Pete Peterson waves at take off. Behind him are Jodi and Brian Harsany./City of Orange Beach Photo by Marc Anderson
Ret. U.S. Navy Capt. Pete Peterson of Orange Beach, Alabama.
Pete Peterson
By John Mullen
 
August 13, 2018 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – Pete Peterson of Orange Beach was all smiles as he stepped off the vintage Huey helicopter after a 10-minute flight over Gulf State Park and The Wharf on Aug. 4. 
 
“They gave them people a pretty good show,” Peterson said. Among those people on the first of two media flights were Mayor Tony Kennon, his son Zane, City Administrator Ken Grimes and other city officials. Peterson was on board the second flight.
 
“They” are the Friends of Army Aviation-Ozark, an Alabama nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of Army Aviation with the Vietnam-era flying museum piloted by Vietnam veterans. The Huey flew 25 flights for 201 paying customers and received $400 in donations. A 10-minute ride cost $50 per person with the proceeds going to keep the outreach going and the Huey flying. 
 
And if anyone would know what a good show aboard one of the craft would be, Peterson’s that man. A 27-year veteran in the Navy with 6,000 hours of flying time including about a year with the Seawolf squadron of Hueys serving in Vietnam. During his career, he flew helicopters and fixed wing aircraft in search and rescue operations, was commander of a helicopter squadron on the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy and air boss on the carrier Kitty Hawk.
 
Jodi and Brian Harsany of Cosmo's Restaurant and Bar.
Jodi and Brian Harsany
“I didn’t expect them to go as far as they went,” Peterson said. “This is from somebody with a lot of flight hours in the Navy and also flying that kind of airplane in combat in Vietnam.”
 
But the first time to step back aboard the Huey was on Aug. 4.
 
“The only place the Navy had those was Vietnam,” Peterson said. “I’ve seen them because I’m a member of the Seawolf Association because I was in that squadron. The squadron only existed for five years and it started in Vietnam and ended in Vietnam.”
 
Someone also on the flight but with far less aircraft experience than Peterson was local restaurant owner Jodi Harsany and her husband, Brian. The pair owns five restaurants in Orange Beach in Cosmo’s, Cobalt, Luna’s, BuzzCatz and GT’s on the Bay.
 
She and Brian sat on the left side of the aircraft facing out with nothing holding them in but a seatbelt. A very good seatbelt. She appreciated the thrilling show Peterson was talking about.
 
“I’m glad they did,” Jodi said. “To be on a historic, restored Huey like that, of course, that was exciting. It was a much bigger thrill.”
 
She had been on beach tour helicopters, also with the doors off, but the seats faced forward.
 
“I would say it was louder,” Jodi said. “We had the doors off on the other one but I wasn’t facing out like in that gunner’s seat.”
 
Friends of Army Aviation-Ozark logo.Those two seats, Peterson said, were particularly exciting because of the maneuvers by the pilots even he wasn’t expecting. OBA Community Website founder Ken Cooper and yours truly occupied the same two seats on the opposite side of the Huey.
 
“There is an angle bank on a helicopter which you should not go beyond routinely unless is a life-or-death or emergency type of thing,” Peterson said. “And they went to that angle bank and held it right there. Most people never see that. If you were looking up, you’d see occasionally where they would put the nose down and head toward the ground maybe a little more than you’d think that they would.
 
“If you do those rides like at the Grand Canyon they are much less thrilling, let’s just put it that way. They are very blasé.”
 
Peterson also came away impressed with the Friends and their aircraft. And he made sure his seat contained a view of the cockpit.
 
“It looks like a very professional organization and the helicopter was in great shape,” Peterson said. “That’s why I chose the seat I was in was the center seat in the back so I could see exactly what the pilot was looking at. I could also see the instruments. And it’s open so you could see out of either door. But when they do that steep angle banking you can’t see where the skyline or sea line is anymore. 
 
Logo of the U.S. Navy's Seawolf Association.“I thought it was all really well done and they are to be complimented on their endeavors.”
 
Jodi was equally impressed and hopes they Friends of Army Aviation-Ozark make a return trip to Orange Beach.
 
“I want to thank Friends of Army Aviation for choosing our area to share and advocate the history,” Jodi said. “It would be great if they came back because I would definitely ride it again.”
 
The group will be back in the area at Jack Edwards National Airport in Gulf Shores on Oct. 26-27 doing public flights at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Fly-In. Grimes said he hopes the group will return to The Wharf for another event next year.
 
“I definitely think in the future there’ll be a relationship,” Grimes said.