Lt Col Melvin G. “Mel” Swanson passed away Sunday, March 12, 2017.  Mel was a Firefly in early 1970 before being assigned to command 56th SOW Operating Location Alpha Alpha (OLAA) at Danang AB, RVN.  Known to many as the “Spad Dad”, Mel led the small unit in highly classified missions supporting Special Forces reconnaissance teams as well as USAF Search and Rescue missions in the late summer of 1970.

Over the last 4 years, Mel had become like a family member to the Tennessee Museum of Aviation. Our staff and volunteers will certainly miss his stories, his smile and his laughter.  We salute you Sir.

The Museum will open to the general public at 10:00am. Soon after opening, and weather permitting, our Douglas A-1H Skyraider will perform a brief flight demonstration to begin the day. Don’t miss this opportunity to meet the “Heroes” who bravely served during the Vietnam War. Join us in the Exhibit Gallery at 1:30pm, where we will begin an informal panel discussion leading to a Q&A session centered around Mel Swanson and Operating Location Alpha Alpha in general.

**The OLAA reunion group will hold a private ceremony honoring their Commander. The museum will close at 5:00pm on April 22.**


Lt Col Mel Swanson standing next to his A-1 Skyraider “Sweet Betty Lou”

Lt Col Mel Swanson – second from the left

Join Us For This Special Event

Tailwind Day April 30, 2016 - FBpage

The Tennessee Museum of Aviation is honored to host a very special reunion.

Please join us, on April 30, 2016 between 10am and 3pm, as we welcome the men of Operating Location Alpha Alpha, Army SOG team members and members of two Marine aviation units, as they lead a detailed forum on Operation Tailwind.

In 1970, a Special Forces SOG team embarked on their deepest ever “over the fence” mission 40+ miles into Laos from the Vietnam border. This team of 16 Americans and 120 Montagnard mercenaries acted as a diversionary force for a large CIA operation some 40 miles further into Laos. The team was surrounded by enemy forces, encountering 72 plus hours of constant combat. Every American was wounded at least once. More than fifty percent of the force were casualties, with 3 Montagnards KIA. They escaped with the largest and most valuable collection of enemy intelligence documents ever recovered in the Vietnam War. This extremely successful Multi-Service mission was called Operation Tailwind.

Visitors will have the opportunity to hear from the men who fought and carried out this extraordinary mission. The museum will open at 10am, with the forum starting at 1pm.



September 26, 2015

Visit the Tennessee Museum of Aviation on Sept 26, 2015 and enjoy the thunder of  “Round-Sounds” over the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport.

The EAA Warbird Squadron One will hold their annual meeting at the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport on Sept 26th. The TN Museum of Aviation will participate by providing some radial engine NOISE during the day. The Squadron One meeting will be held in a private hangar on the airport and is closed to the general public. However, Squadron One will be flying several aircraft throughout the day.

Sept 26th is dedicated to the pilots enjoying the day while flying their Warbirds.  It’s an added bonus for museum visitors!! Come by for the amazing sounds of radial engines and watch the Warbirds fly!!!

The flight demonstrations will not have a set schedule.  All of the action can be seen from the museums ramp.

Come out and enjoy some NOISE !!

Join Us For This Special Event



James William Wold was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 18, 1932, to Peter and Hulda Christine (nee Olson) Wold.  Peter, a native of Lillehammer, Norway, immigrated to the United States in the summer of 1923 and farmed briefly in North Dakota before permanently relocating his family to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Hulda Christine, an American by birth, was originally from Colfax, Wisconsin.  As a teenager, Wold attended Minneapolis South High School for two years before transferring to Hillcrest Academy in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.  While studying at Hillcrest Academy, he became acquainted with Joan JoAnne Abigael Norheim, a fellow student who would later become his wife.  Following graduation from Hillcrest Academy in 1949, he attended Augsburg College for one academic year.

