Whats does an ex-NASA Huey helicopter have to do with ADD?Special to The Mountaineer
SOAR, or Success Oriented Achievement Realized, runs summer camps for students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and Attention Deficit With Hyperactivity (AD/HD).
The Academy at SOAR found that the NASA flying machine made an excellent project for our students to take on as a team effort.
The Academy at SOAR is one of Western North Carolina’s best kept secrets up until now. Located in Balsam, in Haywood County, it specializes in programs focused on ADD students.
The students spend two weeks on site at the school and then two weeks on location on a field expedition. This helps with the stimulation and learning in the outdoor classroom, motivates students to make up for lost time.
That’s where the helicopter comes in.
The Academy at SOAR utilizes a project-based experiential model for teaching and learning, where students are actively engaged in the learning process and see the purpose and relevancy of their learning to their lives.
Every aspect of fixing the Huey utilizes STEM: science, technology, engineering and math. The project is a reflection of SOAR’s combination of “academics with adventure-based learning that is second to none." What separates SOAR and the Academy at SOAR from the pack is its emphasis on hands-on, relevant learning, in and for the real world.
An additional goal is to educate the students about the importance of the Huey helicopter in history.
“I can also attest to you that it was not just a machine, it became a part of us,” said Brig. Gen. Alberto Jimenez, a Vietnam veteran. Jimenez was an helicopter pilot in Vietnam, with 700 combat hours.
“As the jeep became the symbol of the World War II soldier, the Huey often represents the Vietnam soldier,” Jimenez said. “The personal connection with the Huey remains for many Vietnam veterans.”
“It was our lives,” Jimenez said. “It was our friend. It was the aircraft that took us in and out of Vietnam, and it was also the aircraft that saved many countless lives as we rushed the wounded and the sick out of the battlefield.”
Working with SOAR on the project is Jim Hawkins and Gary Boyer, crew chief veterans who had personal experience with the Huey. Gary pointed out that a Huey in Vietnam, where he seved for a year, was just three seriel numbers from the one at the VFW.
Their stories made an impression on SOAR Academy student Zach Jones. “It is impressive that the pilots memorized everything,” said Zach Jones (no relation to James Jones). “I had a better idea of what the war was like from a different perspective, from a pilot’s or soldier’s point of view.”
The students have now replaced the skylight window and the seats in the cockpit.
“The helicopter skylight window was broken out and rain was coming in, rotting the seats and rusting the metal inside,” Zach Jones said. “The window was replaced recently."
“We also installed the heavy pilot seat, which has thick steel armor on the back and bottom. The seat was painted black, and new army green cushions were made. We also painted and fit a new tailpipe."
Whatever the specifics, the restoration project involved “problem-solving skills, effective communication strategies and increased self-awareness and general social skills, as well as an integration of academic skills,” Zach Jones said.
“By achieving success in our adventure-based programs, each student builds essential self-esteem and self-confidence that translates into all walks of life,” Zach Jones said.
"SOAR’s next project," Zach said, "will be the rebuilding of a donated jet aircraft: the tiny FLS Microjet, as seen in the James Bond film 'Octopussy.' Justin Lewis, builder and the FLS Jet Airshow Pilot will be the tutor. What a challenge. Our end goal for the smallest Jet in the world is to put on a monument at The Academy at SOAR or maybe hang it in an air museum. "
"The Huey," Jones said, "was acquired by VFW 5202, the Waynesville post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars."
The helicopter believed to have been used by NASA, sits on the corner of Richland and Miller streets in Waynesville. With all the repairs, it may not have lights on the outside this Christmas. None the less, all are invited to come by and see Santa at the contols, day or at night. There is a rumor that he flew it Christmas Eve delivering presents.