Interactive technology bringing museum alive

  • Thursday, August 7, 2014

From a simulated flight around the moon to the chaos in the gun turret of a destroyer fending off World War II kamikaze attacks, interactive technology is bringing to life what once were staid, static museum displays at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

The aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, the World War II destroyer Laffey and the Cold War era submarine Clamagore are moored at the state museum on Charleston Harbor. The museum is also home to the Medal of Honor Museum, an exhibit recreating a Vietnam War river support base and a memorial to Cold War submariners.

But for almost 40 years, Patriots Point showed its vessels and other attractions much as most museums did — static displays and pictures with plaques explaining what visitors were seeing.

Then, about 18 months ago, the museum unveiled a master plan to spend upward to $5 million to make exhibits more interactive, draw more visitors and make history more relevant to a technologically savvy younger generation.

“We have wonderful artifacts in the Yorktown, the Laffey and the Clamagore,” said Mac Burdette, the museum's executive director. “But this is a very competitive industry and you have to have a better platform than your neighbor or people are going to choose to spend their $20 somewhere else.”

He said attracting more visitors is key to the survival of the museum where, during the next two decades, the Yorktown alone is expected to need $80 million in maintenance work.

As of last month, visitors can experience a flight around the moon amid film footage and radio communications from the December 1968 Apollo 8 mission in a replica of the capsule where seats rumble on takeoff and shake upon splashdown. The Yorktown recovered Apollo 8 from the Pacific.

Similar technology in a gun turret on the Laffey recreates what it was like off Okinawa in April 1945 when the destroyer was attacked by 22 Japanese bombers and kamikaze aircraft. Plans are also underway to create an interactive combat information center to give visitors an idea of what it was like tracking enemy subs during the Cold War.

The Patriots Point Flight Academy opened earlier this year aboard the Yorktown giving students experience in computer flight simulators as they work together on simulated missions. The museum's director of education, Keith Grybowski, said the academy will be open at times for regular museum visitors in the future.

A renovated and larger Vietnam River base exhibit reopens this November with a refurbished river patrol boat and a Vietnam era helicopter. Visitors will be able to able to experience a nighttime Vietnam firefight in a bunker, complete with shaking from shell hits, and, in another bunker, experience what it was like to direct fire against enemy targets.

Interactive exhibits on the Battle of Midway, the fight in which the original carrier Yorktown sank, are planned. A B-25 bomber hanging above the hanger deck is to be renovated and outfitted with technology so visitors can experience what flying in it was like.

In the past three years, museum attendance has risen from 220,000 to 260,000. The goal is 300,000 at which point visitor spending will cover museum operations. Money from rental of museum property on the harbor, expected in the future to generate $6 million a year, will then cover the cost of ship maintenance.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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