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Director's Update: Fall 2010

  • Published
  • By Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Charles D. Metcalf, Director
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Even in the midst of our commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, another significant anniversary falls upon us - the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. Air Force campaign in Southeast Asia.

The Museum will begin its 50-year remembrance of the Southeast Asia War on Nov. 15, 2011. This date was chosen to mark the official start of the first U.S. Air Force campaign in Southeast Asia when the 2nd Advanced Echelon was activated in Saigon. The next day, the 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron (Farm Gate) arrived. Also, in November 1961, USAF RF-101Cs arrived in Thailand to begin flying reconnaissance missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Even though November 2011 is more than a year away, our staff has already put into motion plans to renovate the entire Southeast Asia War exhibit area in the Modern Flight Gallery. Of course, we already have some newer exhibits in place. For example, our exhibits on forward air controllers (FACs), Ranch Hand, Igloo White, 100 Missions Up North, Wild Weasels, POWs and the Mayaguez Incident have all opened within the past five years. The rest will be a phased renovation, with the three phases scheduled to open between the spring of 2011 and the spring of 2012.

There are several elements to Phase 1, which will be completed in May 2011. Aircraft and some of the existing exhibits are being repositioned to improve visitor flow. This phase also will include the main storyline - the entire Southeast Asia War exhibit will be categorized into 12 broad chapters, primarily based on geography.

Staying with our motto, "We are the keepers of their stories," Phase 1 will highlight a number of personal accounts. Visitors will learn about triple ace and Air Force Cross recipient Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, whose F-4C Phantom is on display in the gallery. They'll also see expanded exhibits out about air-to-air combat over North Vietnam, the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing - better known as the "River Rats," and the extremely hazardous missions of the Misty FACs, among other stories.

We're also incorporating some newer technology, as we have in our other recent exhibits. Several touch-screens will be available throughout the completed Southeast Asia War exhibit. In the first phase, visitors can use an interactive screen to learn more about air-to-air combat, specifically U.S. fighter aircraft versus our adversary's fighter aircraft. Photos of fighter pilots and never-before-seen combat footage from the National Archives will also be available.

And, of course, we can't forget about those showpieces of the Museum - the aircraft. You'll certainly see some changes in our aircraft line-up in this area.

If you are planning to visit the museum in the coming months, you'll notice that two aircraft -- the De Havilland C-7A and Martin EB-57B -- have been temporarily removed from display for restoration work. The aircraft are being repainted as they appeared while serving in Southeast Asia, and you can learn more about the restoration work by reading the Restoration Update in this issue of the Journal.

In addition, our restoration staff is busy working on the H-3. This rescue helicopter was part of an Air Force Cross mission. Flight Engineer Chief Master Sgt. Dennis Richardson was on one of two HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopters that were called in to rescue two men of a downed F-4 Phantom. The helicopters repeatedly moved in to make a pick-up but were driven away by gunfire.

Another helicopter - the UH-1 - will get a facelift as well. It will be painted and incorporated into a diorama to represent the Huey flown by Capt. James P. Fleming, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing a six-man Green Beret unit, stranded between heavily-defended enemy positions, near Duc Co, Vietnam.

Finally, we will be swapping out the MiG-21F that is currently on display with a MiG-21PF. Currently undergoing restoration, this aircraft is the model most commonly flown by the North Vietnamese throughout the war.

One last note for our veterans, especially those who served during the Southeast Asia War: Remember, this is your museum, and we'd be honored to host your military reunion here at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Just contact our Special Events Division at (937) 255-1712 or for an information packet.

I hope you are able to visit soon - and often - to watch the progress being made in this exhibit area.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Friends Journal. To receive the Journal and other benefits, become a member of the Air Force Museum Foundation.