National Museum of the U.S. Air Force opened the new ‘D-Day: Freedom from Above’ exhibit on May 13. The immersive, interactive exhibit commemorates the WWII D-Day invasion in France’s Normandy region. Tablet computers running the innovative technology ‘HistoPad’, designed by the French company Histovery, can be rented for $5 to trace the journey that Allied paratroopers took into battle. (CMGO photo/Ty Greenlees)

Groundbreaking augmented reality exhibit opens at museum, honors D-Day

An interactive, augmented reality exhibit titled “D-Day: Freedom from Above” that commemorates D-Day’s 75th anniversary premiered May 13 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

The 3,500-square-foot exhibit focuses on the D-Day missions of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions in Sainte-Mère-Église, the first French town to be liberated from the air on June 6, 1944.

Visitors use the technology of “HistoPads” – tablets laden with software, available for a $5 rental fee – that allow them to interact with animated maps, view parts of archival films, experience 3-D relics and immerse themselves in what it was like to be a paratrooper that day. Visitors should allow about 40 minutes to tour the exhibit as they customize their experience by selecting content from the exhibit’s 12 “chapters.”

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The exhibit opened following remarks by Lt. Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, director of staff, Headquarters Air Force, the Pentagon; David Tillotson III, Air Force museum director; Susan Richardson, a retired Air Force colonel and chair of the Air Force Museum Foundation Board; and Bruno de Sa Moreira, co-founder of Histovery, the French company that designed the exhibit and HistoPads.

“This is one more way that we together celebrate what service men and women and especially Airmen do for our nation,” Van Ovost said. “I also want to thank all the great Americans who, in the prime of their lives, fought on that fateful day in June of 1944 … They represent the very best in all of us, and it’s an honor to celebrate them and their service by unveiling the exhibit here today. Our nation owes them a debt of gratitude.”

Tillotson said the museum had been looking for years for better ways to perform its mission and this exhibit does so “in a new and exciting interactive way that provides the means for our youth to find what a generation that went before them actually went through in conducting World War II and specifically, the operations in the vicinity of Sainte-Mère-Église.”

The innovative exhibit, first of its kind in the United States, is expected to be “wildly successful,” Richardson said. “It is very important that we motivate these young people to appreciate – that’s the way we honor these veterans and that’s the way we motivate future generations.”

The exhibit celebrates “the common heritage of those heroic days that have been shaping our forever-lasting friendship,” de Sa Moreira said.

His company’s HistoPad is “a new way to create a new curiosity and interest among the visitors to relate in a much more personal and moving manner” to the exhibit’s contents.

De Sa Moreira credited Michael Imhoff, Air Force Museum Foundation director, with reaching out to Histovery to explore the possibility of designing the new exhibit.

“Slowly but surely you are going to change your understanding of history,” de Sa Moreira said, and visitors will learn without realizing they are learning.

That concept was reinforced by Jeff Duford, the museum’s curator.

“This type of technology is certainly going to appeal to young people – it’s in their language, so to speak,” he said. “They’ll be very comfortable using the HistoPads, but they are for every age group, from youngest to oldest. … This exhibit is unlike any that we have done before. It uses technology to immerse the visitor in what it’s like to be a paratrooper on D-Day.”

After visitors tour the exhibit, they are welcome to go to the World War II gallery and see the aircraft and artifacts paratroopers used as well as the kinds of German equipment and flak guns used to fire on them, Duford said.

“You can go through and have this immersive experience, then go see the real thing in our display gallery,” he said.

One of the first people to tour the exhibit was Steve Taylor, a robotics salesperson from Miamisburg, who said it was a great concept that he expects to be popular.

“A lot of people are really familiar with the tablet interface now,” he said.

Chase Tieber, a third-grade student at Bell Creek Intermediate School in Bellbrook and the son of Suzanne and Steve Tieber, called the HistoPad he was using “pretty awesome” and said he liked how realistic it is.

“It puts you on an adventure,” he said. “I’m going to tell my friends how cool this is and to come here.”

Tieber was joined by his friend Hayden Martin, 9, the great-grandson of World War II D-Day paratrooper James Martin. He also used a HistoPad.

“You can see the different fleets of boats coming in on the beaches,” he said. “It’s really cool.”

He will now be able to talk more about D-Day with his great-grandfather, he added.

Steve Tieber, who is the son of a test pilot, said the museum is a big part of his family’s life. “This is a way of interconnecting and making a visual experience and taking people back to that time period. As you can see, the nine- and 10-year-olds are completely immersed in it – the way it was and the way it looked. This is a great way of learning, and they don’t even know it.”

For information on D-Day events and exhibits taking place on June 6 this year, including schedule information, visit https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Upcoming/Events/D-Day-75th-Anniversary/.

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