Browning, who like the late Col. Nutter flew Hueys in Vietnam, felt equal parts pride and vindication as he watched the parachute be pulled off the helicopter.
“It was awful when we got back (from Vietnam),” said Browning, who served in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971 and was recalling the hostile reception he and other returning soldiers faced. “I’m pleased with this recognition and proud to be here and celebrate this occasion. I’m honored to stand next to that bird. It swells your chest.”
Saturday’s 12th Hangar Party, a fundraiser for Aviation Heritage Park, had a theme of “Warriors Remembered” this year as a nod to Vietnam veterans like Nutter and Browning.
The Huey, found in Arizona’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base that is known as “the boneyard” for its collection of nonfunctioning aircraft dating back to World War II, will be the sixth aircraft to be displayed in the park at the corner of Three Springs and Smallhouse roads near Basil Griffin Park. All the aircraft have ties to Bowling Green or southcentral Kentucky.
Countless volunteer hours were invested in restoring the Huey, and one of Nutter’s family members who was on hand Saturday said the work to get the helicopter ready for display was a welcome tribute.
“My dad would be very pleased,” said Gina Nutter McIntosh, daughter of the man who received the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in Vietnam. “He was always happy when he could honor Vietnam veterans. The work to restore this helicopter was done by volunteers, and that shows that there are a lot of people who care about veterans.”
In another nod to the Vietnam era, Hangar Party organizers arranged for Alabama-based Friends of Army Aviation to bring a functioning UH-1 to the event and give rides in the Huey.
Nearly 500 people, at a cost of $50 apiece, went up in the helicopter over two days.
Proceeds from the Huey rides will benefit both the Friends of Army Aviation and Aviation Heritage Park, according to airport manager Rob Barnett.
Like the rides, the Hangar Party brought out a good crowd. Some 500 people were on hand for the Huey unveiling, and the party continued with food, music and dancing until 10 p.m.
The turnout is important, Tinius said, because the Hangar Party is the largest fundraiser for Aviation Heritage Park. The board counts on the party to raise about $60,000 each year.
“Basically, this covers our operating expenses and allows us to continue getting aircraft,” Tinius said. “Our mission is to tell the story and preserve the history of local aviation. The idea has really caught on.”
Retired Brig. Gen. Dan Cherry said the park has had steady growth since opening in 2006 with a single aircraft.
“The community has really supported us and allowed us to do a lot of things,” said Cherry, whose F-4 Phantom flown in Vietnam was the park’s first display. “We had the Hangar Party in a small hangar in the first year (2006). I had no idea how big it would get.”
The Hangar Party and the park it supports are only going to continue growing, if Saturday’s event was any indication. Among the two dozen or so aircraft on static display was a 1930s-era Piper Cub similar to the one flown by Glasgow native Willa Brown.
The Piper Cub is being restored and will be the next aircraft to be displayed at Aviation Heritage Park in honor of Brown, the first African-American officer in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol.
And more growth is on the way for the park, Tinius said. He called Saturday’s event a “soft opening” for a $2 million capital campaign aimed at building an 11,000-square-foot museum building in the field next to the park.
Designed to look like a 1930s military hangar, the museum will contain display space, classrooms, offices, a workshop, storage and a large display area at the rear of the building big enough to accommodate aircraft. That area would feature a ceiling strong enough to hang small airplanes for display as well.