Pearl Harbour Aviation Museum
...Ford Island, Pearl Harbour, Hawaii
The historic site of the Pearl Harbour Memorial Park involves four individual elements. One of these is housed in two of the old wartime hangers of Ford Island airfield. The airfield was one of the targets for the second wave of Japanese aircraft which attacked on 7th December, 1941, that ‘…day of infamy’ as President Roosevelt called it. The signs of that attack are still visible today in the form of bullet holes in the glass of the hanger doors which are the results of Japanese machine gun bullets which hit them on that day back in 1941.
To access the museum you have to visit the Pearl Harbour Memorial Park, which is maintained by the National Parks Service, even though it is amidst the still active Joint Pearl Harbour base. It is free to enter the Park though bear in mind you cannot take in bags/backpacks. Turn right when you go through the entrance, and in the corner, next to the submarine museum, you will find the boarding point for the free shuttle bus that will take you over to Ford Island, which is within the naval base, and crosses a bridge where you pass through a sentry post. The bus then visits the USS Missouri before going on to the Aircraft Museum.
The bus drops you off in front of the museum entrance, in hanger 37. The entrance leads you in to the right, passing the impressive museum shops which waits to tempt you as you leave. You can opt for a guided tour or just make your way around the exhibits. As you go into the hanger, which had been a seaplane hanger at the time of the attack, and the story of the Pearl Harbor attack surrounds you. Displays of Japanese ordnance on one wall, a Japanese Zero in a carrier deck diorama, a large mural illustrating the harbour, the targets and the routes taken by the Japanese attackers. There is also another diorama, with a few remaining relics from one of the Japanese aircraft which actually took part, and which crash landed on a neighbouring island. There is a P-40, in the colours of the time, while a smart B-25 Mitchell bomber represents the retaliation of the famous Doolittle Raid. Other aircraft are displayed which illustrate the US Navy fight back across the Pacific, while in the corner are a café and a selection of flight simulators for visitors to try. Leaving can take you naturally into the well stocked shop, though as there is yet more to see, so you might wish to leave the shopping until you have completed your visit.
Leaving hanger 37 you go out past the distinctive sight of the tall red and white Control Tower and walk along the tarmac towards hanger 79. As you do, so you get to look right, across the wide expanse of the airfield tarmac. Then you pass a selection of aircraft which are parked between the two hangers. When we visited, these were all post-war aircraft, and included an SH-3 Sea King helicopter, F-15 Eagle, F-14 Tomcat, F-104 Starfighter, Mig-21 and Cessna O-2 among others.
Then you reach hanger 79. It is notable for having the nose section of a B-52 bomber poking out the front doors. On going in, you find the nose section is all there is, not the complete airframe. There are however a set of steps and viewing platform so you can get to see the internal arrangement of the cockpit and crew positions. The other important element of this hanger is visible in the glazing of the upper hanger doors. A number of the panes date from 1941 and have the bullet holes in them which actually came from the attacking Japanese aircraft. A thought provoking little piece of history which they have been able to keep.
Inside the hanger are another fine selection of helicopters and aircraft from WW2 through to the present day. The rearmost section is roped off as this is used as a restoration area by the museum team. Among the aircraft there when we visited were a TBM-3 Avenger, and most impressive of all, the B-17 Swamp Ghost, recovered from a swamp where it crash landed during the war. I was privileged to be shown round the workshop area by museum historian Burl Burlingame.
The museum does a lot to encourage education and the understanding of the history of military aviation and the Pearl Harbour attack itself. They regularly hold special events, including the opportunity for visitors to sit inside aircraft cockpits and more. Education is a very strong theme as well as preserving these valuable artefacts. If they have any problem, it is lack of space to keep the expanding collection.
For myself, this was a one off trip of a lifetime, it would be so nice if we lived close enough to visit more regularly but at over 7,000 miles from home that is sadly not possible. Aside from the marvellous exhibits on display, just walking on the tarmac alongside the hangers, and enjoying the beautiful warm weather of Hawaii, the history of where you are just gets hold of you. It was so hard to realise that there we were, walking in the footsteps of history, and a site which just exudes its’ story. If you have the chance, don’t miss the opportunity to visit.