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Little Birds over American Desert – Little Bird LLC

Images courtesy of Morgan Estill Photography.

The Little Bird helicopter is iconic. From news reports overseas to movies like Blackhawk Down to video games, the MH- or AH-6 Little Bird is as emblematic of SOF or SMU work (Special Operations Forces/Special Mission Unit) as anything in history.

Originally based on the OH-6 aircraft (formally the Cayuse but more commonly known as the Loach), the MH-6J and MH-6M “Mission Enhanced Little Bird” of today has evolved considerably from the OH-6 observation helos from such units as the 1ST Infantry Division’s 1/4 CAV (Darkhorse) at Phu Loi in the 60s. They have, however, retained their distinctive shape and a tradition of improbable mission exploits conducted with valor and panache.

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“The OH-6 had a personality all her own. She was light, nimble, and extremely responsive to every control input. While the Huey was stable, dependable, kind of like the faithful sedan, the OH-6 was like getting a brand new MGA Roadster. She was sexy!” Hugh Mills1

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Little Bird LLC is the manifestation of one man’s love of this breed of aircraft, and it maintains a standing offer to any former Little Pilot to “come down and fly.” That man is Harland Beuden—you may have heard of him as “Pilot X” from several Article 15 Clothing and Mat Best videos—has been a pilot his entire adult life. In fact, when other kids were worried about learning to drive and getting a car, Harland was working on all his pilot’s licenses.

Harland grew up around pilots as the Vietnam War was winding down, and learned his skills from seasoned former members of Air America. Air America was of course the allegedly “civilian” air carrier owned in actuality by the Central Intelligence Agency that flew all over Southeast Asia.

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If that’s not a cool childhood story, I don’t know what is.

One of these role models, an Air Force veteran named Walt, was determined that Harland enter the Air Force Academy. Unfortunately, when he went to take his physical he found out he was color blind. Unwilling to go for a commission if he wouldn’t be in a pilot’s billet, Harland looked elsewhere, and began learning to fly helicopters in the meantime.

That’s where some the youngster’s other early role models came back into play—he’d maintained his friendship with all sorts of interesting characters, many of whom were flying in different locations abroad. Harland was bilingual and looking for a place to fly; he soon wound up working with some of those same former Air America pilots, helping with maintenance on aircraft, doing some instruction and of course flying. As a result, although Harland was never a military pilot, he has a lot of time behind the stick—including more than a few moments in some pretty hair situations.

Fast forward a few decades; Harland, a quite, humble man who describes himself as simply a ‘corporate pilot with a great love for the Little Bird’ decides to found Little Bird LLC and dedicate it as a tribute to Vietnam veterans. The company’s first aircraft was a Loach rebuilt exactly in every detail to an OH-6 in 1967, sans insignia. He was gracious enough not only to take me up in it, but to let me take the controls for a while.

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“It has no insignia,” he says, “because I want anyone who sits in it to be able to fly it and reminisce. I want it to feel like their bird and not somebody else’s.”

He then made the aircraft available to veteran’s groups or individual pilots who wanted to ‘get behind the stick again.’

Since then Little Bird LLC has grown. Little Bird LLC now has 3 birds; Back in Black (modeled on a Task Force aircraft) and 964 (the ‘generic’ Vietnam Loach) are both flying, and have been all over the New Mexico and Texas desert. They’re still rebuilding the third one, a former Task Force 160 aircraft that will look much like Back in Black when completed). Harland and his crew also have expanded their mission. They continue to support local disabled veterans but have also provided support to people filming television shows, videos and movies (you may have seen Harland as “Pilot X” in a Mat Best video, for instance, and in some industry media productions). More recently they’ve helped some military, OGA and LE agencies with some training—need to rehearse calling in some air and don’t have your own assets? Little Bird LLC will help you stay current. Looking for a Little Bird for your video or photo shoot? They’re happy to help—it keeps them busy between visits by former pilots.

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Harland Beuden is a gracious host and a patriot whose knowledge of aviation borders on the encyclopedic. He’ll happily go from talking about individual aircraft (we discussed Disciple of Peace, Death on Call and Love American Style while I was there) to the intricate details of various ejection seats.

Most of all, however, he loves to fly. He’ll happily take passengers up and around, he might even let you take the stick for a while (as he did with me, and it was exhilerationg). Most of all though, more than anything else, he wants to help former pilots fly again.

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“Anyone who flew a Little Bird in Vietnam, anyone who flew a Little Bird ever, is welcome to fly here,” Harland says. “Call me or e-mail me.”

You can reach Harland and Little Bird LLC online, via their Facebook page or through the office of the War Eagle Air Museum, which is right outside El Paso. You can e-mail him directly at hbeuden(at)ahlittlebirdllc.com.

Learn more about Morgan Estill Photography right here.

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1Hugh Mills served 2 tours in Vietnam as an aeroscout pilot, was shot down 16 times, wounded 3 times and awarded 3 Silver Stars, 4 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 3 Bronze Stars with V. He is the author of Low Level Hell, a book I highly recommend.

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