In 1951, Wold enlisted in the United States Air Force wherein he attended the Russian Language Program at Syracuse University.  After the language studies were completed, in August of 1952, Wold entered the Aviation Cadet Program.  He received his aeronautical instruction through the 3505th Pilot Training Wing at Greenville Air Force Base located in Mississippi.  On September 16, 1953, Wold received his commission with the rank of Second Lieutenant and the rating of Pilot.  Less than a week after being commissioned, Wold married JoAnne in Pasadena, California.

As a result of being newly commissioned, Wold was briefly stationed at Mather Air Force Base in California, followed by another short assignment at Shaw Air Force Base located in South Carolina, where he flew the RB-45C reconnaissance aircraft.  Once Wold became familiar with the new aircraft, he relocated to RAF Sculthorpe in the United Kingdom, where he flew missions with the 19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron from May 1954 to June 1956.  Following the completion of this placement, the Air Force assigned Wold to study mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  Wold completed his bachelor’s degree in two years, graduating in August 1958, whereupon he entered service with the 9th Bombardment Wing at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho where he remained until 1961.

Thereafter, Wold was assigned to March Air Force Base in California to serve on staff, Headquarters, 15th Air Force. During Wold’s various assignments worldwide, his four children were born… daughter Christine Annette (at Norton Air Force Base, California), son Kevin Daniel (in the United Kingdom), daughter Lisa Karen (while studying at the University of Michigan), and daughter Holly Susan (at Mountain Home Air Force Base).  Following completion of his headquarters assignment in May of 1964, Wold was once again assigned to study engineering.  Wold’s second stint in the engineering field occurred while studying at the Air Force Institute of Technology located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio where he would complete his Master of Science degree in March, 1966.  The Air Force immediately utilized Wold’s technical background by posting him to the Test Requirements Branch and Acquisition Test Branch, Directorate of Operations, United States Air Force Headquarters, where he remained for three years.

In July 1969, Wold was deployed to South Vietnam, where he served as operations officer for the 6th Special Operation Squadron operating out of Pleiku.  He then went on to command Operating Location Alpha Alpha (OLAA) units at Pleiku and Da Nang air bases.  While in Vietnam, Wold personally flew 241 combat missions in the A-1H attack bomber, many of them providing direct air support to American ground forces engaged in close-quarters combat with enemy guerillas.  For his service in Southeast Asia, Wold received the Bronze Star, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, and sixteen Air Medals.

During the summer of 1970 and after returning from Vietnam, Wold he served one year as the chief of the Test Operations Branch and the Test Support Division at Strategic Air Command Headquarters, Offutt Air Force Base located in Nebraska.  Thereafter, Wold worked in the Pentagon where he was assigned to the Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel handling colonel assignments, earning a Legion of Merit in the process.  In August of 1974, Wold attended the Defense Language Institute and the Defense Intelligence School at Anacostia Annex in Washington, D.C. in preparation for an assignment as the Defense and Air Attaché to the Soviet Union.  Upon completion of Russian language training, in the summer of 1975, Wold was stationed at the United States Embassy in Moscow.  After serving two years in the Soviet Union, Wold returned to the United States and settled on a 420 acre farm near Luverne, North Dakota. Wold retired from the Air Force on August 31, 1977 at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Shortly after retiring from the United States Air Force, Wold enrolled in courses at the University of North Dakota, School of Law, eventually graduating in the spring of 1981.  Wold established a law practice in Luverne, North Dakota eventually securing the appointment as Griggs County State ‘s Attorney.

In 1994, Wold was appointed as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs, acting as the Director of the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (hereinafter DPMO).  The main function of the DPMO is to ensure that the United States government achieves the fullest possible accounting for POW/MIA United States servicemen.  In this capacity, Wold traveled widely, meeting frequently with the families of missing service members, and coordinating investigation and remains-recovery efforts with foreign governments in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

While serving as the Director of the DPMO, Wold was embroiled in the controversy over the POW/MIA issue, with many members of the public (particularly family members of the missing and numerous United States Senators and Congressmen) alleging that the government was not doing enough to repatriate lost Americans as well as claiming that there existed evidence of live Americans still being held prisoner in Southeast Asia.

