The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Wildlife Services (WS) program were privileged to assist in placing a light observation helicopter (LOH-6A), but affectionately called a LOACH by service members, on long-term loan at the Mott’s Military Museum in Groveport, Ohio.
Talking with the excited aircrew of Vietnam veterans, it’s clear a special relationship develops between an aircraft, its pilot, and crew, especially during war.
“I’ve sat in other LOACHes,” pilot Bruce Campbell explained. “But when I finally got to sit in this one again, a whirlwind of memories just swirled up around me.”
Nate Shaffer, the door gunner on LOACH 990, also known as ZIT, flew with Campbell on the Hughes OH-6A Cayuse, with Charlie Company, 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam from 1970-71. In the early 90’s, he began looking for buddies and the craft that had been so important in his life. Given the Scout (LOACH) helicopters’ mission, many didn’t survive the war. With an oversized engine and responsive controls, the LOACH was made for low-altitude flying. Shaffer explained the Scout flew low looking for safe insertion or pick-up spots, which commonly drew enemy fire. Each Scout was paired with a Cobra helicopter, which then swooped in to eliminate the enemy. Shaffer was amazed to learn his 990 not only made it back but recently had been flying for the Border Patrol.
When WS took the title to some working helicopters, fixed wing planes, and non-working aircraft -- including LOACH 990 -- through an inter-agency transfer, it didn’t know Shaffer and the museum were already in negotiation to obtain the craft, then in an aircraft boneyard. When Kevin Grant, WS Director for Oklahoma operations, was contacted by the office of Congressman Steve Stivers (OH-15), he knew immediately the helicopter had a special mission to fulfill.
“We had some use for this craft, mainly as a source of parts for other working OH-6’s,” Grant said. “But there’s real satisfaction in helping place this Scout where it is taken care of and tells a story of camaraderie and commitment from that time.” After the working parts were swapped out for non-functioning parts, Shaffer picked up the hull and some radio parts at the WS Aviation and Training Operations Center in Utah. With hours of work by veterans and friends in Ohio, 990 ZIT was placed at the museum and dedicated on Armed Forces Day 2012 in front of an audience of more than 100, including a large contingent from the 9th Air Cav.
WS currently uses another OH-6A in Oklahoma for aerial invasive species control, removing wild hogs from land where the feral swine damage agriculture, natural resources and property.
For now, 990 ZIT sits on a concrete pad at the Mott’s Military Museum, next to a Cobra and Huey, three of the four helicopters used during the Vietnam conflict. [For more photographs and story, see http://usastruck.com/tag/nate-shaffer/]