6. The Army needed trained helicopter pilots on a scale never before encountered
Vietnam was the first helicopter war, despite their extensive use as air ambulances in Korea. They performed that role in Vietnam too, but they were also used to enhance the mobility of troops, to carry supplies and weapons, and as attack weapons themselves. The primary US Army helicopter was the Bell UH-1, called the Huey, and about 7,000 saw service in Vietnam. All other branches of the US military deployed helicopters as well. Obviously, training pilots for helicopters became a priority for the United States. Huey’s were expensive, as well as expensive to operate, and most Army helicopter pilots received their training on other models, the vast majority of them at the Primary Helicopter School at Fort Wolters in Texas.
The average trainee was in his early twenties, though there were some older veterans who applied for the training and qualified. They first learned to fly helicopters in an 8 week school – visual flight rules only – called Primary I. Those who passed entered another eight week school called Primary II. Graduates were sent to advanced training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, where they learned to fly in formation, combat tactics, flying by instruments, and other skills. From the time they entered the Army to completion of training at Rucker and eligibility to fly in Vietnam, was just under one year.