The echo of aircraft flying through the air was a familiar sound for many at the Far East District for nearly two decades.
From 1969 to 1988 the aviation group supported the district by transporting people, parts and anything else a helicopter could carry to every district field office in the Republic of Korea. The section had two UH-1H Huey helicopters and a C-12 Huron aircraft based at K-16 Air Base and a team of four pilots, two mechanics, who also served as crew chiefs, and a senior noncommissioned officer.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Edward S. (Sid) Chambers, Jr. was a pilot for the aviation section from 1978 to 1980 and has fond memories of his time with the district.
“All of our pilots were certified to fly north of Seoul along the Demilitarized Zone. One of my more memorable missions was landing in the mountains near the DMZ to provide landing instructions to a CH-47 Chinook helicopter,” said Chambers. “The Chinook was sling loading a well-drilling rig since the location was not accessible by vehicle. This well-drilling rig was used to locate new tunnels that were being dug from North Korea under the DMZ into South Korea.”
Chambers said most of his missions took him to Kunsan, Pusan and Taegu.
“When I arrived, it seemed that all flights followed the major highways headed south. By flying a straight line to Taegu, I calculated that we could save 30 minutes of flight time one way.” said Chambers. “That straight line took us directly over a very large statue of Buddha which became a reporting point for us.”
Spc. Bernadette Hagenow Lastowski was a crew chief during the same period and remembers one assignment that stood out from the rest.
“One very special mission was to Jeju Island off the south coast. We had to outfit our helicopters with auxiliary fuel tanks purchased specifically to be able to make that flight.” said Lastowski. “I was lucky enough to have been the crew chief on that mission. My pilots even flew up a volcano on the island above the crater top, it was incredible.”
Chambers said what made the district aviation section special was the camaraderie among the team.
“We had to help each other do jobs whereas the larger aviation units had full time assigned personnel. Everyone was willing to stay and work as long as needed to ensure we had the aircraft ready for the next day's mission.” said Chambers. “There was a lot of pride in what we did and we had an outstanding aviation safety record. I do not recall a single aircraft incident or mishap while I was there.”
Chambers said they usually had at least one and or two flight missions every day. His flight records indicate he flew more than 700 hours during his two years at the district.
“For an aviator, that is a lot of flight time in a non-combat arena,” he said.
The aviation section was deactivated in 1988 in a cost cutting measure. The district now relies on other aviation units for travel on the peninsula. Chambers said he was glad to be able to spend part of his career here before the aviation group went away.
“It was a special time in my career,” said Chambers. “Besides the flying, it was amazing getting to see the projects that FED (Far East District) was doing all over South Korea.”