Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
A museum of (mostly) military aircraft on Ford Island, Pearl Harbor
. Formerly known as "Pacific Aviation Museum" but renamed a few years ago, it incorporates one of the original hangars of the Naval Air Station that was one of the prime targets of the Japanese air attacks in December 1941. You can still spot some bullet holes from that attack. Otherwise it's mainly for plane enthusiasts and war history buffs (a couple of planes are quite spectacular for others too, though).
More background info:
Ford Island was the cradle of aviation in Hawaii
. It saw many a pioneer land and take off (or occasionally crash) in the decades before WWII
. When the war arrived for the USA
with the massive air attacks on Pearl Harbor
on 7 December 1941, Ford Island was the main target.
The main aim of the attack had been to destroy as many of the warships as possible that were moored on “battleship row” alongside the island (with the USS Arizona
the worst hit). But the airfields of the naval base (as well as those at other locations on O'ahu, Hawaii
) were also targeted in order to destroy as many aircraft on the ground as possible. This was also done to make it more difficult for the Americans to follow any of the Japanese planes back to their carriers and thus disclose their location.
Though it sustained some damage, the airfield was cleared quickly and extra installations were put in place so that the airfield was operational again within weeks. It remained a crucial part of the Pearl Harbor
naval base throughout the war.
, it remained in service at first, including a small role in the earlier stages of the Vietnam War
, but was eventually decommissioned by the Navy in 1966. It has remained in the hands of the US military, however, which still runs some support facilities on the island. The airfield as such, however, has long been out of use. A plan to cover its area with solar panels was rejected on the grounds of the historical significance of the site. This significance was also recognized when in 1964 the island was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Ford Island has been used as a film set, most notably two of the best-known movies about the 1941 attacks, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (1970) and “Pearl Harbor” (2001).
The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island is a comparatively recent attraction added to the portfolio of historic Pearl Harbor. Conceived in 1999, its first part was opened to the public only in December 2006, to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor
attacks. The museum is still under development, but has already grown to occupy two whole hangars and parts of the apron of the former airfield.
What there is to see: When you step off the shuttle bus it is worth first having a little look around before entering the museum. Note the iconic tower to the north, painted in red and white like a lighthouse. This was originally a water tank but has commonly been mistaken to be the airfield's control tower (which was actually in front of the unfinished water tower – which was only later converted). Apparently it is in desperate need of refurbishment due to structural frailty. Donations are welcome.
At the bottom of the tower you can also already see some of the open-air aircraft exhibits. At the time of my visit at least, an F-15 fighter jet and a C-53 transport helicopter were parked there.
Inside the main museum
building, partly converted hangar, partly purpose built, you can purchase your ticket (if you don't already have one – see below
) and proceed to the first part of the exhibition, the one that is actually the most comprehensively commodified section of the complex.
In addition to some full-size (presumably original) aircraft from the WWII
era, in particular Japanese and US types involved in Pearl Harbor
and the Pacific
, there are also models, dioramas, and plenty of text-and-photo panels. Some of these also cover the pre-WWII aviation history of Hawaii
. One section was devoted to female flight pioneers such as Cornelia Fort and Amelia Earhart.
The largest exhibit is a B-25 bomber of the sort used in the “Doolittle Raid”, the first air strike to hit the Japanese homeland in April 1942, in which 16 such medium bombers daringly took off from an aircraft carrier, bombed targets in Japan
and proceeded to land in China
(although most crashed), because given their size they couldn't possibly have landed on a carrier. The specimen on display is actually cobbled together from several later-model B-25s.
An intriguing authentic display is that of parts of a crashed Japanese “Zero” fighter that had come down on the privately owned Hawaiian island of Ni'ihau, east of O'ahu and Kaua'i, during the Pearl Harbor
Outside the main museum building you can then proceed towards hangar 79. En route you pass several information panels about the airfield, the hangars and other structures, as well as a collection of aircraft on open-air display, including an F-14 (of “Top Gun” fame) and a Delta Dagger interceptor. But apparently what is on display where (inside or open air) has changed a lot at this museum, so you cannot be sure of all these planes' exact locations at any one time (on the museum's website, the F-14 and F-15 are shown in photos clearly taken inside a hangar).
Hangar 79 is the one where to look out for bullet holes from the Pearl Harbor attacks. You can just about make some out on the windows of the hangar's main sliding doors. But you see them much better from inside, against the bright sky.
In one corner of the sliding hangar doors the nose of a B-52 bomber appears to be poking through the door from the inside. In fact it is only the detached nose section. The rest of the plane is neither inside the hangar nor anywhere else on the site.
Inside the hangar numerous other aircraft are on display, including a whole row of helicopters to the right, some Vietnam War
veteran jet types such as Soviet MiGs and a US F-4 Phantom, as well as some smaller planes. On the larger side is a massive F-111 that used to be in service with the Australian air force.
