By LIBBY CLUETT
Starting around 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, members of the Fort Wolters Gate Committee worked to reinstall the two helicopters that grace the pedestals on either side of the arched entrance to the former, historic Primary Helicopter Center.
Both birds – the Hiller OH-23 and the Hughes TH-55 – sustained extensive damage during the May 15 hailstorm, including holes in the bubble canopies on both.
Fort Wolters Gate Committee Chair Ronny Collins said B.J. Ashley Sr. and David Kessler restored the aircraft. He said the committee had a bubble donated for the Hiller, and, including the cost of parts, the total post-hail restoration amounted to $700.
But restoring the damaged helicopters required a great deal of labor and Kessler said they took longer than he expected, noting, “We did an extensive amount of repair on the Hughes.”
“On the Hiller it was basically the bubble,” Kessler told the Index. “On the Hughes, we did a complete repaint, based on the pictures we have and our faded memory of the past.”
While they had the helicopters in the shop, Ashley and Kessler worked to match the TH-55 to the color of the original helicopter installed when Fort Wolters was an active military base.
“Our charge was to put the thing back the way it was,” Kessler told the Index.
When asked how he feels about the gate today, he said, “To quote [Duck Dynasty’s] Phil Robertson, ‘Happy, happy, happy’” and, he said later, “Tickled pink.”
“B.J. and I were never satisfied with the color of the TH-55,” which he said was the factory orange color and not “international red” – one of two main colors Kessler said the military used, with olive drab being the other. They also painted the tail boom white, he explained, “because that’s the color it was in an original photo.”
“It was a chore on the 55,” he said, which included some additional repairs after wind damaged the bubble.
“It’s our honor to work on those things and to give back to the guys who served,” Kessler added. “We took that project on to honor servicemen and those who aided that era. I’m happy they’re up and will look for an extended period of time.”