After serving three years as the Director of the DPMO, Wold tendered his letter of resignation to President Bill Clinton on June 26, 1997.  Following his resignation from the DPMO, Wold returned home to Luverne, North Dakota, where he died on February 11, 2003 .

Brigadier General James W. Wold biography provided by:

Donald L Engebretsen  


Museum Men

By Tennessee Museum of Aviation On November 18, 2014

History Channel 2 films at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation  

Early June, the Tennessee Museum of Aviation was contacted by a production company for a new series on History Channel 2.  The concept of the series follows a team of re-creators as they build historically accurate museum relics and displays.  It also showcases the historical stories related to the objects, people and eras being recreated, with each episode ending with a completed exhibit display.

The “Museum Men” series premiered November 29th at 10:00 pm (EST).  The Tennessee Museum of Aviation was featured in the sixth episode, airing on January 3, 2015.

Filming took place, at the museum, throughout the day on September 3rd.  Museum staff, volunteers and museum members were invited to attended a special Exhibit Reveal Party during the evening.

EAA-Squadron-1-Event-TMA-website-1024x472-300x138EAA Squadron One

By Tennessee Museum of Aviation On September 23, 2014

Visit the Tennessee Museum of Aviation on Sept 27, 2014 and enjoy a little “Round-Sounds” over the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport.

The EAA Warbird Squadron One will hold their annual meeting at the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Airport on Sept 27th. The TN Museum of Aviation will participate by providing some radial engine NOISE during the day. The Squadron One meeting will be held in a private hangar on the airport and is closed to the general public. However, Squadron One will be flying several aircraft throughout the day.

Sept 27th is about the pilots enjoying themselves and flying their Warbirds …… and the best news– “It’s just sweet icing on the cake for our museum visitors !!” Who doesn’t want to hear the sounds of a radial engine and watch those Warbirds fly ?!?!?

The flight demonstrations will not have a set schedule … but, can be seen from the museums ramp.

Come out and enjoy some NOISE !!

U-2 Incident

By Tennessee Museum of Aviation On July 4, 2014

The U-2 Incident: A Son’s Perspective

Francis Gary Powers, Jr., founder of the Cold War Museum, is scheduled to lecture on July 5, 2014.  The hour long presentation is set to start at 11:00am, followed by a book signing.


Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident written by: Francis Gary Powers

Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident, written by pilot Francis Gary Powers, reveals the full story of what actually happened in the most sensational espionage case in Cold War history.  The narrative is a remarkable suspense story about a man labeled as a traitor, but who emerged a Cold War hero.

The new edition includes a epilogue by defense analyst Norman Polmar and Francis Gary Powers, Jr. that updates this absorbing story.

Books will be available for purchase after the lecture


Excerpts from: To the Editor      The Progress-Index – Petersburg, VA

Published: February 11, 2012      Written by: Francis Gary Powers Jr.

The U-2 Incident that occurred on May 1, 1960 was one of the most pivotal events in the history of the Cold War. It was the first time in U.S. history that an American president had been caught lying to the American public and to the world. The event caused such a strain on US/Soviet relations that Premier Khrushchev canceled an invitation for President Eisenhower to visit the Soviet Union later that year. In addition, the Paris Summit Conference that was planned for May 16, 1960 collapsed.

The controversy that surrounded the U-2 incident was magnified because of a captured pilot and an international show trial. The event was controversial not only because the U.S. was caught spying on the Soviets by flying over their territory, a practice that continues to this day over Iran and other countries hostile to the U.S., but because some people thought that the pilot did not follow orders upon capture or that the CIA had intentionally sabotaged the flight to ruin the May 16 Paris Summit Conference.

