The U.S. Army Aviation Development Directorate flew the Army’s final OH-58D “Kiowa Warrior” flight from Felker Army Airfield at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Sept. 19, 2017.
A Vietnam War-era helicopter, the Kiowa spent 48 years in service as a reconnaissance helicopter during operations including Just Cause, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. In early 2014, the Army decided to retire the Kiowa fleet as part of the Army’s Aviation Restructure Initiative, ending the legacy of the aircraft.
“It’s a bittersweet day anytime you lose an aircraft,” said Joseph Shaw, ADD aircraft mechanic. “I’ve been working on this aircraft for nine years and it is truly one of a kind.”
The first 26 Kiowa Warriors in the Army fleet to be decommissioned came from the 6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Wainwright, Alaska in May 2014. As part of the ARI, the unit was later deactivated in 2015 after a nine-month deployment to South Korea. Soon came goodbyes from Army National Guard units in Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi. Static models of the aircraft are displayed in Tennessee and Mississippi.
The ADD unit at JBLE maintained the Army’s last flyable model of the aircraft. Having worked on the Kiowa Warrior since 1986, John Zimmerman, ADD Aviation Support Facility manager, conducted the final flight, on the 37th anniversary of his graduation from flight school.
“I’m very sad that the Army has decided to retire this work horse,” said Zimmerman. “This is a cavalry stallion with more than a million combat hours protecting thousands of troops.”
Through overcast skies, Zimmerman and Shaw took the Kiowa Warrior over Felker and Fort Eustis for one final bittersweet pass, ending in a ceremonial pass as fire trucks sprayed water and ADD employees took photos in front of the aircraft.
“Like old soldiers who never die; they just fade away,” said Zimmerman. “In my opinion, the OH-58D will fade away into history books as one of the best manned, armed reconnaissance aircraft to date and the greatest observation helicopter since the OH-6 in Vietnam.”
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