Randy Laney of Englewood flew helicopters for 45 years both in the Army and as a commercial chopper pilot after he was discharged.
“I went to Eastern Michigan University in ’65. I didn’t do well in college. About the only thing I excelled in was ROTC,” the 70-year-old retired pilot recalled. “I decided to stay in ROTC because it keep me out of the draft for Vietnam. When I graduated in ’70 I had a major in political science and a minor in business.”
The Vietnam War had been raging for years when he got out of the university in 1970.
“I joined an artillery unit and became an artillery spotter. I was the first artillery officer in our outfit to go to spotter school,“ Laney said. “My theory was I could learn to fly fixed-wing aircraft and when I got out of the Army I could sign up with the airlines and fly for them.”
It didn’t turn out that way. Instead of learning to fly fixed-wing airplanes, he was sent to helicopter school in Texas and started flying little helicopters.
“I loved it. I felt at home. I was comfortable. This is where I needed to be,” he recalled almost five decades later. Then I was sent to Fort Rucker, Ala. where they taught me to fly Hueys.”
These were the workhorse of the U.S. Airmobile units fighting in Vietnam. They flew soldiers into battle and flew body bags filled with KIAs (killed-in-action) back to base.
“It was the beginning of ’72 and we thought we were going to Vietnam. We got orders two weeks before we graduated from flight school saying we were going to Fort Bragg, N.C. My buddy, Clark, and I got similar orders. They were going to teach us how to fly OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopters.
“I became a scout pilot teaching young second lieutenants how to fly scouts. I showed them how to direct artillery and shoot from the air. You’re sitting up there in your helicopter watching the shells you’re directing hit their targets. Nothing could be more fun. ”
By then Laney was a first lieutenant in the Army. A year later, around ’73, he was promoted to captain at Fort Bragg. Two years later he decided to get out of the Army and fly ‘choppers in civilian life. Eventually he became a Warrant Officer and retired as a W-4. He went to work for Heli-Voyguer, who was building a huge hydroelectric dam the size of Lake Huron in Canada.
“Our company was flying 80 helicopters at a time on this project,” Laney said. “I was working 12-hours a day, 7 days a week. But I only stayed flying for them for six-months.
“I decided to quit flying and go back to college. I’d had it, too much isolation, and too much thinking while flying helicopters in the woods. I quit and went back to college at Eastern Michigan. I got a teaching certificate and one in guidance.
“Unfortunately, after I graduated there weren’t any teaching jobs available. I putzed around for a while and then I joined the Michigan National Guard in 1977. The guys in the guard were just like me, they loved to fly helicopters. This was the Army National Guard in Grand Rapids, Mich.”
He was 27 at the time.
“I’m flying an old Huey gunship from Vietnam with the Grand Rapids Guard. We were flying war games for the soldiers on the ground. After two years of flying these old Hueys we got ‘Cobra Gunships.’ They were a big step up.
‘We got our special night-vision glasses right about then while flying in Grand Rapids.
“One of the highlights of my flying career was flying with a group of guys who called themselves ‘The Beasty Boys.’ We flew together a long time and we could fly in formation very well. Four or five of the top W-4s, I was one of them, flew training missions with younger pilots.
“After 10 or 12 years of flying together we could fly in formation at night like it was an aerial ballet while using our night-vision glasses.
“In civilian life I was a school counselor when I wasn’t flying Cobras on the weekends part-time. I was running a jail school, I was running a lock-up for a bunch of young guys and I was helping run the adult education program in St. Johns, Mich. I did this from ’87 to ’06.
“Shortly after teaching in the school system in St. John I got an offer for a teaching job in another Michigan school system. I taught phys-ed, math, and life-skills. After four more years I became a helicopter pilot for a hospital in Michigan. I flew helicopters for five years up north and during my final year I flew in Florida for the Lee County Hospital.
“I was 67 when I retired and moved to Englewood in 2014. I recently remarried and have three children from a previous marriage: Glen, Chet and Jessica.
Name: Randy Keith Laney
D.O.B: 30 Jan. 1948
Hometown: Detroit, Mich.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 1 Oct. 1970
Discharged: 30 May, 2005
Rank: Warrant Officer-4
Unit: 82nd Airborne Division
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Army Aviation Badge
Battles/Campaigns: Vietnam War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 9, 2018 and is republished with permission.
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