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Huey Down — full scale diorama

17 August 2011

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.

The Cayuse hovers above the downed Huey in this full scale diorama in the U.S. Army Aviation Museum — photo by Joseph May

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 observer/gunner and pilot spot a sign or a track? — photo by Joseph May

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.

The Huey sits immersed, broken and shattered, equipment removed — photo by Joseph May

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.

The Cayuse was fast, small and had fangs, evident with the left side 7.62mm minigun — photo by Joseph May

* 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.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 August 2011 11:18

    Hi, Joe….
    When I first saw this diorama in one of your last posts, I wondered at that time , if the Huey was actually sitting in water, or was it a VERY creative use of ‘liquid plastic”? Either way, it is probably THE BEST full scale diorama I’ve ever seen…and thank you for it. Even in the photos, you get the feeling of tenseness /apprehension; being above the damaged craft..

    thanks, david

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      17 August 2011 18:47

      I completely agree with you David — it is the best diorama I’ve seen, as well. The water and grass are plastic as far as I can tell, nothing moves with the air conditioning currents and there are no aromas — it sure looks dynamic, though 🙂

  2. 25 January 2012 22:30

    Whenever people “rescue” war machines from a scrap yard they might fix the engine but as soon as they bang out the bullet holes and repaint them they forever cover up the story you might have imagined were you able to see the real skin that was in the war. It would be better if they would just leave the paint, damage and scars as they are. I like that about this one.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      26 January 2012 09:52

      You’ve made an excellent point and in much bette fashion than I have managed. As an aside, there are several (but not an everwhelming amount) aircraft exhibited in a conserved state (meaning a cleaned up version of a wreck) and I’ll post about their locatiosn in a week or two. But, going back to your point — I agree that displaying them in a less than pristine state, actually looking they way they did when in service, is not done enough. Thanks for your comment, Joe

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