Rubbing Elbows with Hollywood Superstars While Sharing Aviation History

Paul Fardink, a retired Army Aviator, spreads message of helicopter history to enthusiasts including big name actors.
By: Jennifer Ferrero

Paul Fardink, 72, a former Army Aviator, turned aviation historian, loved flying the CH-54 Skycrane helicopter (now known as the S-64 Air Crane® helicopter). That helicopter, and other Vietnam-era aircraft, are the stuff of legend. Pilots don’t soon forget their exploits, and Fardink is here to help remind them through his published articles.

Fardink is one of those former pilots who has invested his life into the history of helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft. He has been involved with a variety of organizations for aviation enthusiasts. And, he said he’s published over twenty articles on aviation history for aviation publications, and twelve papers for the Vertical Flight Society for presentation at the annual forums of the Vertical Flight Society’s History Committee.

His articles read like a script for a Steven Spielberg or George Lucas film, but are about real U.S. Military history makers.

Due to his engagement with aviation history, he was invited to attend the Living Legends of Aviation event, where he would celebrate the induction of his friend Major General Carl McNair, a colleague of Fardink’s from West Point, who became the first Branch Chief of the newly created Army Aviation Branch in 1983.

While at the awards ceremony event, he tells a story about meeting Hollywood legends – aviation enthusiasts and pilots – John Travolta, and Harrison Ford.

Dr. Cheryl Fardink pictured with actor Harrison Ford at Living Legends of Aviation event.

“I didn’t get a photo with Harrison Ford, because I took the picture, but my wife is pictured with him,” Fardink shared (his wife probably didn’t mind the stand-in.) He said that at one point one of Ford’s associates called him away to meet with other important people and Fardink recounts Ford saying, “I am with the real heroes now, I’m not going anywhere,” citing the group of inductees and aviators that Fardink was visiting with.

The purpose of the event is to recognize people who have made an impact on the aviation industry. The website, states, “The “Living Legends of Aviation” are remarkable people of extraordinary accomplishment in aviation including entrepreneurs, innovators, industry leaders, astronauts, record breakers, pilots who have become celebrities and celebrities who have become pilots. The Legends meet yearly to recognize and honor individuals that have made significant contributions in aviation.”

Jack Erickson with John Travolta

Tom Cruise, from Top Gun and other movie aviators, have been inducted into the organization for representing pilots in film.

At that event, Fardink also met Jack Erickson, the founder of Erickson Incorporated. In fact, Erickson himself was inducted in 2013.

Aside from the $1,200 a seat Living Legends event, Fardink has been involved with documenting the stories of what Ford called, “the true heroes.”

One of the publications he’s written for is called VERTIFLIGHT, a publication of American Helicopter Society International (now known as the Vertical Flight Society). In one issue he wrote about pilots from various American military branches flying in Vietnam, which he said was often called, “The Helicopter War,” due to the volume of helicopters in the region at the time.

His story, Noble Men, the Huey, and The Medal of Honor,” recounts the story of ten helicopter aviators and their challenges in fighting, moving wounded men, achieving rank, and post-war outcomes such as being awarded The Medal of Honor from presidents. The article reads like an Ernest Hemingway story with rich visuals and military encounters.

One story, about pilot Major Bruce Crandall, a member of the 11th Air Assault Division who was deployed to the Vietnam War as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) describes how Crandall’s aircraft was ambushed by the North Vietnamese when unarmed, without ammunition. He ended up evacuating seventy wounded soldiers. In another scenario, Fardink shares a story, “During the second tour in Vietnam in January 1968, Crandall’s helicopter was downed during another rescue attempt requiring him to spend five months in the hospital with a broken back and other injuries.” Later at the age of 74, he received the Medal of Honor from President George W. Bush during a White House ceremony on February 26, 2007. Crandall is now 88 and resides in Washington state.

Another true hero is Major Patrick Brady (another recipient of the Medal of Honor) and a friend of Fardink’s. During two tours in Vietnam, Brady was a Dust Off (air ambulance) pilot. Still best known for his acts of valor, the self-effacing Brady saved over 5,000 wounded, flying over 2,500 combat missions, during which he also developed foul weather and tactical techniques for air ambulance rescue, none of which had ever been executed in combat before. He received the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon on October 9, 1969. Brady retired from the Army as a Major General. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Living Legends of Aviation in 2020. He is now 85 and resides in Texas.

Pictured from left to right: Nancy Brady, General Patrick Brady, Dr. Cheryl Fardink, Paul Fardink

There’s no doubt how much people love aviation history with it being portrayed routinely in movies. In 2002 there was a film called, “We Were Soldiers Once and Young” starring Greg Kinnear as Major Bruce Crandall and with Mel Gibson and Madeleine Stowe with leading roles.

Over and over, Fardink has taken the mantle of telling the stories of aviators, pilots of helicopters in wars that saved lives and property.

Yet, Fardink, a modest man will tell you that it’s all about the history, “I have some fellow nerds that are into helicopter history…” and he wants to share the stories. He’ll tell you that although being recognized with an individual achievement in 2021 with “The John J. Schneider Historical Achievement Award” – he’s never been a paid freelance writer, although has documented the history of important aviation figures.

The Vertical Flight Society has deemed Fardink as award-worthy for his work. According to their March 29, 2021, press release, the award “is given in recognition of distinguished achievements by an individual in encouraging appreciation of, and enhancing access to, the history and legacy of vertical flight aircraft. This year’s recipient is Paul J. Fardink, who has made significant contributions to documenting rotorcraft history — particularly focused on developments by the US Army — through dozens of papers and articles, and by supporting the recognition of three VFS Vertical Flight Heritage Sites.”

Fardink who is a retired Lieutenant Colonel has written for Army Aviation Magazine, United States Army Aviation Digest, Army RD&A Bulletin, and Assembly Magazine. He is rated for multi-engine helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

He shared that when going through flight school, two years after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he loved the idea of flying the Sikorsky Skycrane, but “you had to be a senior pilot with some hours under your belt,” he couldn’t remember how many hours were required but thought it was 800-1000 hours. He cited how sophisticated the Skycrane was at the time, “you didn’t graduate flight school and go to fly the Skycrane.”

Fardink also shared that in 1970, West Point graduates were prohibited from going directly to flight school, they first had to spend two years in a combat branch before applying. Fardink was commissioned into the Infantry and became Airborne, and Ranger qualified. While later serving as an Army Aviator with the 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles,” he was selected for the first Air Assault School Cadre (1973) and authored the first Air Assault School Handbook which really initiated the start of his writing initiatives.

Like many aviators in his generation, Fardink exceptionalized the role of pilot, embracing the helicopter technology of the time, while becoming a true hero that pilot Harrison Ford referenced. Reporting on the history of great aviators in the helicopter industry it is important to understand past aviation work as we build on the future.

Download one of our favorite historical papers written by Paul Fardink on the History and Contributions of the CH-54.