FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- More than 100,000 people visit the U.S. Army Aviation Museum each year to get a glimpse into the history of Army Aviation and learn from its past.
But as much as patrons are able to see what the history of Army Aviation holds, there is much more than currently meets the eye when it comes to the museum's vast collection.
"Currently, in the existing museum, we are limited by space, so we primarily display what was actually in the Army's operational inventory," said Bob Mitchell, U.S. Army Aviation Museum curator. "When grandpa brings his kids and grandkids in here to show them the helicopter he flew, we have to have it in here, which means that there is a lot of stuff that we have that we can't really put [on display]."
Currently there are about five storage facilities that house a slew of prototype aircraft and equipment, as well as many aircraft that are slated for restoration in the future to be exhibited on the museum floor, and although the current museum has about 120,000 square feet of floor space, it's not enough to be able to display everything that is housed in the museum's storage units, said Mitchell.
From the first XH-40 prototype helicopter that paved the way for the famous Huey helicopter to a Boeing-Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche, an aircraft that never quite made it into the Army's operational inventory, the museum has something for everyone, said Mitchell.
The Comanche, which is one of the museums biggest attractions, allows visitors to see just how far the evolution of Army Aviation has come from aircraft that flew more than 100 years ago, which can also be seen within the museum's walls. There are about 50 aircraft on display in the public galleries at any one time throughout the museum, but the entire collection encompasses over 160 airplanes, helicopters and other vertical flight aircraft, according to the museum's website, www.armyaviationmuseum.org, most of which is found in storage out of public view.
Of the vast collection of aircraft and memorabilia that the museum houses, the unseen artifacts encompass more than two thirds of the museum's entire collection, said Mitchell. The collection has been accumulated over the last 60 years, and due to space constraints, the museum is typically limited to showcase aircraft that were in the Army's operational inventory, but that doesn't negate the importance of the pieces sitting in storage.
"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."
The museum is set up in a way to try and take people on a journey through the history of Army Aviation as they walk through various exhibits, said Mitchell.
"They can expect to find examples of Army Aviation dating from the Wright Brothers' production of the Army Wright Model B flyer through World War I and World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam War and the global war on terrorism," he 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 'Black Hawk Down,' and pretty much a sampling of everything in between."
The museum is open to visitors 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/.