IN THE MILITARY
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Allan Palmer, executive director and CEO of the Pacific Aviation Museum, holds up a model of a Japanese Zero in front of a mural depicting the Pearl Harbor attack. The museum has acquired a vintage 1942 Zero for display.
Vintage warplanes will join the displays at a museum honoring Pacific air combat
NEARLY 15 YEARS ago, the skies above Pearl Harbor were once again filled with a dozen vintage World War II fighters and bombers as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack.
At that point, several naval aviation enthusiasts -- including then-Pacific Command Adm. Ron Hayes, Clinton Churchill, Jon Sterling and Donn Parent -- started work on a dream to tell the story of the aviation war in the Pacific.
The planning and dreaming will become a reality when the doors open at Ford Island's Pacific Aviation Museum this year on the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
On Tuesday, ground was broken on the first phase of the $75 million museum, which Executive Director Allan Palmer, a Vietnam War fighter pilot, said "will tell the story of military aviation in the Pacific by showing the patriotism, valor and sacrifices made by the military and civilian mean and women in the Pacific."
Palmer was executive director of the San Diego Aerospace Museum in 1997 when he was hired by the Air Force to conduct a museum feasibility study. Two years later, with the support of the Air Force and the Navy, a group made up of Hawaii businessmen and women and retired military officers formed the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Palmer, who came to Hawaii in 2001 to head the Ford Island facility, likens the Pacific campaigns to the Alamo or Gettysburg. "These were places of great tragedy, but also signaled a great beginning."
The museum will eventually encompass 16 acres on Ford Island, including Hangars 37, 54 and 79 and another Pearl landmark -- the control tower.
Palmer said demolition work on Hangar 37, which was used for aircraft engine maintenance and housed a squadron of Grumman J2F Duck patrol planes in World War II, began right after Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony.
Palmer said all of the $11 million needed to complete the 7.25-acre facility has been raised from federal and state grants and local corporations.
There will be at least nine World War II aircraft on display on Dec. 7 when Hangar 37 reopens, Palmer said, including the yellow 1942 Navy Stearman biplane that former President George H.W. Bush soloed on Dec. 15, 1942. It took Bob Meyland 14 years to restore the vintage aircraft. Bush is the honorary chairman of the museum.
Other aircraft in the first phase will be the red Aeronca biplane that was airborne on Dec. 7, 1941, with an instructor and civilian student; a Japanese Zero; a Navy Wildcat fighter, and Army Air Corps B-25 Mitchell bomber; and P-40 Warhawk fighter.
In February, the museum signed a 62-year lease with the Navy and the Hunt Building Co., which is part of a joint venture with Fluor Corp. -- master developer for the Ford Island housing and redevelopment project.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday on Ford Island for the new Pacific Aviation Museum. The control tower in the background eventually will be incorporated into the museum complex.
So far, museum supporters have raised $13.1 million, including $1 million in state funds, $8.1 million in federal grants and the balance from local corporations and donors. They plan to start a nationwide campaign to raise the remaining amount.
Palmer, who flew Air Force F-4 Phantom jet fighters in the Vietnam War and F-14 Tomcats in the Navy, credits U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and Rep. Neil Abercrombie with securing federal funds.
He said the museum will be a great addition to the other Pearl Harbor sites: the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin Memorial Submarine Museum and the USS Missouri Memorial.
At Tuesday's groundbreaking, Mayor Mufi Hannemann said the naval aviation museum will not only pay tribute to those who fought in World War II and continue "to protect the state and America," it also will be a major addition to existing attractions on Oahu.
Visitors contribute $10 billion annually to the state's economy and more than 1.4 million of the 7 million people who come to Oahu visit Pearl Harbor.
While Hangar 37 will also include a large-screen theater, museum store, restaurant, flight simulators and children's interactive flight education center, the other two hangars will be devoted to World War II, the Vietnam War and Korean War. Aircraft first exhibited in Hangar 37 will be relocated to the other hangars as they are completed. Supporters hopes to finish the remaining three attractions before 2009.
Ford Island has already been declared as a National Historic Landmark. The three hangars sit next to each other in the middle of the island dominated by a rusty red and white control tower. The runway, fronting the four facilities, has been torn up to make way for a green belt that will separate a new Navy housing complex from the museum and other Navy operations that will remain on the island.
Included in the remaining building phases is the renovation of Hangar 79, which was used to assemble and overhaul aircraft engines and rebuild PBY seaplanes, P-40 Warhawk and F4F Wildcat fighters planes, and Hangar 54, used primarily as a seaplane hangar.
Hanger 54's 86,000-square foot display area will have a replica of a World War II aircraft carrier deck. The exhibit will tell the story of the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the air campaigns through Midway, the Solomons, China and Japan.
The 76,000-square-foot exhibition area in Hangar 79 will focus on Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War.
The final phase will be renovating the control tower, which will include a dining room, reception area and the museum's executive offices.