Celebrate Freedom Foundation transports the AH-1F Cobra Attack helicopter. (Photo by Steve Chastain, American Legion Post 48 Public Relations)

A Vietnam-era helicopter was damaged from the sun, fallen leaves, bird nests and wasp nests, but a local high school hopes to bring it back to life.

Dean Crepes, the executive director at Columbia’s Celebrate Freedom Foundation, said the aircraft sat outside under a tree for years. 

Students at the Woolard Technology Center in Camden will work to restore history over the next 45 days.

Celebrate Freedom delivered a Vietnam Cobra attack helicopter for a fresh sanding and paint job.

Manufactured in 1970, the helicopter was mainly used in the Vietnam War as a gunship in Pleiku, Vietnam, but was in service until 2004. 

The project is funded by the American Legion Post 48 in Chesnee, which donated materials to the school and the money for Celebrate Freedom to transport the helicopter. 

David Weaver, Woolard Tech’s autobody teacher, said the timeline of 45 days is supposed to be a challenge for his students, but is based on previous projects he has done with high school students. 

Weaver described the helicopter as “rough,” making it an opportunity for students to apply skills learned in the auto collision repair program.  

“It has had graffiti sprayed on it,” Weaver said. “It’s been vandalized in areas. So my students and I … are trying to repair it and make it look airworthy again.” 

Crepes said this is the third aircraft the school has worked on.

“The students were really excited about it because painting an aircraft is not like painting a car, where you don’t just go out and sand it,” Crepes said. 

High school junior Aidan Watts said he is excited about the opportunity and what it could bring him.

“Not many 17 year olds can say they’ve had their hands on a helicopter, doing real work on it,” Watts said. 

While the students are restoring the exterior of the helicopter, Celebrate Freedom is working from a mechanical standpoint. 

“Then we took the rotor blades off, and then the blades are still out there,” Crepes said. “We’re working on them. They really deteriorated badly.”

The aircraft has been on display at Post 48 since 2004.

Post 48 Commander John Garner brought the idea of restoration to Celebrate Freedom.

“I had been in contact with them a couple of times, and we had discussed several different options as far as getting the helicopter restored to its original museum quality that we’re desiring,” Garner said. 

There’s a lot to do.

“It’s been completely, completely demilitarized,” Garner said. “It doesn’t fly. The rockets don’t launch, and the gun doesn’t shoot. They didn’t take the engineering or transmission or anything else out. It’s just that it’s been disabled.”

The impact of the bird goes far beyond its historical significance.

The emotional attachments carry on far past its flying career, Crepes said.

“People have connections to these that really go deep, and being a pilot myself on the Navy and the Marine Corps side, I get that, because you go out with something and you want it to bring you back regardless of what you do,” Crepes said. 

When the project is finished, the helicopter will return to Post 48 for a celebration.

Graphic by Sophia Laico/Carolina News and Reporter

A helicopter painted earlier by the students at Woolard Technology Center, during the 2015-2016 school year (Photo by Sophia Laico/Carolina News and Reporter)


Claire Carter

Claire Carter

Carter is a senior journalism major with a minor in business administration. She has written for the arts and culture section of the student-run Daily Gamecock. Her writing interests include courts and crime and local social media personalities. She enjoys hot yoga, creating art and taking her dog to the lake.

Sophia Laico

Sophia Laico

Laico is a senior journalism major at the University of South Carolina. She was an intern this past summer at radio station New Jersey 101.5, where she wrote for the website, wrote scripts and appeared on air. During a behind-the-scenes tour of Newsmax TV station in New York City, she participated in control room operations for a daily news segment.