A Vietnam era chopper pilot lands a big addition to the Oklahoma History Center

OKEENE, Okla. -- Of the more than 10,000 Bell UH-1 helicopters that served during the Vietnam War, this one is actually built from parts of several.

It hangs, now, 15 feet off the floor of the Oklahoma History Center, angling forward, and 'riding slick' which means there are no guns attached.

The pilot's name on the side has some significance here.

Bob Ford spent a year of his life flying them close to the DMZ in Vietnam.

"I don't know how many times I would say this to myself," he recalls. "I wouldn't say it over the intercom but I'd say, 'keep flying you beautiful machine. Keep flying.'"

Lt. Ford was a 23-year-old ROTC kid from OU in 1967.

He'd asked back home what job was most needed.

The Army put him in the pilot seat of a Huey Helicopter.

"I knew if I was going to survive this thing I'd better be the best I could possibly be and be around the best I could possibly be," he says.

Ford volunteered to work out of a base in the city of Hue.

He says it was, "The furthest north Army helicopter unit in Vietnam."

Ford says he served with the best.

His crews were as committed as he was.

His choppers took lots of enemy hits.

He made several forced landings, but these machines always brought him down safely.

"We called it the Bell Hotel because we spent so much time in it," he says.

He did lose two crew members to enemy fire.

Bob had all kinds of close calls.

He credits discipline first, and good communications second.

Luck and Hueys brought him home.

"You wondered if you were going to make it," says Bob. "But when you got through with it, dang! You did it!"

Ford wrote a book on his wartime experiences.

He served on a museum board for the History Center and argued that no Vietnam exhibit would be complete without his favorite helicopter.

He put this one together from spare parts then donated it to the museum himself, looking just like the Black Cats he flew 50 years ago.

"Right in front of the nose you can see we were the 282nd Black Cats."

Ford's Huey is the first of many artifacts to be installed for an exhibit called "Welcome Home: Oklahomans and the War" due to open November 6, 2017.

Click here for more information on the exhibit.