Rumors, speculation, misinformation, and some outright lies circulated in the press during Power’s captivity about his conduct, loyalty, and the cause of his capture. After enduring three months of Soviet interrogations, he was subjected to a highly publicized show trial designed to further embarrass the United States. Because there was the possibility that the verdict might result in the death penalty, Power’s Soviet appointed defense attorney convinced him to make a public “apology” in order to save his life. As a result, instead of being sentenced to death, the Soviet judges sentenced Powers to 10 years in prison. But he ended up serving a total of 21 months before being exchanged for Soviet spy Rudolph Abel.

February 10, 2014 – marked the 52nd anniversary of the spy exchange between U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and Soviet spy Rudolph Abel on the Glienicker Bridge in Potsdam, Germany.

Two prisoners and an entourage of KGB and CIA officials were on either side of the bridge in their respective delegations. Once the agent’s identities were confirmed, the signal was given and the prisoners walked across the “Bridge of Spies” to their respective freedom.

Rudolph Abel was welcomed home as a hero to the Soviet Union. But Powers returned home to controversy surrounding the U-2 Incident. Because of inaccurate editorials in the press, many questioned the role he played in this international incident of espionage and intrigue between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union.

Full Article in The Progress-Index


Francis Gary Powers

FRANCIS GARY POWERS — served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and completed twenty-seven U-2 photographic reconnaissance missions for the CIA, including several overflights of the former Soviet Union, until shot-down by a Soviet surface to air missile on May 1, 1960 during the heights of the Cold War. Upon his return to the United States in 1962, he flew the U-2 as an engineer test pilot for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Powers died in a helicopter crash in 1977 while working for KNBC News Channel 4 in Los Angeles and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.




Francis Gary Powers, Jr Founder of the Cold War Museum

July 5, 2014

Francis Gary Powers, Jr.

The U-2 Incident: A Son’s Perspective

11:00am – 12:00pm  –  Lecture and Presentation

12:00pm – 12:30pm  –  Book Signing

TAGGED WITH → Cold War • Gary Powers • Gatlinburg Things to do • Pigeon FOrge Things to do • Sevierville Things to do • Spyplane • Things to do In the Smokies • U-2 Incident


TN Museum of Aviation Teaser

By Tennessee Museum of Aviation On November 19, 2013

Air Museum Aerial Compilation

Published photo and video journalist, Uwe Glaser has graciously put together a video clip of the Tennessee Museum of Aviation’s airworthy Warbirds. We invite the public to view the amazing aerial footage filmed at our air museum.

For more of Uwe’s spectacular videos visit –



Skyraider Welcomes Old Friend

Skyraider Reunion – Lt. America Welcomes Former Skyraider Pilot

Lt. America Welcomes Former Skyraider Pilot

Tennessee native and Memphis State graduate, Win DePoorter flew Skyraiders in the USAF from 1965-1969.  His distinguished AF service spanned 28 years, all in fighters (F-102, F-106, A-1, F-4).  He flew two combat tours in the A-1 and was an A-1 instructor in Florida. He was an “original Sandy” in the 602nd ACS and later specialized in covering infil/exfil of special ops teams with the 6th SOS.  DePoorter may hold the record in the A-1 community and possibly amongst all fighter/bomber aircraft in SEA with a mission tally of 657. DePoorter has 2 Silver Stars, 5 DFC’s, and 29 Air Medals.  To say he is a special man and an American hero is an understatement.  To ask him, he would say he was “simply doing my job”.  If you know of any former Skyraider pilots that would like to visit the Tennessee Museum of Aviation.

USS Arizona Relic Exhibit


The new USS Arizona Relic Exhibit opened on Tuesday, June 19, 2012.  The new exhibit contains a relic from the USS Arizona.  The Department of the Navy has donated this piece of American history for display and memorial purposes. The exhibits’ intent is to encourage the public to recall the noble sacrifice and loss of the 1,177 men killed aboard the USS Arizona during the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

The museum selected to coincide the opening of the Arizona exhibit with her christening ninety-seven years ago on June 19, 1915.