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“Vietnam Divided: War Above Southeast Asia”

New exhibit opens Memorial Day weekend at Museum of Flight

A Huey is lowered into place in the Museum of Flight’s new exhibit. Photo credit: Museum of Flight

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On May 26, the Museum of Flight will open a new exhibit, "Vietnam Divided: War Above Southeast Asia." It will be a permanent addition to the Great Gallery, the museum's glass-walled main exhibit area. 

The new exhibit reinterprets four currently displayed aircraft and offers new perspectives while highlighting the tactics and technology behind their use in combat. There are also spaces for featuring the oral histories and personal effects of Vietnam air combat veterans from all branches of the U.S. services.    

The "Vietnam Air Combat Exhibit" centers on four aircraft in the T. A. Wilson Great Gallery: the American Lockheed YO-3A; the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom; the Bell UH-1 "Huey" helicopter; and the Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21. Flanking them are the Vought F-8 Crusader and Lockheed M/D-21 Blackbird spy plane. Also included in the exhibit are planes that can be found in other galleries: a Grumman A-6 Intruder, a Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and a MiG-17. 

"There are aircraft across our campus, including the Restoration Center, with stories that align with this exhibit," explained Museum Exhibit Developer Peder Nelson. "The military version of the DC-3 that's hanging in the Great Gallery was the C-47, which was used for transport and turned into a gunship. The Super Constellation airliner was used in early warning communications at the time. These artifacts have been in the Great Gallery for a while; it's always been a goal to refresh one of our oldest galleries." 

Some major adjustments to aircraft arrangement in the Great Gallery was required to tell the story behind air combat in Vietnam, such as suspending the YO-3A from the ceiling and moving the Huey forward. Exhibit Design Manager Sune Sandling explained that these adjustments rearrange the Great Gallery space to provide a better presentation for the Vietnam exhibit. 

"There will be multiple viewpoints of the YO-3A from different levels throughout the gallery," he said. "You'll be able to see details and notice some of its more prominent features, like the periscope underneath. The Huey currently sits behind the F-4 and the YO-3A and is largely hidden there. It's one of the most iconic, major players in the conflict, so we're bringing it forward to give it the prominence it deserves."

A highlight of the exhibit is showcasing personal stories of the war. Sandling described how two challenges were addressed with one solution.

"One, we don't have much usable wall space in the exhibit area, and two, the Great Gallery is like a great big greenhouse, full of beautiful sunlight on a nice day, but that sunlight can damage many of the artifacts we want to show," he explained. "Taking inspiration from period photographs, we're building elements that resemble airbase revetments to give us more wall space for content. They will house artifact displays with a northward orientation and have UV-filtering acrylic for protection."

Memorial Day weekend is also the start of the Blue Star Museum Program, which allows military members and their families free admission to museums across the country. The Museum of Flight is a Blue Star Museum.

Museum of Flight, open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle, 206.764.5720,

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