

Bob Suhrheinrick has total of military and civilian (Petroleum Helicopters) H-1 time -10,675 hours.

 Donald Van Meter - Most different models of helicopters flown (12) - (ie. Start, take-off and land at the controls), H-19B, H-21B, H-43A, H-43B, H-43F, Mi4A(USSR Hound),H-23, H-13, UH-1C, UH-1D, UH-1H, OH-58A.

David Allen stakes his claim to the longest un-refueled HH-43B flight, 5 hours 55 minutes. It was in July 1965 from Central Laos to an area west of the Black River in North Vietnam and return. There were two birds on the mission but Dave does not recall who was in the other bird. How long did you have to look at the low fuel warning light, Dave?

Leron Allred claims a first to recover from a student induced snap roll in a UH-1F in 1970 at Sheppard AFB, TX. The student was practicing recoveries from unusual attitudes while "under the hood" instrument training and went full cyclic in the wrong direction. "Viewing the world upside down in a helicopter is a sight I'll never forget".

Ray Dunn reports that Harry Dunn's claim of being Ray's dad is false and should be deleted.

John Caldwell claims to be the first USAF helicopter pilot to land on the deck of a Navy destroyer using the "bear trap haul down system". This was done off Nova Scotia on a Canadian destroyer in May, 1965.

John also claims to be the last pilot to fly a YH-5. "I flew #620 from Eglin to Wright-Patterson in April 1955 where she now resides in the USAF Museum. My Crewchief was SSgt Stan Hendrix. It took 5 days and seven enroute stops including one at Sewart where I almost had to fight George Gaffney to keep him from taking my bright yellow chopper for "just one flight around the field". Those who remember Gaffney will know why I departed at daybreak the next day."

Jim West has a claim that tends to shake one up a bit. He crashed on his first combat mission in Laos. They had logged 35 minutes on the flight. What an exciting way to start a tour.

Marty Donohue was first to hook up to a C-130 for air refueling with a Gemini capsule in tow. First to abort the refueling because of a rather nerve racking oscillation. Sep 68.

Ron Ingaham was AC on one of 2 H-19's that completed first night over water rescue of 93 people at Lake Marion, S.C., March 26, 1955.

Red Lemke and Joe Phelan , in an HH-43F, made the first combat land hoist pickup over North Vietnam on 2 March 1965. On the same mission, they made a water pickup of VNAF A-1E pilot in China Sea as they coordinated the land pickup with CAP and USN escorts. They put a PJ on the ground at the chute inland but only recovered a helmet. The helicopter took a hit in the rotor blade but made it back to Hue Citadel before vibration dictated leaving the aircraft for a blade change. The lost pilot had no functioning emergency radio or beeper and evaded 8 days before capture near the DMZ.

Al Deviney, Don Walker, Skip Cowell, Billy Wingfield, Keith Droegemeier, K.V. Hall, Stu Silver and Doyle Krauss, claim to have killed more mule deer (legally) in Nevada than any other group.  

Jack McTasney claims he is the only USAF Member to make two open sea landings in one night to pick up Navy A-6 Pilots. Also claims to have crashed twice in the Ashau. The first was his own battle damaged HH-3, the second time the HH-3 that picked him up went down on take-off. Guess the third bird was the charm.


Ed Stevens, flew 35 combat missions over Europe as a B-17 pilot from April - July 1944. When his crew rotated stateside, Ed remained in England and flew bombardiers back and forth between England and North Africa on practice bombing missions. One of his favorite gripes was being shot at by the Germans on the way to North Africa, then shot at by the Americans on the way home to England.  He graduated from Helicopter Pilot Training October 3rd, 1947. He Claims the first landing of a USAF Helicopter on a Navy Carrier, 1948, off the coast of Trinidad.  Ed is currently our oldest living member.


