The Airborne & Special Operations Museum tells a story. It’s a story of invention‚ bravery‚ honor and heroics – the story of hundreds of thousands of Americans who served their country in the airborne and special operations units of the armed forces. Visitors to the 59‚000-square-foot museum travel through a war-torn village in France‚ enter a grass hut for a military briefing in the Philippines and view all types of weapons ranging from brass knuckles to M642 machine guns used against American paratroopers by the German army.
"We tell the story through uniforms‚ documents‚ weapons‚ equipment and personal items‚" says John Duvall‚ director of education. "We have glass cases‚ photo panels and audio/visual presentations. And all of this is state-of-the-art." One of the premier features is the Pitch‚ Roll and Yaw Vista-Dome Motion Simulator‚ a 24-seat theater that comes to life in concert with a special film on a 16-foot high‚ 180-degree spherically curved screen. The film was produced on several Army installations including Fort Bragg and gives visitors a closer perspective on the capabilities of today’s airborne and special operations forces. The location is fitting.
The citizens of Fayetteville and the military units at Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base have both accommodated and strengthened one another through the years. "Fayetteville has embraced us‚" says Patrick Tremblay‚ the museum’s marketing manager. Since its opening in August 2000‚ the museum has welcomed more than 20‚000 visitors each month. The Fayetteville area could see as much as $60 million a year in economic benefits from the museum and related activity‚ Tremblay says. "Through our sign-in registry‚ we have identified people from every state and over 40 countries‚" he adds. While some of the visitors have U.S. Army or Air Force connections‚ others have been strictly tourists. "We are located right off Interstate 95‚ so that has helped us."
The $22.5 million project was funded through a variety of sources: city‚ county‚ state and federal contributions‚ along with private donations. More than a decade of planning‚ raising money and developing the exhibits went into the museum. From its 5‚000-square-foot lobby – where there are two fully deployed parachutes drifting from the ceiling – to the very last exhibit‚ the museum provides an experience like no other.
"We developed a story which starts in 1940 to the present day‚" Duvall says. "We felt we needed significant icons from history to help us interpret the history over that 60-year period." So‚ they set about finding these special pieces of history. Today the museum houses a C-47 "Skytrain" airplane‚ a Waco-designed CG-4A Glider‚ a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter‚ an AH-6 "Little Bird" helicopter‚ and an M551 Sheridan Reconnaissance Vehicle in addition to the fully deployed T-5 and MC-4 parachutes in the lobby.
The C-47 and the glider were used extensively in World War II‚ the Huey was used in Vietnam‚ and the Little Bird dropped troops into Panama in 1989. Then there is the 235-seat Yarborough- Bank Vistascope Theater‚ which plays the movie Descending from the Clouds featuring Army airborne and special operations soldiers in action. And as time goes on‚ there will be touring exhibits to further enhance the museum’s broad educational mission.