MAD restores retro-painted AH-1 for Centennial of Naval Aviation
US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), December 21, 2011 - CHINA LAKE, Calif., –The Marine Aviation Detachment (MAD) at China Lake completed two major restoration projects for the Centennial of Naval Aviation (CoNA), an AV-8A Harrier and a J-model AH-1 helicopter. Both aircraft are prominently displayed in front of the MAD headquarters at Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS), China Lake.
In 2010, MAD members and volunteers repainted the Harrier, which they completed just before the Marine Corps Ball in November 2010. This two-and-a-half-month replication effort resulted in the excellent retro-painted aircraft that is on display in front of the MAD headquarters. Riding on the successful culmination of that project, the Marines fixed their sights on a rotary-wing aircraft. They turned to Jay Kovar, the head of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) Weapons Survivability Laboratory (WSL). WSL acquires and uses various “scrap” aircraft to conduct assessments for weapons survivability. They also use aircraft structures to compare older models with current airframe applications.
Previous MAD commanding officer, Col. Nicholas Hall, executive officer, Lt. Col. James Coppersmith, and Chief Warrant Officer Three (CW03) Michael Osilla searched the WSL “boneyard” and found a treasure – a J-model AH-1, swathed in preservation tape. The aircraft’s DD250, a government “bill of sale,” showed that the Marine Corps took ownership of this aircraft in February 1975. It was damaged in flight in 1993 and then sent to the Davis-Monthan Air Force base where it remained for approximately 18 years. The airframe was valuable to the WSL, so they bought it in April 2008 and had it transported to China Lake.
According to Coppersmith, “When we found it at WSL, the inside of the craft was bubble-wrapped and preserved, so the records (the pedigree of the aircraft) were intact. When we inspected the records, we discovered that Hall had actually flown this aircraft in 1990 when he was an instructor pilot for the Marine Helicopter Training squadron (HMT 303) in Camp Pendleton.”
MAD found a 1975 Viet Nam era photograph of a VX-5 helicopter at China Lake and used it to duplicate the retro paint scheme -- including the markings and Kelly green stripe on the tail. MAD volunteers worked nights and weekends over a three-month course to complete the CoNA project that dove-tailed with Hall’s retirement plans, March 30. NAWCWD supported the efforts of the China Lake-based Marine detachment during both projects; Command Artifacts provided the supplies and Paul Carpenter, who works at Exhibits and Awards, created the decals for it.
When Hall retired, after 29 years and six months, he had amassed 6,400 flight hours. After his final flight, Hall was surprised to see all three models of aircraft (including the AH-1) he had flown parked on VX-31’s flightline. His detachment arranged the static display as a parting gift to their commanding officer.
Coppersmith continued, “Time was the stressor. We moved the AH-1 to the Barefoot Bar Lanai area for the change of command and then onto the rocks adjacent to the MAD headquarters following the ceremony.”
The retro-painted AH-1 helicopter is the only rotary-wing display on NAWS, at this time. The original log book indicates it had 4,895 hours of flight time and 18,823 landings during its lifetime. It was last in service at Naval Air Station Atlanta, Ga. Additional photographs of the retro-painted helicopter can be seen on the official CoNA website.
Bell AH-1J Sea Cobra 159224 ( US Marine Corps )