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Evolving history: Museum reworks displays to keep perspective fresh

A special operations variant of the UH-60L, known as Super 68, Razor’s Edge, which participated in operations later recounted in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down,” sits on display at the Army Aviation Museum on Fort Rucker. (Photo by Jay Mann)

A special operations variant of the UH-60L, known as Super 68, Razor’s Edge, which participated in operations later recounted in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down,” sits on display at the Army Aviation Museum on Fort Rucker. (Photo by Jay Mann)

Published: October 16, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 16, 2014) -- Museums are a record of the slow, constant change and evolution in the world that people participate in every day, and this record itself is constantly being updated at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum by a staff that recognizes the importance of building the future on the foundations of the past.

“A good museum is constantly evolving, constantly changing,” said Robert Mitchell, Army Aviation Museum curator. “People want to come back to the museum and see new things, so we are constantly upgrading the displays and we are in the planning process of a large reworking of all our displays.”

Mitchell says reworking current displays is only a part of providing a unique experience for visitors on every visit to the museum – rotating aircraft and acquiring new displays are just as important.

“We are hoping to get a Longbow Apache from the Apache community to put on display, because obviously that aircraft is not only a tactical weapon, but a national strategic weapon,” he said.

One of the new aircraft on display at the museum is an exclusive special operations variant of the UH-60L, known as Super 68, Razor’s Edge.

In 1993, Super 68 participated in Operation Gothic Serpent and was one of three Black Hawk helicopters to be shot down during the Battle of Mogadishu – an account of which appeared in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”

“During the battle, it received heavy damage,” explained Mitchell. “A rocket-propelled grenade struck the rotor system on the aircraft, but the crew was able to fly it back to the airfield, which is a testament to the ruggedness of the aircraft and crew members. It was quickly repaired and put back into action.”

Throughout its entire service life, from delivery in 1990 until its induction into the Army Aviation Museum collection in late 2013, Super 68 was assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. It was one of the first aircraft in the regiment to undergo the conversion to a Direct Action Penetrator.

“During that battle the aircraft was configured differently than you see it today. You have to remember, that was many years ago,” Mitchell said, “It was upgraded over the years and eventually took on the role of a DAP.”

It is on display in COMNAV IDAP configuration, mounting a rocket pod, 30mm cannon, and twin forward fixed 7.62 miniguns. During its time in the 160th, it also racked Hellfire missiles and Stinger air-to-air missiles, depending on the mission.

“It’s basically the 160th’s version of a gunship,” he said. “Its primary role is direct fire support for the operators on the ground.

“During the operations in Mogadishu. it had the standard door guns and was used more as an assault type aircraft for inserting troops,” he continued. “When it received the battle damage, it had fast ropes hanging out and rangers were being deployed into the city.

“Preserving the actual aircraft that participated in these missions is important because people need to understand the sacrifice and determination of the Soldiers who operated these machines,” said Mitchell. “Recently, on the 20th anniversary of the operations in Somalia, we had senior officers and NCOs come stand next to this aircraft that they stood next to all those years ago as junior officers and enlisted Soldiers. This aircraft is a part of them.”

In addition to the new additions to the museum, current inventory being rotated in and upgrades to displays, there are plans for a new Phase II to the museum that will feature groundbreaking aircraft that pushed the evolution of rotary flight.

“History and technology are intertwined,” said Mitchell. “The new Phase II building will have a circular design, starting with early rotary wing Aviation and evolve through all the different facets of power plants, rotor systems, instrumentation and survivability systems throughout the generations. It will be a very comprehensive exhibit of technology.

“The operational history will still be maintained, but Phase II will fill in the gaps with the conceptual designs and prototypes that led to the leaps in design between the operational aircraft,” he said.

The Phase II design model and the Army Aviation Museum Foundation’s progress toward the funding goal are on display in the museum.

The current museum building has a large collection of exhibits starting with the early days of flight.

“Army Aviation started shortly after the Wright brothers achieved their feat at Kitty Hawk,” said Mitchell. “We have a WWI Gallery where we talk about Army Aviation pioneers, the mid-war years, and WWII. As you walk through, you see the advancements through the late 1940s and 50s, and into the Korean war and up to today.

“There is really something for everybody here,” he said. “Elementary school children, active-duty Soldiers, former Aviation Soldiers and their families regularly come through here.

“We have a lot of things people don’t normally see,” he added. “There are some one-of-a-kind aircraft, presidential helicopters, Hugh Mill’s aircraft from Vietnam, and a lot of nooks and crannies throughout the museum chock full of history that people don’t realize is here.”

This article was originally published at

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