A legacy of Hueys over Westlake

A U.S. Army Reserve 316th Medical Detachment helicopter crewmember untethers one of the unit's Bell UH-1H Huey helicopter's main rotor blades from their secure tie-down position. 

Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump … That staccato and determined thumping seemed to go on and on until the helicopter producing it would fly overhead, after which the sound would all but disappear.

In the 1970s and early '80s that bit of drama would repeat itself rather regularly right over, or nearly so, my Westlake residence. The helicopter creating it at any given time would be one of six Bell UH-1H Iroquois models that called Cleveland Hopkins Airport home, heading back to its base of operation in the southwest sector of that aerodrome.

First ordered for the U.S. military in 1960, all model variants of the Bell UH-1 Iroquois are more commonly known as Hueys, most likely due to their original type designation being HU-1 (until 1962) and GIs informally assigning the aircraft its familiar nickname derived from that designation. The very pronounced thump, thump, thump sound as they approach is a characteristic trait of Huey helicopters in flight.

The base of operation to which the Hueys were returning more specifically was that of the U.S. Army Reserve 316th Medical Detachment, located next to the old Sundorph Aeronautical Corporation’s general aviation facility in the southwest corner of Hopkins Airport. The aircraft of the 316th were purposed as air ambulance helicopters and the detachment opened its base at the airport on Sunday, April 30, 1972, according to an archived Plain Dealer article.

On Thanksgiving Day 1979, the 316th Medical Detachment commenced participation in a program known as Military Assistance to Traffic and Safety (MAST), in which their aircraft and personnel were formally made available to those in the civilian population who were severely injured or very ill and would benefit by helicopter transport to an area medical facility. The 316th provided this service to those in 15 northeastern Ohio counties.

The Hueys of the 316th Medical Detachment called Hopkins Airport home until sometime in the early 1980s, after which their base of operation was moved to Lorain County Airport in New Russia Township. (I was able to find documentation online placing the 316th at Hopkins in June 1981 and Lorain County Airport in April 1985 so the move happened sometime between those two dates. Personal recollection leans toward their moving sometime in 1982 or '83.)

In the early 1990s the 316th Medical Detachment was called to active military duty overseas and publicly released government documents indicate they served in their assignments with distinction. It appears by the year 2000 the 316th had been officially disbanded.

The legacy of the U.S. Army Reserve 316th Medical Detachment continues at Lorain County Airport with a Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital Life Flight helicopter currently being based there. Also, medical transport helicopters utilized by the Metro General, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals health systems continue to routinely find their lifesaving flight paths over Westlake, just as did the 316th Medical Detachment’s Hueys. Those UH-1Hs paved the way for them all.

Dan Hirschfeld

I'm a longtime resident of the Bay Village and Westlake area (Bay 1965 to 1977, then Westlake since) who has always enjoyed living here while seeing lots of change over the years.

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Volume 7, Issue 21, Posted 10:17 AM, 11.03.2015