Bob Strout, How about a high altitude heavyweight landing? While deployed to Piura, Peru for a flood relief mission, an earthquake caused landslides that closed many roads and isolated small villages in the Andes Mountains. We flew to the small town of Olmos, and landed in a futball field, surrounded by trees. We stuffed UH-1N with relief supplies to the point where we could just barely hover. Backing into a corner of the field, we accelerated to translational lift, then “popped” over the trees, dropped the nose to regain speed then turned to the Southeast and started to climb. From sea level, we climbed into the Andes, to the village of Santa Maria. Overflying the village, I found a Futball field with fairly clear approaches. There was no way we could hover at that altitude and at our gross weight, so an approach to touchdown was executed, sliding the skids on the ground at just over 13,700 feet MSL.


Dick Ledoux - I'm the only guy as pilot in command to launch a 147 drone off the wing of a C-130A, land the C-130 and then get in a CH-3 as pilot in command and catch the same drone. (They call them "UAV's" now!) I did this back in the late 1960's out at Pt. Mugu NAS, CA.


Bob Blough, First (and last?) AF pilot to land an H-53 on a USN Destroyer Escort (3 wheels on the deck w/ 50% p0wer) with 34 Marines aboard, at night, with the ship underway. (Gulf of Thailand, May 1975) “Your rotor blades were 15 FREAKING INCHES  from the superstructure!” I may have bent the helipad, but they never sent me a bill!


Don Eastman First helicopter pilot to make a hookup with CH-3C Air Refueling probe to a C-130 tanker aircraft refueling drogue on Dec 15, 1965.  Conducted Air Refueling tests on CH/HH-3 and HH-53 while Test Pilot at Wright-Patterson AFB. Also Water Landing tests to establish parameters for CH-3C with refueling probe.


Robert Sullivan and  Don Crabb  were on standby on Cho-do Island, 12 April 1953, when they were scrambled by the local radar station. Five miles northeast of the island they spotted a chute coming down and headed towards it. They dropped the hoist cable and picked up the pilot in an open water rescue moments after his feet touched the Yellow sea.  Turns out the pilot was Korean War Ace,  Captain Joe McConnell.  McConnell was shot down just after scoring his eighth MIG kill.


Merle PanzerTotal Helicopter Flying hours (military and civilian) – 18,629. Honorable Discharge from US Navy, US Army and US Air Force.


Grant MackieClaims the record for the most rescues via rescue hoist in one day, a total of 37. This took place on Kyushu, Japan during heavy rainstorms in 1958 that caused flooding. Grant was pilot; Bill Johnson III, co-pilot; Sgt Charles Wright, Hoist operator assigned to Det 3, 24th HeliRon flying H-21's. Mackie and Wright were awarded Air Medals and Johnson received AF Commendation Medal.


Paul Ashley – Claims to have made the first HH-3E night refueling during an Operational Mission. Made the night refueling during a 300 mile flight over the south China Sea on a rescue mission in 1968.


Richard A. Smith – The only Air Force helicopter pilot in Vietnam to get ran over by a boat . June 1967, Det 9 at Pleiku was having a party on the shore of a lake and water skiing from 2 speed boats supplied by the Army Special Services. During his turn he fell and it became obvious that no one in the boat was watching for him as they came back pick him up. He dove straight down to hopefully avoid being ran over but didn't get deep enough to avoid getting 7 slices to his body from the boats prop. Fortunately, the Det's Alert H-43's were at the lake shore and he was transported to the Army hospital in a matter of minutes. Later transferred to the AF hospital in Japan, he successfully recovered and returned to flight status at Pleiku exactly 5 weeks from the date of the accident.



Rich Blackwell - I'll throw this one out there.

In July 1972, I "landed" a TH-1F at 11,400 ft in the high Uinta Mountains in Utah to pick up an injured hiker.  Although relatively level, there was not a suitable landing area. I established a low hover, but due to limited tail rotor effectiveness, we could not load the injured hiker.  By resting one skid against a large rocky area we were able to stabilize the aircraft and complete the pickup.  I don't recall my copilot, but the FE was Sgt Tommy Kitchens.  We were assigned to the 1550th at Hill AFB, Utah at the time.




(This file Updated March 5, 2014)


  | Home Page |