GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pacific Aviation Museum volunteers yesterday helped clean the display of a Japanese Zero on the deck of the carrier Hiryu and poised to take off for the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. CLICK FOR LARGE
Museum ready for takeoff
The Pacific Aviation Museum undergoes some final touches two days before opening
WITH two days till opening day, the lava rock wall was still being built in the snack shop and the fixtures in the men's bathroom had yet to be installed.
Shelves in the gift shop were still bare.
THE PACIFIC AVIATION MUSEUM
Grand opening: 11 a.m. Thursday
Where: Ford Island
Transportation: Trolley from USS Bowfin Submarine Museum
Cost: $14 for adults, $7 for children
Guest speakers: Adm. Gary Roughead, Pacific Fleet commander; retired Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, World War II ace and first man to break the sound barrier; retired Capt. Wally Schirra, one of the original seven astronauts; and retired Adm. Ron Hayes, former Pacific forces commander.
But Allan Palmer, executive director of the $90 million Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island, is confident that when entertainer Danny Kaleikini begins to sing the national anthem at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, everything will be in its place.
"And we have done it using local artists and local contractors," Palmer said. "It's a credit to them how quickly they did it."
The grand opening of the 42,442-square-foot Hangar 37 -- the first phase of the nation's first aviation battlefield museum -- will be held on the 65th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The doors are expected to open just seven months after construction began in May.
There will be seven World War II aircraft on display in Hangar 37, with the emphasis on the battles early in the Pacific war.
Visitors to the museum will be greeted to a satellite view of Ford Island and Pearl Harbor -- taken about a year ago -- as they enter the museum. This bird's-eye view is etched into the tile that covers the walkway into the building.
"If you look at the Arizona Memorial, you can see a trail of oil floating out of the sunken battleship as it makes its way past the USS Missouri," Palmer said as he surveyed the work being done in the museum yesterday.
Palmer said the museum can handle 600 people at a time and he is anticipating that at least 300,000 will visit the museum during its first year.
As visitors enter the museum, they have the choice of going to a gift shop in front of them, eating in a restaurant or starting their tour with an eight-minute film.
"The real focus (of the film) is the attack on Pearl Harbor from a Navy perspective," said Palmer, a Vietnam War fighter pilot. "It will also help to orient people to what is on Ford Island."
Leaving the 200-seat theater, visitors will walk through a hall decorated with almost-life-size photos and posters of hula girls and sailors on leave in Waikiki. The walls in the hallway are also painted in the same shade of pink that was the signature color of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in 1941.
The songs popular in the 1930s and 1940s will be playing, but will be interrupted by a Dec. 7, 1941, KGMB radio news bulletin announcing the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The first aircraft on display is a Japanese Zero, painted in the same lime-green color scheme as the one that crashed on Niihau after the 1941 attack. "It was the 500th Zero that was built and was initially given to the Emperor, who returned it, and it was recovered from the Solomon Islands," Palmer said.
The Zero is displayed on what is supposed to be the deck of the Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu, with the Japanese battle flag posed above it.
Across the exhibit floor are the remains of the real Zero, piloted by Shigenori Nishikaichi, that crashed on Niihau on Dec. 7 after strafing Kaneohe Bay and Bellows Army Air Field in Waimanalo.
Also on display is a B-25 Mitchell bomber on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet near the coast of Japan. It is painted to represent 1st Lt. Ted Lawson's "Ruptured Duck," which was the seventh bomber launched in the Doolittle raid on Japan.
Mike Wilson, the museum's curator, said his favorite diorama is the one that is part of the Guadalcanal exhibit, which shows a Navy F-4F Wildcat fighter on a crushed coral landing strip protected by barbed wire.
"Feel this," Wilson said, pointing to the barbed wire, which looks authentic but was made of brown twine.
"This is so lifelike," Wilson said as he pointed to a shirtless mannequin that is supposed to be an aircraft mechanic.
Other aircraft in the museum are a P-40E Warhawk, the 1942 yellow Stearman biplane that former President George H.W. Bush soloed in, and the red Aeronca 65TC trainer that was piloted by Roy Vitousek, who with his son Martin at his side ran into a wave of Japanese Zeroes as they were returning from Molokai.
Palmer said the museum will turn its attention to the adjoining 86,000-foot Hangar 79, which will further depict the war in the Pacific and will include the cockpit of a two-story B-52 bomber; and the 78,000-foot Hangar 54, devoted to the Korean and Vietnam wars and current naval operations in the Pacific.
Museum officials also will begin their major national fundraising effort. The first phase, which cost $12 million, is nearly paid up, except for $400,000, Palmer said.
In February, the museum signed a 62-year lease with the Navy and Hunt Building Co., which is part of a joint venture with Fluor Corp., the master developer for the Ford Island housing and redevelopment project.