Silver Eagles
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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 Washington, DC.

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 factory. 

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 progress. 

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 demonstration team.   

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 team.   

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 Pensacola, FL. 

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 Army. 

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.

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