By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Cody Hallmark was a kid the last time he flew in a helicopter, so he decided to get reacquainted with one Friday at the North Mississippi Aviation Expo.
Hallmark took a ride in a 1966 Huey UH-1, which took him and several passengers from the Tupelo Regional Airport on an aerial tour of Tupelo.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said, smiling broadly. “It took a little getting used to at first.”
The pilots of the chopper kept the flight lively, banking hard several times, dropping and rising quickly and otherwise maneuvering with the skill they developed over years of military and/or civilian flying.
“It was fun,” said Benjamin Hayse, another first-time rider. “It was fun, although it was a little scary at first. But after a while I got used to it.”
The flights were provided by the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation of Atlanta. The group was among several organizations exhibiting at the Expo, which continues today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The AAHF also brought a Cobra AH-1 gunship, which also is available for rides.
Passengers must sign a waiver and pay $60 for the helicopter rides, and the money goes back to the foundation and to cover costs.
The foundation’s public affairs officer, Jim Tillman, said the group travels across the country with the intent “to get kids and others to learn more about the aircraft, about history and to get that sense of patriotism going.”
Nearby, Universal Asset Management had a 737 on display, and employees gave tours of the plane and explained how they were disassembled and recycled.
Brandon Gregory of Tupelo was among the hundreds of students from several schools visiting the Expo on Friday. He had never seen a plane up close.
“I’ve seen a lot of planes today,” he said, “and I just saw one land for the first time.”
Back at the AAHF tent, Maj. George Geiger said he was always happy to participate in events like the Expo to expose people to aviation.
He’s one of the crew chiefs for the Foundation, which owns four Hueys and five Cobras.
The Huey at the Expo flew extensively during the Vietnam War and was shot down several times.
Geiger himself was shot down and also received a Purple Heart.
“One was enough for me,” he said.
He’s among several military veterans scattered among several other groups participating at the Expo. Among them are the Tupelo Veterans Museum, Vietnam Veterans of America, Marine Corps League, Gold Star Mother’s Organization, Delta State University and several aircraft owners who have put their planes on display.
An Iraq/Afghanistan Wall also bears the names and photos of Mississippians killed in the two countries.
Today, following the seventh annual Petals for Patriots, in which 100 gallons of rose petals will be dropped from the air to honor veterans, a benefit dinner will be held. The petal drop will start about 6 p.m.
Tickets for the dinner are $25, with proceeds benefiting the Wounded Warrior Regiment.
The tickets can be purchased at the expo, at the Marine Corps League or in by calling expo organizer Leslie Pearman at (662) 489-8331.