Thursday, July 24, 2008

Royal Malaysian Air Force Museum

The RMAF Museum (Free Admission. 3 out of 5 Stars) in the Sungai Besi Air Base (the first international airport in Malaysia, before Subang and definitely way before Sepang) has a thing or two to attract the most devout lot of museum aficionados.

The main draw is the fascinating array of aircraft in display. These flying machines were once the pride of the nation and Malaysia’s primary air defense arsenal. Visitors who want a glimpse of the air force humble past may kick off their tour with the memorabilia in the modest museum housed in an ex-officer barrack.

While the exhibits lack in creativity to capture visitors’ imagination, they compensate the fact with the historical importance of a struggling nation’s flying unit. The first gallery is adorned with many wooden plaques listing the names of previous Air Marshall and black and white photos of lanky colonial officers in their rather awkward pose in their songkok and their official Malay military gears.

The museum has a treasure or two to boast if you look hard enough for it. Located in the corner of this same gallery is the uncelebrated ejected pilot seat of F-5E jet.

Not much is told about the incident but a little notice nearby discloses the uneventful fate of the fighter jet which crashed off the coasts of Terengganu in the 80s.

However, kids and their dads will have a field day discovering more about the aircraft parked next to the derelict hangar located close to the runway.

Kids would love to explore the interiors of the large wing Caribou. These hard working Canadian transporters were the backbones of air force logistic need, and when standing in the narrow cabin one can still feel the adrenalin rush of a paratrooper waiting his turn to jump off the plane.

With luck, visitors can catch the air force’s Nuri (transport helicopter) or Police Pilatus in operation from the nearby runway.

More surprises inside the hangar.

There, the A-4 Skyhawk - the supersonic jet fighter that once ruled our skies in the 80s before the arrivals of the Hornets, Sukhoi and MiGs, now greets visitors amid silently.

Retired helicopters are also valuable exhibits to allow visitors hand-on experience on the working of a rotor blade aircraft.

The historical biplane that served in the formation years of RMAF is another attraction not to be missed. Nevertheless it is heart breaking that parts of the aircraft body which is covered with flimsy cloth-like material, are tears everywhere due to lack of care and poor maintenance.

That is probably the main contention of visitors to this museum.

Muzium TUDM has in their procession some of the priceless artifacts showcasing our country’s momentous start in aerial military yet all the exhibits are covered with a thick layer of dust or worst condemned under the unforgiving tropical sun. Many outdoor exhibits including Ferrer Scout Car, Grumman Seaplane and others are left to rust.

Lack of informative displays is another thing that the curator should be dismayed with.

Questions should be asked now if another more committed conservation entity should assume the role as the repository of Malaysian Air Force heritage.

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