The Military Aviation Museum of the Pacific hopes to raise $46 million to restore three hangars and a control tower on Ford Island for an aviation museum. Allan Palmer, executive director and chief executive operating officer for the museum of the Pacific, stood on Monday near the island's control tower.

Ford Island
fund-raiser set

The banquet is part of a
$46 million drive to establish
a museum of aviation history

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Organizers of a projected $54 million aviation museum on Ford Island will step up efforts with a fund-raising banquet Friday.


Allan Palmer, executive director and chief executive operating officer for the Military Aviation Museum of the Pacific, said his group's initial goal is to raise $46 million to restore and bring three historic hangars on Ford Island "up to code."

Under the nonprofit group's current plans, the visitor attraction would be built around Ford Island's hangars 37, 54 and 79 and the control tower, which now fronts what was once the Army Air Corps' Luke Field.

"They are part of the 22.7 acres we hope to lease from the Navy," Palmer said.

Special guests at the Ford Island fund-raising event at Hangar 37, which will begin at 5:30 p.m., will be retired Navy Capt. Walter "Wally" Schirra, the only astronaut to fly in all three manned U.S. space programs; comedian Bill Dana; and retired Navy Lt. John Finn, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941, at Kaneohe Naval Air Station.

Schirra, who was one of the country's original seven astronauts and the only one to have flown on Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, said he visits the islands at least twice a year and maintains a home at Princeville, Kauai, but never got to tour Ford Island until last summer.

"I was heartbroken when I saw the remains of the (USS) Utah," said Schirra, 69.

"I don't think many people know that it is there," added the former naval aviator who transferred to the Air Force to fly combat missions in the Korean War.

Both the battleships USS Arizona and USS Utah were sunk during the Dec. 7 attack and remain as memorials.

Schirra's first visit to Hawaii was in 1962 when he became the first astronaut to land in the Pacific after orbiting the Earth.

Schirra was asked to become a member of the Ford Island museum's board of directors by Palmer when Palmer was director of the San Diego air museum.

Schirra said he will enjoy being reunited on stage with Dana, who now lives in Maui and made his mark in the world of comedy as the Hispanic astronaut "Jose Jimenez" in the 1960s.

"(Astronaut) Alan Shepard used to be his straight man," Schirra recalled. "I guess I'll be his straight man this time ... I think we came up with the term 'no way Jose.'"

On display Friday night at Hangar 37 will be World War II era vehicles, uniforms and memorabilia, vintage and current aircraft and props from the movie "Pearl Harbor."

Under a 1999 federal law, the secretary of the Navy has the authority to allow nonprofit groups like the museum to be part of the ambitious $600 million master plan, which envisions a complete makeover of Ford Island to include family housing, office buildings, a conference center, a Navy Lodge and Navy Square visitor complex. The 12-year construction project will be funded mainly by the private sector.

Palmer said his group is working with the master developer of the Ford Island redevelopment project Fluor Hawaii. In June the Navy selected Fluor Hawaii, a Hawaii-based joint venture between Hawaiian Renaissance Builders and Fluor Federal Services.

Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell, Navy spokeswoman, said once the master development plan is completed early next year, it will be submitted to Congress for final approval before the contracts are awarded.

Funding for the $300 million Ford Island redevelopment project will come from a combination of conventional military construction appropriations from Congress and sale or lease of four other Navy properties at Kalaeloa, Iroquois Point, Waikele Naval Magazine and Halawa landing. Construction is expected to begin next year.

"We want to make the whole area surrounding the museum a historic site," Palmer added, "restoring it to the way it looked before the Dec. 7 attack. We want to take people back in time."

Organizers believe that as many as 50,000 students in addition to visitors would be attracted to a Ford Island air museum annually, fulfilling one of its goals -- educating the public about flight, the military and the history of aviation in the Pacific.

Because the Pearl Harbor Naval Complex, including Ford Island, is listed as a national historic landmark, Palmer said his group must retain the structure of the hangers and can only renovate the building interiors.

The hangars would house dioramas that trace the history of aviation in the Pacific, including artifacts beginning with Ford Island's place in Hawaii's aviation history in 1914 and moving through World War II and the Korean and Vietnam War.

"There will be five acres of covered space," Palmer said.

Palmer said the museum already has commitments to include a World War II B-25 Mitchell bomber now on display at Hickam Air Force Base, Vietnam-era UH-1 Huey and AH-1 Cobra helicopters donated by the Hawaii Army National Guard, a Korean War Russian M-15 jet fighter, Cessna 0-1 "Bird Dog" observation aircraft and AT-6 trainer.

The proposed aviation museum, on the southeastern end of Ford Island, is seen as complimenting other memorials to Pacific battles -- the battleships USS Missouri and the USS Arizona -- at Pearl Harbor. Along with the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum on the other side of the harbor, aviation museum backers believe their proposal could be marketed as "a day at Pearl Harbor."

Organizers said the USS Arizona Memorial signifies the start of the World War II in the Pacific, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum tells the story of undersea operations in the Pacific, and the USS Missouri Memorial symbolizes surface naval operations and the end of the war.

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