April 2018

2018 April

US Army Rotary Wing Training & Test Aircraft
1940s – 1960s

The specifications for painting and marking of US Army rotary wing training and test aircraft are outlined in Chapter 5 of Army Technical Manual TM 55-1500-345-23 Painting and Marking of Army Aircraft which states the following:

“Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft for training purposes may require additional vivid color schemes and markings to provide high conspicuity due to inexperienced student pilots flying in congested training areas. The fuselage of the training aircraft will be the standard tactical paint schemes of Chapter 4. In addition, areas of red fluorescent red-orange paint (MIL-P-21600), or tape may be used when required and authorized. See Chapters 9 and 10 for figures showing details of high conspicuity markings for aircraft used for training…the following markings are considered mandatory for all research and development air vehicles: identification lettering US ARMY or ARMY, the national insignia, and the vehicle serial and model numbers and conspicuity painting.”

Military Specification MIL-P-21600A, Paint System, Fluorescent, Removable, For Aircraft Application “covers the requirements for a high visibility, durable, exterior, fluorescent Paint system consisting of a pigmented fluorescent paint with a clear protective over coating containing a weathering stabilizer. This paint system is capable of being removed without softening the permanent undercoats.”

Today, these paint schemes are found primarily at the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE) at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Fort Rucker’s infrastructure includes four air bases, fourteen stage fields, and seventy-two remote training sites covering over 29,000 square miles in southern Alabama and northern Florida. All Army Aviation training has been undertaken at Fort Rucker since 1973. Prior to that, several installations had been used. Army Aviation training was started here in February 1955 after Army officials made the decision to relocate the Army Aviation School (primarily fixed-wing training) from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to Camp Rucker and renamed the installation as Fort Rucker on October 13, 1955.

In December 1966, in order to meet the increased requirements of additional Army helicopter pilots needed to support Vietnam War efforts, the US Army Aviation School at Fort Rucker was operating at capacity and additional facilities were needed. Hunter Air Force Base was turned over to the Army and operated in conjunction with Fort Stewart, Georgia. On July 28, 1967, the combined facilities of Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield were re-designated the United States Army Flight Training Center. Included was the Attack Helicopter Training Department (also known as "Cobra Hall"), the Army's first attack helicopter school whose purpose was to train pilots in the AH-1G Cobra. At the time, Cobra flight training was started only after an army aviator had earned their wings by the successful completion of primary flight training (Fort Wolters, Texas) and advanced flight training (Fort Rucker). Flight training at Hunter was gradually phased out, ending on June 16, 1970 as US forces began the withdrawal from Vietnam.

The US Army’s Primary Helicopter School (USAPHS) at Fort Wolters, Texas operated from July 1956 to November 1973. The first class reported for training on November 26, 1956, and graduated on April 27, 1957. All training was done at the Main Heliport and four stage fields. These facilities grew to three heliports — Main, Downing and Dempsey — and 25 stage fields to meet the pilot demands of the Vietnam War.

The School started with 125 Hiller OH-23 Raven helicopters. The number of helicopters peaked in 1969 at more than 1,300, including the OH-13 and TH-55 types. Wolters relied on these three models of small training helicopters, all powered by gasoline-fueled piston engines. These were cheaper to operate than the Hueys and in many respects were trickier to fly and considered good trainers. None of them came with instruments for flying in clouds; such advanced training happened later at Fort Rucker. Wolters was all about learning to control flighty machines under “contact,” or visual, conditions. Over 41,000 students, representing over 30 countries, graduated from the primary helicopter school during the 17 years it functioned in this capacity. Peak output occurred in 1967 with 600 students graduating each month.

Today, the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence is the predominant military facility at Fort Rucker, training and educating over 23,000 Army Aviation soldiers and leaders annually. The base is the world’s largest helicopter training installation. Currently, all initial training for US Air Force helicopter pilots (since 1971) takes place at Fort Rucker. The Center is also the training site for all Army flight surgeons and flight medics as well as the home to the US Army Aviation Technical Test Center (ATTC), which conducts developmental aircraft testing for Army Aviation. The Center also trains and educates over 700 international students from over forty allied countries each year.

Text: Paul Fardink

Go back to the previous photo or view the photo for next month

2018 History Calendar Index