Huey Down — full scale diorama
Huey Down — full scale diorama
This diorama, and a few more, can be seen at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum* in Alabama. This museum has a wealth of aircraft, exhibited in pristine condition, as well as a few truly great full scale dioramas and this diorama is one of the best I’ve seen or seen pictured. It shows the scene — a moment that might have happened dozens if not hundreds of times during the Vietnam War — of a downed Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter being inspected by the crew of a light scouting helicopter, a Hughes OH-6 Cayuse “Loach” over one of the countless rice paddies in Vietnam.
There is no obvious reason for this Huey’s demise. There is no battle damage evident but helicopters go down for many reasons. Recall that there is no small problem for a pilot in a helicopter, they are all large problems. Whether due to enemy fire or mechanical issues this formerly expensive helicopter landed hard — the broken and twisted tail boom and shattered rotor blades tell the tale — and became a pile of aluminum.
The Loach’s observer/gunner, his M-60 7.62mm machine gun hung from a sling, as well as the pilot are looking for something — it is likely an armed scouting mission since this Cayuse also has a 7.62mm minigun mounted on the left pylon. Perhaps they are investigating the wreck for tracks or other sign of the NVA and the VC? Perhaps the Huey was booby-trapped by US or ARVN forces once the personnel and equipment were recovered — transforming the wreck into a weapon? They are scouts, so they may only be looking as that is what scouts do? Helicopters flying low, flitting in differing directions, in the painted background indicate that this is an area of current activity.
This diorama is great for another reason since it does not show a moment that was historic. No — this is an everyday moment of persons in combat, looking at results of combat, learning what can be learned for immediate use. The bent blades of grass reflecting patterns of the rotor wash need only wind, smells and humidity to completely transport the visitor back into Vietnam during the late 1960s or early 1970s. This is the intangible component of historical events, the texture and context, that is so often omitted from articles, books and even museums. That is the paradox, isn’t it? It is easy and required to show the obvious, the facts, the quotes and the artifacts. But it is these intangible aspects — the moment-to-moment context, the instances of subjects in thought with their emotions and objectives, the details of how they go about their business that provides the current within which history flows. The U.S. Army Aviation Museum deserves a special commendation for making this diorama possible since this not only took special awareness but also the care to illustrate this important “non event” in history.
* A post of my visit to the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, as well as many of its aircraft as well as excellent full scale dioramas, can be viewed by pasting the museum’s name into the search window and selecting ENTER.