Whop! Whop! Whop!

George Abernathy

As I stood on the tarmac at Falcon Field in Mesa, just a few feet away from a Vietnam Era Huey Helicopter that was warming up, others and I could feel the blast of the rotor wash and smell the burnt JP4 fuel coming from the exhaust. Along with two pilots, crew chief, and 10 disabled veterans from Arizona Veterans Fly Fishing, the pilot began to increase the fuel intake to depart for a 12-minute ride. With the increase in rotor wash, the Whop! Whop! Whop! noise increased dramatically, and so did my adrenaline. I personally hadn’t felt this intensity of adrenaline since flying combat missions in Vietnam over 50 years ago, and I began to wonder what the veterans were feeling.

On Jan. 13 the Sun Lakes Fly Fishing Club (SLFFC) sponsored Huey rides for 15 veterans from Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (now called Arizona Veterans Fly Fishing) with the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation (AAHF) Southwest Chapter. The event started out with a tour of the working museum where they maintain several Vietnam Era helicopters, some flyable and some for static display. After the tour, the flyers were split into two groups of 10, and flying and safety protocols were covered. After the flights, the SLFFC provided pizza and soft drinks for everyone.

Two photographers from the Sun Lakes Camera Club, Gina Long and Bert Williams, graciously volunteered their time to shoot pictures of the event and emailed their pictures to all the participants afterwards. In an email to me from Gina, she wrote the following: In all the variety of events she has covered in the past, she has never witnessed such excitement and enthusiasm as she saw in those who flew.

In the past 10 years of sponsoring numerous fishing outings and events for the veterans, other SLFFC members and I have never witnessed such excitement as we witnessed. For some of the vets, it brought back the reality of what they experienced in combat while flying into a hot LZ. For one, it brought back the feeling of joy of when he was medevaced by a Huey after being wounded. Over all, flying again or flying for the first time in a Huey was a wonderful experience they will never forget, and this event would never have been possible without the donations and support we have received from the residents of the Sun Lakes communities and the three HOAs.

The Sun Lakes Fly Fishing Club has two goals: keep our lines wet and support the disabled veterans. If you enjoy fly fishing and desire to meet others who do, then our club is what you are looking for—no red tape, no politics, catch and release, and go hunting. Be an experienced caster or be new to fly fishing, you’re welcome to our club.

If you have fly fishing gear you could donate or cash to help our club support the veterans, please contact me at [email protected].