Arrival at Falcon Field, October 1989
View of the Loach as it arrived at Falcon Field in October of 1989. No other parts were supplied. This is it! The landing gear had been torn off during the last crash in New Jersey.
Another view of the stark bare Loach at Hangar B-3. Dr. Baron Smith took delivery of this aircraft in 1989 and guided the restoration that took four years.
This airframe was supplied by the Army as a second fuselage to provide parts for another restoration for the St. Louis Science Center, who had requested a restored static OH-6A for display from MDHC. Charlie Chopper’s origin, and even tail number, was unknown at this time. There was never an intention of restoring this airframe, in fact, it was supposed to have been scrapped upon removal of any useful parts for the other OH-6A!
Baron C. Smith and Larry Godbout pose with the Loach carcass. Weight of the airframe at this point was approx. 450 lbs.
An interesting note is that it was accidentally determined that this hulk was Charlie Chopper by a former Silver Eagles Pilot, Jim Schoen, who noticed an unusual toggle switch located under the instrument panel that was installed only in Silver Eagles aircraft. He requested to scrape off a bunch of green paint off the nose, saying that there might be a large white number on a blue background. It was at that time that he said there we have something very, very special! If Jim had not stopped by, we were within a week of tossing the remains into a dumpster! Additionally, Jim advised that this aircraft had also been used as a Special Ops Communications bird, due to the unusual radio mounts.
The Loach had a retrofitted wire strike kit, post – 1975. 1,442 loaches were built between 1967 and 1972 in Culver City, California.
The seat pans in this photo show a great deal of damage from the oleo struts being broken and driven through the pans, just missing the crew member’s butt! Approx. 70% of this airframe had to be repaired or replaced during the four-year restoration effort.
All glass in the cockpit was either cracked or broken and had to be replaced with new glass during the restoration.
This aircraft was initially restored by a large group of McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company employees who volunteered, under the strict direction of Baron Smith, to bring the other OH-6A back to static display status. Upon discover of the heritage of Charlie Chopper, they continued to assist Baron until the final completion in 1993. MDHS was very helpful in providing scrapped parts that could be used in the restoration. At the time, Baron was a senior Training and Development Specialist in Human Resources, instructing and certifying most of the MDHC electricians and mechanics on the AH-64A Apache program.
FM homing antenna is clearly shown in this photo. This was the 1,317th Loach built, a Series III “hard-belly”, due to the reinforced structure and larger rivets throughout the assembly process.
The Loach came with three original doors, which was very unusual due to most being discarded upon receipt of combat units. Doors weren’t viable in combat and certainly not in hot, muggy weather! Replacement doors for OH-6A’s cost $10,800 each! This aircraft was made available for disposition for disposal by the Army on March 9, 1988.
Rear doors still had New Jersey National Air Guard emblems.
Cyclic, lateral, and collective control tubes (forming what is known as the “broom closet”), were included with the hulk. Loaches used mechanical controls, not hydraulic-assisted like other similar helicopters. This enhanced survival and dropped weights.
All instruments and radios were salvaged by the Army before shipment of Loach. The only clue, at that time, that this was 68-17357, came from a decal on this instrument panel. The last radio call sign was “Sabre 57″.
Area under pilot’s floor showing tremendous damage from crash landing.
Engine compartment wa relatively intact, although all drive train components were missing.
Interior damage shows several gray paint schemes, along with various communication equipment mounts, which confirms that this aircraft was used by Special Operations during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
View of badly damage pilot’s seat pan. These had to be replaced during restoration.
View of the left lower fuselage skin that was removed. The blue paint is from the Silver Eagles scheme. Interesting to note that the Silver Eagles contracted a civilian firm that paint stripped all prior paint coats. After the Silver Eagles, at least five more coats of green and black were applied over the years.
View of the right lower fuselage skin. The large blue cutout was from a retrofitted high pressure fuel system. Also note the yellow areas that had skin doublers attached. Numerous patched bullet holes were found on these skins.
View of forward lower fuselage skins. The oval hole is the forward landing gear strut. It is deformed from the crash that broke the oleo strut, allowing the landing gear leg to tear through the aluminum skin. Notice bullet holes!
View of interior bulkhead, showing various gray paint schemes. Due to combat abuse and numerous modification, it was decked to replace this unit.
Interior floor. This piece also had too many modification, especially the larger cut outs for the pressure fuel system, to repair. A new original piece would have to be located, which proved to be extremely difficult.
The turtleback skin showing Silver Eagles colors and oval cutouts for the low infra-red exhaust system to evade heat-seeking missiles. This unit also had to be replaced, which proved to be the most difficult installation of the restoration project. All skin pieces were compound curves that required many shims to properly fit!
Damaged seat pans from the forward cockpit area showing the results of the last crash in New Jersey. Ouch!
The “debris field” of sheet metal taken off the Loach in 1990.
Good view of the Loach clearly showing the Silver Eagles blue/white/silver paint scheme. This coat of paint was extremely difficult to remove. Paint stripper would not budge it! Most of the paint had to be removed with bead blasting and chipping! No old paint was painted over during this restoration. This would be a Smithsonian-level restoration!
McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company newsletter “Observer” photo of Cheri Gadabout removing parts from the Loach. Circa November 1989. Cheri was an employee of MDHC, which supplied many volunteers and logistical support for this restoration.
James Colter removing parts from the pilot’s floor area. This was the most heavily damaged area. James is an engineer with Boeing and was extremely helpful during the restoration.
Instrument panel after removal of all hardware. All numbers on decals confirmed that this was aircraft number 68-17357.
Rear view of instrument panel showing additional decals.
Lower instrument panel where engine controls and avionics were installed.
Lower left side of instrument pedestal.
Interesting view of how far down the Loach was taken. This is the keel/belly inverted, weighing only 60 lbs! “High-tech” milk crates were used as an assembly jig. Worked perfectly! Most ribs and parts of the keel had to be replaced. Steve Coffey, the “Quality Inspector”, looms in the background!