CH-46D Sea Knight halved to serve as museum exhibit, training aid
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va.-- Being sawed in half is usually the first step toward the scrap yard for an aircraft, but for one Navy helicopter that served Vietnam Marines in a former life, being bisected begins the fulfillment of two very different destinies.
The rear half of the CH-46D Sea Knight helicopter will serve at the National Museum of the Marine Corps as an entry way to a realistic Vietnam War exhibit depicting Hill 881 South near Khe Sahn. The front of the helicopter will continue to serve as a training aid for Marine Helicopter Squadron 1 airframe and powerplant mechanics here.
Lin Ezell, director of the National Museum of the Marine Corps and former executive officer of the National Air and Space Museum, said the decision to keep the front half of the helicopter in service was an easy one to make.
“We’re at war and there is an active need for aircraft and powerplant mechanics to train,” said Ezell. “Here, we’ve got a real machine, and it’s real hands-on training.”
While at least one other museum expressed interest in displaying the front of the helicopter, Ezell said it would better serve as a training tool than as an exhibit piece.
Mitch Garringer, the head of restoration for Marine Corps Museums Branch, said the arrangement to transfer the front of the CH-46D to HMX-1 is a product of the longstanding relationship between Museums Branch and the presidential helicopter squadron.
“We’ve been working with HMX-1 for years,” said Garringer. “They have two cranes, and people need to get hours on the cranes. So, to help assist in their training, we’re giving them this front half, the gear box and a rotor head. And they can use it to simulate putting the rotor head on and taking it off before they actually do it on a real aircraft. Instead of turning it over to (Defense Reutilization Marketing Office), someone’s getting use out of it.”
Staff Sgt. Silver Archer, HMX-1 Support Program’s division chief, first proposed the idea of using the CH-46D’s front half for training, and said it will help leathernecks at Marine Corps Air Facility Quantico practice with the Pettibone and Entwistle aircraft maintenance cranes on site.
“It definitely helps us. If they had DRMO’d it, it would have just been a waste,” said Archer. “We had been looking for an alternate means to get these guys certified on the cranes that we use, and this was something I thought we could set up a training course with.”
Ezell said preserving only part of an aircraft is not at all unusual, and in the case of the CH-46D, maintaining the entire aircraft for display in the National Museum of the Marine Corps would not be feasible, nor necessarily appropriate.
“Not every lighthouse, not every leather flight jacket, and not every helicopter can be preserved,” said Ezell. “There aren’t museums enough nor money enough to preserve everything. A museum’s role is to preserve something that represents the period, the events and activities enough to tell the story. And you do so in perpetuity. If you decide the front half of that helicopter is so important that it belongs in the museum, you pledge to take care of it forever.”
Ezell said aircraft associated with missions of historical significance or individual acts of heroism are treated with greater care and restored, if possible. An example of such an aircraft in the museum’s inventory is the UH-1E Huey helicopter flown by Maj. Stephen W. Pless (then captain) near Quang Nai, Republic of Vietnam, on Aug. 19, 1967. After the daring rescue of three Army aircrew members who had been left behind by their pilot and overrun by the enemy, Pless was awarded the Medal of Honor. His copilot, crew chief and gunner each received the Navy Cross for the action. Pless’ Huey is being restored by the museum.
Source: US Marine Corps