By Matt Smith
The Air Force Armament Museum located adjacent to Eglin Air Force Base, near the city of Fort Walton Beach, Florida includes a 28,000 square foot building and five acres of outside displays. The museum was opened in November 1985, and it is the only museum in the world dedicated to the collection, preservation, and exhibition of Air Force Armament and associated platforms of delivery. The weapons vault houses a collection of small arms from the United States and throughout the world.
Four aircraft are exhibited inside the museum building including the P-51 Mustang and the P-47 Thunderbolt from World War II, and the F80C Shooting Star of the Korean War period. Each plane is armed with several .50 caliber aircraft machine guns. An F-105 Thunderchief from the Vietnam War era is also on display inside with its M61 20mm Vulcan and sixteen 750 pound bombs. Outside aircraft exhibits include the SR-71 Blackbird, Mig-21, A-10, B-17, B-25, T-33, F-4, F-15, F-16, F-84, F-86, F-89, F-100, F-101, F-104, F-111, RB-47, RF-4, O-2, C-131, B-52, and B-57.
Of special interest to SAR readers are the AC-47 and AC-130 aircraft on display at the museum. The AC-47 Spooky is the gunship version of the commercial DC-3 Gooney Bird (AC stands for Attack Cargo). The AC-47 is armed with three 7.62 mm Gatling guns which can fire sustained bursts on a target with reasonable accuracy, as the aircraft circles overhead. The AC-47 aircraft first arrived in South Vietnam in December 1964 and were assigned to the Air Commando Squadron. These aircraft were nicknamed Puff the Magic Dragon and many readers will remember a scene from the movie “The Green Berets” where an AC-47 was used in combat in Vietnam. The AC-47 Spookys were eventually supplemented and then replaced by the AC-130 Spectre. The AC-130 is the gunship version of the commercial C-130 and its increased armament includes two 40mm cannons, two 20mm Gatling guns, and sometimes a 105 mm cannon. Accuracy was improved on the AC-130 through the use of advanced infared detection equipment. These aircraft were used in Operations Just Cause and Desert Storm and are still in service today.
Armament on display in the museum include many bombs, missiles, and rockets such as the AMRAAM, Bomarc, Hound Dog, Mace, Falcon, Paveway, HARM, Genie, Sparrow, Sidewinder, JDAM, JSOW, 2.75 inch and 5 inch rockets, Combined Effects Munition, GBU-28 Bunker Buster and several submunition dispensers. Bombs range in size from two pounds to the 44,000 pound T-12 Bomb. Several gun pods are on display which contain gun systems like the Vulcan M61 20mm with 1200 rounds of ammuntion.
The weapons display vault is located inside the museum building and houses a wide variety of small arms. Several large glass cases and floor displays are in the vault. The first cases contain the Robert F. Sikes gun collection which is on loan from the family of the long-time Florida Congressman and museum sponsor. The Sikes Collection has over 180 pistols, including flintlock dueling pistols, western six-shooters, Civil War pistols and a wide variety of early military weapons. Many U.S. military small arms are in the next set of cases. These weapons include the M-1, M-2, and M-3 carbines, a Bushmaster 5.56 automatic pistol, Winchester M1897 and M1912 twelve gauge shotguns, Colt M-16, Armalite AR-18, Thompson 1928A1 Submachine gun, M60D, M3 Greasegun, XM-148 grenade launcher, Reising Model 50, M1918A2 BAR, M1 Garand, M14, and the Springfield Model 1903A1. Small arms in the foreign case include a Chinese Type 56 assault rifle and LMG, Czech VZ58P assault rifle, Czech ZB26 LMG, French MAS 38 and MAT 49. The next case contains a variety of small arms including a Japanese Type 89 7.7mm aircraft machinegun, German Maxim (Spandau) LMG 08/15, Lewis Model 1918 .30 caliber aircraft machinegun, Stoner 63 5.56mm fixed mount helicopter machinegun, Chinese Type 57 7.62 heavy machinegun, Marlin (Colt-Browning Potato Digger), M1914 machinegun, Vickers model 1918 aircraft machinegun, Austro-Hungarian Schwarzlose model 07/12 8mm aircraft machinegun, experimental USAF 7.62mm in-line minigun and a GE model MXU-470/A 7.62 aircraft minigun with ammunition module. Floor displays including a 40mm cannon from an AC-130 Gunship, several 20mm and 30mm Gatling guns, a rare .50 caliber minigun, a KPV heavy machinegun (which was Russian designed, Chinese made and captured in Iraq) and a Finnish Lahti 20mm cannon with sled mount.
The Air Force Armament Museum with its many exhibits is well worth a visit. Group tours can be arranged by calling (850) 882-4063. A theater with a 32 minute movie Arming the Air Force and a gift shop are also in the museum. The museum is open every day of the week from 9:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. central time and admission is free. The museum is located on Highway 85 near the west gate of Eglin Air Force Base, FL.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N6 (March 1999)|