- Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. (AP) - Despite being shot down twice over the jungles of Vietnam during his tours in the war, pilot Gerald Loyd still loves climbing into a cockpit and soaring in the air.

His first experience flying came when he was just a teenager.

“I was a 16-year-old kid when I first flew, and it was the coolest thing in the world to me,” Loyd, who is from North Little Rock, told The Jonesboro Sun (http://bit.ly/1j1oJLZ).

And more than 50 years later, he still enjoys the time he spends soaring in the clouds.

His first flying lesson took place September 1963. The plane was a simple design, had no electronic components and had to be manually started using a hand crank at the prop.

Five years later would see Loyd serving his country in the Army.

He was a helicopter pilot during the jungle warfare, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to be taking off and landing in dangerous situations.

“I flew Hueys for the 1st Infantry Division from 1968 to 1969,” Loyd said. “There was always a lot of excitement.”

He said helicopter pilots were in high demand and anytime a firefight broke out between allied forces and the North Vietnamese; helicopters were usually requested for transport and supply runs.

“We got into everything,” Loyd said. “We would have about three to four firefights a week.” He was shot down twice during his time in Vietnam, but that didn’t stop his passion for flying.

“I just love flying. I’ve always been fascinated with anything that flies,” Loyd said.

He was just one of numerous pilots who flew into the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport for the 16th annual Walnut Ridge Army Air Field Reunion and the air field’s 72nd anniversary.

The event was organized by the Wings of Honor museum located at the airport.

Museum president Harold Johnson said the event was designed to present the history of the air field and to honor those who served the country in a quest for freedom.

Johnson said about 50 pilots participated in the fly-in, including a number of war veterans.

Pilot Andy Kitchens was one of the participating pilots and was part of a group of six pilots native to North Little Rock who flew during the event. he group’s name was the Mid-South RVators.

Kitchens had three brothers who were pilots, and he always had an interest in soaring through the air.

He took his first flight in 1984, and hasn’t looked back since.

“It’s hard to describe,” Kitchens said about the feeling of being in the air with just him and his machine.

He added that he feels a certain peace in those times, like the only things in the world are him and his airplane.

For pilot Marvin Homsley, flying an airplane is an enjoyable hobby.

“Flying is not any different than fishing or golfing. It doesn’t matter if you have a bass boat or an airplane, it’s about whatever you enjoy doing,” he said.

Homsley has been traveling in the air since 1961. He previously flew as a corporate pilot and also trained other flyers in the use of corporate jets.

Now he just enjoys the time he spends in the air.

He said he never had any trouble in the air during his many flight hours, but he has become lost once or twice.

“Everybody gets lost every once and a while,” Homsley said.

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Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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