It was rather tricky to find Dirgantara Mandala Museum since it was situated in the middle of Indonesian Air-Force military complex, Yogyakarta. On the forking right before the portal, only a small blue plank indicated its whereabouts.
Yet I’d seen several tourist buses that carried school students cruising towards the museum. It turned they were just other buses along with dozens of other buses from all across the country that had come before them. Together with them were parked few planes and fighters that were formerly utilized by the army.
Students wearing uniforms were ubiquitously running back and forth in the vicinity of the museum.
Soaked in sweat, I entered the museum. I was one of the several people arriving by themselves since most of the visitors came, obviously, in groups.
Containing historical remnants, the museum building itself is quite historical. It had been formerly functioned as a sugar factory. By the time the self-proclaimed big brother of Asia—Japanese—occupied the Indonesian archipelago, it was turned into a logistic depository. I guess a lot of things have happened on this very site.
Founded in 1969, Dirgantara Mandala was at first located in Tanah Abang, Jakarta. Considering that Yogyakarta was historical for Indonesian aviation, the air force then moved the museum to Yogyakarta. The collections, that increased in number each day, were placed in a warehouse at Indonesian Air-Force Academy. Unfortunately, the building was too small for the collections. Hence, the appointing of this ex-sugar factory. Now it’s open daily from 8.30 am – 3.00 pm.
The Indonesian museum of airplanes and heroes
After paying the ticket—IDR 4000 and IDR 1000 for cameras—I made my way through the lobby, at the end of which four of Indonesian heroes awaited me. They were those whose names were used as the airports’ all around Java—Iswahjudi, Abdul Halim Perdanakusumah, Prof. Dr. Abdul Rahman Saleh, and Agustinus Adisutjipto. Their bronze statues were hugged by the flags of units in Indonesian Air-Force.
I had to give way to a group of people coming behind me. They were guided by a person wearing a beret on his head. So under the eyes of the chief staffs of Indonesian Air-Force whose pictures were hung on one of the walls I strolled into the next room.
A lot of things were kept in the room. But I could conclude for you in one single word: pride.
Take those four neon boxes on the wall for example. Stories forged on them would squeeze out all the remaining pride out of the Indonesians—the first flight done by Adisutjipto with the seized Japanese Cureng, the founding of Indonesian pilot academy, the founding of the air-force, and the activities of a committee assigned to deport the Japanese after Indonesian independence.
And who would have guessed that in 1948 Indonesian Air-Force, under the supervision of Capt. Wiweko Supono, had already been able to build a plane named Wiweko Experimental Lightplane (WEL-I RI-X). No wonder I saw B.J. Habibie—on a presidential lecture while I was still finishing my undergraduate degree—so upset realizing that Indonesia’s long history of aviation industry was ramshackled in just one night (in 1998’s crises).
The petite history contained in an enourmous hangar
For me it was boring to remember dates and names. What I love is the petite histories. So gazed by historical photos constituting dates and facts, bronze statues of the pioneer of Indonesian Air-Force Health Department, mannequins wearing all kinds of uniforms, and all the photos of former and present air-force commanders, I walked enthusiastically to the main attraction of the museum—the hangar.
“Thirty-six of them,” said the lady at the ticket booth when I registered. If there were thirty-six of them, the room had to be enormous, I thought.
Yes, it was indeed.
It was packed with planes from the floor to the roof where two Indonesian gliders code-named Kampret were hung. The collection of planes itself were motley, spanning from carrier planes like C-47 Dakota to World War II fighters like Cureng that was built by the Japanese.
It was my life-long dreams to walk among planes like this. My childhood dream was to be a pilot before I changed it to an astronaut. I was envious of the kids on kindergarten uniforms who had fulfilled their dreams while they were so young.
Remember that what I love about the museum is its petite histories? So instead of information such the factory that had built the planes, the engines, the capacity, and so on, what I find interesting is what happened the time the planes were used.
The Air-Commodore Leo Wattimena
Near the entrance door of the hangar, a P-51 Mustang was snarling its teeth to the sky. It was said to be the favorite plane of the Air-Commodore Leo Wattimena, a legendary fighter of Indonesia from a distant era. Had I known him on my childhood, I might not have stunned by the fictional Maverick of Top Gun.
Leo Wattimena was brilliant. He was the best cadet on a training held in Transocean Airlines Oakland Airport (TALOA), Oakland, California, in 1950. Graduating as the Top Gun, he was enrolled in the instructors’ course.
He was said to be a “crazy pilot” for he did so many dangerous maneuvers during his career. One of the most legendary was when he plummeted and flew under the Ampera bridge of Palembang on an MIG-17. Another occasion, he flew at Maguwo between the airport tower and a pole. Hadn’t Leo Wattimena pulled down one of the tips of the wings, it might have touched the pole and the plane would have been totaled. But on top of all that, he was the first Indonesian general brave enough to touch down his plane on the land of West Papua though it was only one second, literally.
Admiring the old fighter aircrafts
Most of the planes were forbidden to climb, let alone enter, but one of which was allowed—C-47 Dakota. It was deserted when I entered the carrier. The cabin was painted blue with two rows of chairs put on each sides facing each other. I almost imagined myself as one of the Band of Brothers’ casts preparing to jump above Normandy surrounded by explosions and shootings from anti-aircrafts.
I continued my way through Hiller 360 Utility Helicopter which was dwarfed by the gigantic UH-34 Sikorsky. Then I turned left, encountering a Stearman, a missile, and eventually found myself in the alley full of the Russians MIGs—MIG-17, MIG-19 Fighter, MIG-21 F-13, UTI MIG-15—and an MI-4 Helicopter. Those had to be the remembrance of Soekarno’s inclination to the East Block.
Had it been arranged chronologically, the museum would be better. As I went the other way, instead of younger planes, I met the older like Cureng (manufactured in 1933) and the replica of Nishikoreng (1936).
The double-winged Cureng was the first fighter plane flown under Indonesian flag by Adisutjipto on October 24th, 1945. Afterward, it was assigned as a trial plane, reconnaissance aircraft, carrier plane, a bomber, aerial photography plane, and a red-cross plane.
On the far corner stood neglectedly the former presidential plane, the C-140 JetStar, given by the US Government in 1962. The rather small plane—carrying only 18 passengers and 5 crews—had carried Soekarno to Malaysia, Singapore, the Phillippines, Vietnam, and Muangthai. Compared to the present presidential airplane, it seemed like a toy.
Enlightened after seeing historical remnants
The hangar tour was concluded rather sadly since near the exit door was displayed the remnants of Dakota VT-CLA—only the tail part—bombed by the Dutch’s Kittyhawk in 1947 while carrying medicines donated by the Malayan Red-Cross, that took tolls on three of four Indonesian passengers—Adisutjipto, Abdul Rahman Saleh, and Adisumarmo.
I exited the room enlightened. Yet I felt gloomy. Thus I didn’t really pay attention to the next three rooms, on which were placed diorama of Indonesian aviation history, of the Palapa Communication Satellite, and eventually ended in a room full of photos and action figures of planes that are currently used by Indonesian Air-Force or that were formerly used.
Learning a lot of things at the museum, my feeling was uncertain. But I knew that from now on I’d never look at airports the same way as before, especially those bearing the names of heroes whose stories were preserved under the roof of Dirgantara Mandala Museum.