By Jeremy Henderson, Army Flier Staff WriterAugust 25, 2016
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Army Aviation's rich legacy spans decades, and the U.S. Army Aviation Museum endeavors to put that history on display, as well as educate Soldiers and future Aviators.
"Essentially, the museum is a snapshot of Army Aviation's history," Robert Mitchell, U.S. Army Aviation Museum curator, said. "We like to do as many dioramas as we can to depict period uniforms and equipment used alongside the various aircraft. We are in the process of standing up about a dozen mannequins throughout half a dozen exhibits."
There are about 50 aircraft on display in the public galleries at any one time, according to the museum's website. However, the museum maintains a collection of over 160 airplanes, helicopters and other vertical flight aircraft. In addition, the museum also maintains another 3,000 items in the historical property collection.
"Fort Rucker's museum is the showcase for Army Aviation," Mitchell said. "When non-military personnel and veterans come to Fort Rucker, they generally come to see the museum. It's basically Army Aviation's house, so we want to make sure the visitors have a pleasurable visit, (and that) they understand the mission of Army Aviation and its rich heritage.
"Most people who interact with Fort Rucker and the museum will walk away with the opinion of the Army based on the museum," he added. "It is very important we conduct ourselves in a professional manner, the exhibits are correct and people leave here understanding Army Aviation."
Work is currently under way to place the museum's displays in chronological order to provide a walk through Army Aviation's history for Soldiers and visitors.
"They can expect to find examples of Army Aviation dating from the Wright Brothers' production of Army Wright Model B flyer through World War I and World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam War and the global war on terrorism," Mitchell said. "It is important to understand that the United States Army is the reason for the modern-day helicopter. The Army paid the money, and conducted research and development to get the helicopter where it is today.
"We have a little bit of everything in here," he added. "We have an original Newport 28 from World War I. There are only a handful of those that survived. We also have a Super 68 from the Battle of Mogadishu, as seen in the movie 'Blackhawk Down,' and pretty much a sampling of everything in between."
According to Mitchell, the museum is in the process of receiving an AH-64 Apache to display.
"It will need to be assembled, though," he said. "It's not complete. It will depend on availability of parts and the manpower to put it all back together.
"We also have two significant UH-1s," he added. "We have one on the floor right now that is ready to go to restoration. We also have the first Huey prototype that is currently being restored. It should be here for the 60th anniversary of its first flight Oct. 20."
The museum provides a glimpse of Army Aviation's history for visitors, but, at its core, Mitchell said it serves as a training tool for Soldiers.
"Our purpose is Soldier and leader development and training," he said. "We have, on-hand, a reference library with collections of various maps, personnel after-action reports and unit histories available for Soldiers to study and use as reference material for writing papers, staff studies and executive summaries on various topics in Army Aviation as we move forward. It's also important to understand that the museum keeps these documents and reference materials from the past that can be drawn from and used as lessons learned in the future, whether it's training or technologies from the past that can be reapplied to today."
When Soldiers first arrive at Fort Rucker, they visit the museum to learn the story of Army Aviation. Mitchell feels this is an important step for both the museum and the Soldiers.
"These kids haven't even started flight school yet," he said. "They get their history from me and then Mr. [Terry] Morris, a local veteran, comes down when he can to tell them what it means to be an Army Aviator and what's expected of them.
"We also do the same thing for (advanced individual training) Soldiers," he added. "They come to the museum and we provide their Branch history. We also have returning Soldiers who come back for professional development courses. We take them back through storage to show them developmental pieces now that they understand how the helicopter works. We show them how those early technologies led to today's technologies."
According to Mitchell, based on that core training resource role, plans are in motion to build a training support facility to house USAAM's wealth of documents and resource materials.
"We hope the structure will be in excess of 100,000 square feet," he said. "It will house the technologies of Army Aviation. The current facility is where we showcase the machines that were part of the inventory of Army Aviation. These are the machines that went onto the field and were used by Soldiers. We must have them here, so that when grandpa brings his grandkids to see the helicopter he flew, we have it on display, which means there a lot of other aircraft, experimental aircraft and one-offs, that we don't have room to display. The training support facility will be the venue for those."
According to Mitchell, the facility, still in the planning stages, will be located near Braman Hall.
"It will extend down the road to the memorial," he said. "It will then extend lengthwise over to Novosel Street. It is going to be a massive structure primarily designed as a teaching venue for Soldiers. That is just the footprint. We are also looking at a possible second story for various vignettes."
Although the facility remains in the early stages of planning, Mitchell knows it will be a valuable resource for the future of Army Aviation.
The museum is open to visit Mondays-Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It is closed on federal holidays, except for Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.
For more information about the museum, visit http://www.armyaviationmuseum.org/.