When the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., opened last month to tell the tale of news gathering, publication and broadcast and to champion the concept of a free press, it did not ignore the role of aviation in the news-gathering and -broadcasting process.
In fact, the first thing visitors will see is a Bell 206B JetRanger III suspended in the atrium. Jonathan Thompson, a Newseum staff member, said that organizers reached out to news organizations and found none willing to spare a working model. So Bell Helicopter Textron donated its demonstrator, and–along with co-sponsors Edwards & Associates, FLIR Systems, Helicopters Inc. and Spectrolab–invested six months and complimentary materials. The 206B is outfitted with a gyro-stabilized camera and FLIR unit, a 30-million candlepower Nightsun searchlight and a belly-mount microwave transmitter.
The JetRanger III was delivered in 1971 to Petroleum Helicopters for PHI’s shuttle flights to rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. When PHI traded in the model in 1979, Bell tasked it with research flights in Arlington, Texas. From 1981 to its last flight in 2002, it served as a Bell Helicopter employee shuttle for missions in the greater Dallas/ Fort Worth area. Since its grounding, the JetRanger III has endured endless mechanical tinkering as part of Bell’s customer training academy.
Now the JetRanger serves as focal point of the Newseum’s 90-foot atrium, flanking its 40- by 22-foot high-definition video screen. (A video blog of the installation
of the JetRanger is available at www.newseum.org.) Visitors are encouraged to linger at a touch-screen kiosk at floor level for a video spinning the history of rotorcraft use by the media, to cover criminal capers, floods, riots, crawling traffic and high-speed chases.