HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AP) -- The Air Force is hoping flight simulations can help solve the disappearance 30 years ago of a rescue helicopter in Vietnam.
The project may lead to similar efforts to find other aircraft that vanished during the Vietnam War, former flight engineer Bob Baldwin said Wednesday as the nation marked Veterans Day.
Baldwin is part of a team of veterans teaming up with the Air Force to find an HH-3E Jolly Green Giant and its four-man crew. The helicopter named Jolly Green 23 vanished 9 June 1968, while searching for a downed attack pilot, who also remains unaccounted for.
Baldwin was part of the wartime effort to find the helicopter. Thirty years later, he's helping with a new search despite being thousands of miles away from the scene.
Black and white aerial photos taken in the late 1960s were converted into digital photos and matched with current maps to recreate the wartime landscape near the Vietnam-Laos border. Baldwin then used a computer joy stick to fly through the scene displayed on a console.
"I just closed my eyes and when I opened them up, it was like stepping back 30 years," Baldwin said. "The only thing missing is that the tracers aren't coming at you from antiaircraft guns."
The simulations at the Hurlburt base in the Florida Panhandle allowed Baldwin and another former pilot to pick out three spots where the helicopter may have crashed.
A military team in Vietnam searched for four days before the monsoon season forced them to stop. They plan to resume when the rains end next year, said Maj. Mike Vaughn, who helps supervise computer mapping and flight simulator work at Hurlburt.
The team found no sign of Jolly Green 23, but did find wreckage of a Marine helicopter that had been forced down. All but one of the crew members had escaped.