The Air Force Flight Test Museum parted with a Sikorsky VH-34 helicopter Sept. 13. The aircraft, which has been in the boneyard for nearly 20 years, is being moved to the Texas Military Forces Museum in Austin, Texas.
“The helicopter was originally built as a VH which means it’s for VIP’s and it’s commonly referred to as a white top,” said George Welsh, 412th Test Wing, museum curator.
The helicopter was once operated by the Texas Army National Guard and used to support President Lyndon Johnson while he was at his ranch and home outside Johnston City, Texas, during the 1960s and into the early 70s.
The helicopter originally came to Edwards AFB from Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., to ensure that it would not be discarded because of the high cost of storage at the time. After sitting outside for so long, the aesthetic condition is very poor, but the original instruments, controls, and even the VIP seats are all there.
“Usually an aircraft like this would have been stripped,” said Welsh. “But she’s all there, the gears, the instruments, the blades and windows.”
The big challenge was moving the helicopter. The length of the aircraft with the tail folded is 38 feet and it sat on a 30-foot pallet for its entire stay at Edwards. The helicopter itself only has two tie downs making it difficult to secure. Instead, the team had to secure the helicopter to the pallet and the pallet to the truck. Unfortunately, the years of wear on the wooden boards raised concerns about its structural integrity.
The entire load was carefully lifted by two wrecking cranes and placed on a lowboy truck without any problems.
The transmission, rotor head and landing gear were all transported in separate boxes. The crate that carried the transmission and rotor head weighed approximately 1000 lbs.
The whole endeavor took support from museum volunteers, 412th Security Forces Squadron and the Vehicle Operations Section of the 412th Mission Support Group.
Several days prior to the move, vehicle operations conducted an on-the-spot transport assessment, measurements and the equipment requirements for a safe move. They also provided a forklift to move any items blocking the Sikorsky’s exit route in the boneyard.
“Everything around that helicopter had to be moved before they could get the helicopter out. It was crammed inside the facility,” said Welsh.
“Our museum folks always come to us to ask for solid transport advice, and we are more than willing to assist the Air Force Flight Test Museum in their transportation needs,” said Gregory Lopez-Marchand, , 412th MSG, Vehicle Operations.
When the Sikorsky arrives in Texas, it will undergo exterior restoration and be put on display on the parade ground at Camp Mabry. Camp Mabry is the headquarters of the Texas Army and Air National Guards, the Texas State Guard and the 36th Infantry Division. The helicopter will sit alongside four other helicopters and three jet fighters already on display. Should the opportunity ever arise to display the helicopter indoors it would undergo an interior restoration as well.
“It is always special for a museum to obtain a significant piece that has a direct connection to its story line. The VH-34 is a remarkable aircraft and would draw interest from visitors even if it were just a generic example. However, the fact that we can verify that this was operated by the Texas National Guard makes it a ‘must have’ for our collection and an airframe worthy of preservation,” said Jeffrey Hunt, Director of the Texas Military Forces Museum. “Americans are fascinated with presidential and military history. This VH-34 combines the two.”
According to Hunt, the Texas Military Forces Museum is the second largest National Guard Museum in the U.S. and receives over 30,000 visitors annually. Its location, Camp Mabry, is the oldest military installation in the Texas National Guard, created in 1892. The museum tells the story of the Texas Military Forces from the first militia muster in Stephen Austin’s colony through the present. The Exhibits show the role of Texas volunteer and militia units in various wars including the Spanish-American War and the Texas Revolution.
“I feel good because we have saved an important piece of aviation history,” said Welsh. “While it doesn’t belong here at Edwards, it is history and it needs to be preserved and we’re happy about that.”