In January 1972, the Department of the Army directed the
commander of the Army Aviation Center at Ft. Rucker, AL to form a helicopter
demonstration team to perform at the U.S. International Transportation
Exposition, better known as Transpo ’72. The exposition was scheduled
for May 27 until June 4, 1972 at Dulles International Airport outside
Two types of aircraft were selected for use at Transpo
’72. The team was assigned nine OH-6A Cayuse helicopters that had been
completely overhauled after seeing combat service in Viet Nam. The team
was also assigned nine brand new OH-58 Kiowa helicopters, fresh from the
In March, LTC Dick E. Roach, who had been the liaison for
World-wide Standards at the Aviation Center, assumed command of the yet-unnamed
team. The team members held their first meeting on March 18, and over the
next three months they developed and practiced precision flight maneuvers daily.
Each practice session was video-taped and the tapes were used extensively to
critique each pilot’s performance as well as to keep a record of the team’s
Practices went well, and the major problem was the lack of
a name that projected the precision and professionalism appropriate for such a
team. After much discussion, the team members (and the Aviation Center
hierarchy) unanimously agreed that the team should be called the Silver Eagles
to commemorate the aviator badges worn by Army aviators in World War I.
The first public appearance of the Silver Eagles was at the
Aviation Center’s Armed Forces Day Celebration. Eight helicopters flew
precision formation routines and two solo helicopters performed speed and power
maneuvers to fill the time between precision maneuvers. The team flew two
shows daily at Transpo ’72. Their performances received many accolades.
Transpo ’72 sold Army brass on the desirability of having a permanent
LTC Roach remained in command of the team throughout
Transpo ’72. He was succeeded in that position by Major Billy J.
Bowling, who had been the aviation center’s action officer for formation of
The Army approved an organizational structure and
regulations governing the team’s activities. A decision was made to
transfer the OH-58’s to other units and the Silver Eagles retained the nine
“combat veteran” OH-6A’s. The team performed at New Orleans
Lakefront Airport and Ft. Stewart, GA, in September. Major Bowling
remained in command of the team until near the end of 1972.
In December 1972 LTC Donald S. Galla, Inspector General at
the Aviation Center, assumed command of the team. In February 1973, a
general order formally created the United States Army Aviation Precision
Demonstration Team (USAAPDT). The team performed 52 shows in 18 states
during that year. The team covered the country from New York to Minnesota
to Arizona to Florida.
In 1974 the Silver Eagles continued to thrill air show
spectators across the country. They expanded their coverage to the Pacific
by performing seven shows in California. At the end of the year they
concluded their public performances at the Blue Angel’s Homecoming show at NAS
LTC Galla’s two-year tour with the team ended in February
1975 when LTC Benjamin B. Powell, Jr., formerly assigned to Headquarters, Modern
Army Selected Systems Test Evaluation and Review (Project MASSTER) at Ft Hood,
TX, assumed command. Although it was not known at the time, LTC Powell
became the first, and only, commander of the Silver Eagles who was not assigned
to Ft. Rucker at the time of his selection. During 1975 the team performed
in 62 shows, including two in Ottawa, Canada. Shows were performed as far
west as Dallas, TX and Fargo, ND,, as well as throughout the midwest, the
eastern seaboard, and the deep south. Again, the team ended its travels with a
performance at the Blue Angels’ homecoming.
In 1976 the Silver eagles flew in 75 airshows. The
team opened the Bicentennial year by performing at the Bicentennial Air Fair in
Albany, GA., and ended the year performing at the Blue Angel’s 30th
Homecoming. Unfortunately, in mid-year the Department of the Army decided
to cancel the team at the end of the show season. Despite that decision
the team continued to perform excellently, thrilling crowds that varied in size
from 500 in Flora, IL, to more than 2 million in Chicago.
During the four years of its existence, the Silver
Eagles shared the stage with the Navy’s “Blue Angels”, the Air Force’s
“Thunderbirds”, and the Army’s “Golden Knights” parachute team, as
well as with a number of the most famous civilian performers in the airshow
business. Names like Professor Art Scholl, the Red Devils, Bob Hoover, and
many others were real people and often good friends of team members.
The team performed its final show before a crowd of several
thousand loyal supporters at its home field, Knox Field, Ft. Rucker, AL, on
November 23, 1976. During it’s tenure the Silver Eagles performed before
more than 10 million spectators at more than 220 airshows in 30 states and two
Canadian Provinces. In 1975, the team was recognized by the Army Aviation
Association of America (Quad-A) as the most outstanding aviation unit in the
It was fun! It was a good run, but, like all good things,
it came to an end. The team members were outstanding. Many of the
officers ended their careers in the Field Grades. Several of the enlisted
members became First Sergeants, and one later became the Command Sergeant Major
at the Aviation Center. Team members projected a positive image of the
Army, whether talking to and signing autographs for airshow spectators or
visiting children’s hospitals or nursing homes.
Note: Much of this information is presented in much greater
detail in Ned Gilliland’s book, Dancing Rotors.