The Sky Soldiers Demonstration Team, a nonprofit whose home base is Atlanta South Regional Airport in Hampton, will conduct helicopter rides during the Good Sams Rally, an annual recreational vehicle gathering at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Its most popular ride, the Vietnam-era HU-1, better known as the “Huey,” is $60 per rider and lasts about 10 minutes. Veterans and military retirees can fly for $55 and active duty personnel for $50.
“We have many veterans who come out to see these restored aircraft and I personally see the healing power of what we do through their experience,” Administrative Director Rick Welch said.
Team members Welch and Lead Air Frame Technician Graham Worrall said the mission of the nonprofit is to maintain and preserve surplus Army aircraft, such as Huey, Cobra and Bird Dog helicopters to let the public see and experience a piece of Army aviation history.
“The aircraft are restored to look exactly as they did when they flew originally,” said Worrall.
He said the team members even go so far as to paint the original artwork on the bodies of the planes.
“We go predominantly around the air show circuit doing demonstrations, Vietnam reenactments and rides in our aircraft,” Welch said.
The team, part of the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation founded in 1997, is comprised of volunteers who are, Welch said, a variety of different people with one common interest.
“Everyone that participates in volunteering or coming out and seeing a show or in a ride has an affinity for flying and aviation,” he said.
Although the foundation primarily performed air shows in its beginnings, the team now focuses on rides for enthusiasts.
“We can carry up to 10 passengers in our Huey helicopters per ride, which is great for families considering most helicopter rides only allow about three riders,” Welch said.
The nonprofit relies solely on donations; money raised from rides goes back into preserving military helicopters.