Cold War Era

Huey crew members explain why UH-1 helicopters (almost) always flew with doors open during the Vietnam War

The UH-1 Huey

Nicknamed the “Huey” after the phonetic sound of its original designation, HU-1, the UH-1 “Iroquois” helicopter was the work horse of the Army during the Vietnam War. The helicopter as a military technology evolved during World War II, but took time to develop to meet the Army’s high hopes for its effectiveness in battle. By the Korean War, early helicopter models such as the ubiquitous OH-13 “Sioux” and the USAF H-19 served as resupply and medical evacuation transports. The battle experience of these early craft provided lessons learned which aided the development of the UH-1.

The UH-1 Huey during the Vietnam War

By 1958, the first Hueys were shipped to Vietnam and used by American advisors in “dustoff” medical evacuation (medevac) missions. As the Vietnam War raged, the Army integrated the helicopter into its wider operations and expanded the platform’s role far beyond medevac. The Huey was relied upon to “do anything a horse could do” and subsequently evolved from a tool for troop and supply transport to include direct combat gun support.

Many Vietnam War films portrayed Huey helicopters flying with their doors open. Did UH-1s really fly with their doors open as seen in the movies?

Did anyone fall out?

UH-1 Huey helicopters with doors open

Patrick Holland, former US Army officer who flew aboard UH-1 Hueys, explains on Quora;

‘They always flew with the doors open.

‘1. The crew chief and gunner needed to be able to operate their weapons.
‘2. loading and unloading in enemy territory was much faster.
‘3. It was the only air conditioning we had.
‘4. I never heard of anyone ever falling out. There are some urban legends of bad guys getting tossed out but I discount these as exaggerated war stories.’

Gordon Wilson, former US Army Colonel who flew aboard UH-1 Huey helicopters in Vietnam, recalls on Quora;
‘In my experience, yes. In RVN Republic of Vietnam], Hueys of the 101st Airborne Division virtually always flew with doors open and… their doors were installed (i.e., not removed).

‘LOH-6, Light Observation Helicopters, normally flew with doors open, as well. See below:

‘Only one time did I fly in an LOH-6 with doors installed/closed. This, because of declaring a Tactical Emergency (Tac-E) during the Northern Monsoon. The General Support Helicopter Company installed doors, put two pilots in the helicopter and they flew nap of the earth at top speed. It was very exciting and stressful.

‘Some may have fallen out (of Hueys), I can’t say. Normally, they orbited tactical situations and centrifugal force kept one inside despite not wearing a seat belt. Passengers in LOH-6s normally were belted. GEW, Col, USA, (Ret).’

Doors open in the Delta

Paul DeNicola, former UH-1 Huey crew member, recalls;

‘Yes we flew with doors open in the Delta too. Sometimes there was so much slippery mud on the Huey’s floor we thought we might slide out but no one did to my knowledge. Welcome home.’

Jethro D., another former Huey crew member, says;

‘Doors open.

‘Anyone who suggested they flew with the doors closed never experienced the oppressive heat, miserable smells. Smells? How about dried blood not washed out, the smell of unwashed bodies and underclothes, possibly vomit from the door gunner being caught unawares..

‘Yeah… no… doors open all the time.’

Doors closed at 3000ft

Ray Mason, former UH-1 crew members, recalls;

‘We always flew with Huey doors open except when we got to 3000ft then closed them because of the cold. Sometimes we door gunners flew with field jackets because of the cold. The Loaches [the LOH-6 was nicknamed “Loach” from the acronym for the Light Observation Helicopter (LOH)] flew with the doors off, not open.’

Photo credit: U.S. Army

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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