2009 Articles

NOV 12 2009
RAF Museum Hosts MH-53 Ceremony with Chief of the Air Staff

The UK’s only exhibited Sirkorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV helicopter arrived at RAF Cosford in December last year in spectacular fashion, courtesy of 99 Sqn, in one of their C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft. As reported here on GAR, the MH-53 was then taken to the museum’s Michael Beetham Conservation Centre to be prepared for public display in the hugely successful National Cold War Exhibition.

Today’s ceremony saw many of those behind the aircraft’s arrival at Cosford invited to a special event marking the RAF Museum’s acquisition of the Pave Low and its subsequent public display, with a number of high ranking officials and dignitaries in attendance, including the RAF’s Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Stephen Dalton.

Sir Stephen joined ACM Sir John Day (Chairman of the RAF Museum Trustees), The Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Sikorsky) and Dr Michael Fopp (Director General, RAF Museum) in speaking to the assembled guests before stepping forward to cut the ribbon which marked the culmination of the day’s formal events.

The MH-53’s journey to Cosford was a long and distinguished one, with the airframe, having first flown in 1968, serving in Vietnam, the UK (At RAF Woodbridge) and Hurlbert Field in Florida, flying in Gulf War I and also in support of NATO operations over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Desert Thunder in 1998.

Built as a Sikorsky S-65/HH-53C-SI, she made her last flight, of four hour duration, on the 24th September 2008, just six days before the type was officially retired from USAF service. Airlifted in a USAF C-17 to RAF Brize Norton the following month, she was transferred to Cosford last December and finally appeared on public display in May of this year.

Though the MH-53 was a gift from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Sikorsky themselves played a significant role in allowing the transfer and display to happen, not least in financial terms. At today’s event, the museum was delighted to present The Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Pattie, Sikorsky’s UK representative, with a print, both commemorating the transfer and as a mark of their gratitude to the Company for their assistance, both financial and technical.

In his speech, Sir Stephen Dalton was quick to comment on the symbolism of the aircraft’s display at Cosford, highlighting the close ties between the UK and the USA, their Air Forces and also museums. He also wondered just how much sand had been found in the aircraft, telling the audience that RAF Chinooks are returning from Afghanistan with as much as half a tonne of additional weight! Interestingly, Dr Michael Fopp was happy to confirm that a large quantity of sand had been removed from the Pave Low and that staff were considering how it should be disposed of, with bottling it and putting it on sale in the museum shop one humorous suggestion!

Formal duties over, Sir Stephen was gracious enough to spend some time talking to Global Aviation Resource.

“The MH-53 is an amazing exhibit. The whole museum has been complimented by this new addition, it links together and espouses the relationship between the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force; from the last century to the present day.”

I couldn’t help but wonder what he must have felt walking in to the museum ahead of the event. As Chief of the Air Staff he has a great responsibility not just for current and future operations but also to uphold the Royal Air Force’s significant historical legacy. The evidence of that legacy is more than evident at a location like Cosford but, standing as we were, adjacent to the MH-53, Sir Stephen was more inclined to draw comparisons with current RAF activity.

“Well, of course it’s not only the big legacy, it (the RAF) is an incredible driving force at the moment. A lot of the things we are doing in Afghanistan and other parts of the world as well, are based very much around the helicopter and its role in air power. With the Chinooks and of course the Merlins, which are due to arrive in Afghanistan this week (Editor's note: The MF has of course subsequently arrived in theatre), helicopters are playing a fundamental part in air power.”

Finally I wondered where the RAF museums fit in to the engagement package? The team and solo flying displays that we see at airshows across the UK play a vital part as we know, but how big a part do Hendon and Cosford play?

“The important thing is that we have two complimentary parts. The aircraft flying displays give people the dynamic nature of what air power can achieve; it shows how flexible it is. Coming to the museums teaches them much more about the actual employ of the aircraft and what they are actually like, giving them the opportunity to crawl round them and over them in some cases. So, fundamentally, I think we have two complimentary parts which drives forward the idea that youngsters can learn about what air power is and that we are lucky to have the combination of capabilities that we have.”

There can be no doubt that, with the acquisition of the MH-53, the RAF Museum at Cosford has begun to fill the rotary void which existed in the National Cold War Exhibition in impressive fashion. I left the event impressed at the levels of mutual support, technical assistance and sheer hard work that made what we’ve seen with the Pave Lowe possible – and hope that our RAF museums continue to benefit from such action and thrive, for they are national treasures and play a hugely significant role in supporting the RAF’s legacy and teaching those who might serve in the future.

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