By far the most interesting exhibit, in my view, was to be found in the back of the hangar (at the time of my visit, when it was still undergoing refurbishment): a B-17 bomber that had crash-landed in a swamp in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where it remained lying largely intact in its desolate, remote location for over half a century before being salvaged and brought here.
This particular plane had been scheduled to arrive in Hawaii in mid-December 1941, so it only narrowly escaped the Pearl Harbor
attacks when it flew in just ten days later. In early 1942 it was then sent down to operate out of Australia
against the advancing Japanese.
On 22 February 1942, on an air raid on Rabaul, New Britain, the plane came under fire by Japanese fighters' machine guns which punctured a fuel tank on the B-17 so that the pilot was unable to fly all the way back over the mountains of PNG and had to put the plane down somewhere in the jungle. What he thought to be a green field, though, turned out to be swamp. Yet, the crew survived and walked for six weeks through the jungle to Port Moresby (the PNG capital).
The plane was simply left semi-submerged in water – where it could clearly be seen from the air. Australian pilots nicknamed the wreck the “Swamp Ghost
”. Only in 2006, was an expert in South Pacific
plane wrecks permitted to salvage the B-17 from its swamp. It was dismantled on site, and each bit flown out by helicopter. The parts were then painstakingly cleaned and eventually reassembled. It finally returned to Hawaii
in 2014. What a fascinating 74-year journey!
Speaking of age, when I was at the museum there was a Pearl Harbor
veteran on hand to answer questions and who would tell his story as an eyewitness of the 1941 attacks. He was seated at a desk by the entrance to hangar 79 and certainly looked the age. You have to wonder (as with Holocaust
survivors) for how much longer these eyewitnesses will be around.
You can explore the museum independently – or you can go guided. Audio guides are available for free from the Front Desk. But to get a real bonus you can go on a so-called “Aviator Tour” which, guided by a docent, provides some access to behind-the-scenes areas, such as the restoration workshop, normally out of bounds to visitors. In addition there are now apparently also special “Swamp Ghost” tours that concentrate on an up-close and personal encounter with said B-17 wreck (see above). But since I did not go on either of these tours (nor did I use an audio guide or the flight simulator), I cannot comment on any of this from first-hand experience.
The museum is generally more for aviation enthusiasts, and some dark tourists won't find all that much of interest to them (though there are notable exceptions – such as the original bullet holes and the B-17 wreck), but I quite enjoyed it. It's certainly not as central to a visit of Pearl Harbor
as the main memorial, its museums and the USS Arizona
, but it is a worthwhile add-on if you have the time and at least a passing interest in flight and war plane history.
Access and costs: restricted, but easy to get to by free shuttle bus; pretty expensive.
Since Ford Island is still part of an active military base, access is restricted. Only military personal in active service are allowed to drive to the island across the bridge, all other private vehicles are prohibited. But getting there is still a piece of cake thanks to the free shuttle bus service that runs from the car park at the main Pearl Harbor Historical Sites visitor centre
as well as from the USS Missouri
. The bus goes in a loop connecting these three sites on a regular basis, arriving/departing at each stop roughly every 15 minutes.
The bus drops visitors off right outside the museum's main building, where it will also pick you back up later. So no navigating is required.
Opening Times: daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., year round (closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's day).
Admission: 25 USD (child aged 4-12: 12 USD, members of the military and local residents: 15 USD, child: 10 USD). Audio guides are free of charge and are available in English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Chinese.
“Aviator's Tour” (guided, behind-the-scenes excursion): 35 USD (22/25/20); Combat Flight Simulator (30 minutes incl. briefing): 10 USD.
You can buy your ticket at the museum itself, or purchase them in advance through the museum's ticketing website, sometimes at reduced rates (at pearlharboraviationmuseum.org >buy tickets); alternatively, you can get a “Passport to Pearl Harbor” combination ticket from the main Pearl Harbor visitor centre that covers all four main attractions (Pearl Harbor Historical Sites
with USS Arizona Memorial
, USS Bowfin, USS Missouri
and the Aviation Museum) for 65 USD. But you'd only save money through this if you want to use the audio guide for the USS Arizona and the main museums and memorials on the “mainland” which is also included in this price. If you can do without the audio guide, you're better off buying your tickets for each site individually.
Note: as at the main Pearl Harbor site and the USS Missouri, no bags are allowed at the museum (or on the bus). If required, there's a storage facility at the Visitor Centre bus stop (3 USD per item).
Time required: very much depends; dyed-in-the-wool aircraft and war history enthusiasts could probably spend several hours here. Others may be able to make do with less than an hour.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
being part of the shuttle bus loop around Ford Island, the most natural combination is the USS Missouri
historic battleship moored on the eastern side of the island.
See also under Hawaii
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Hawaii
- PAM 01 - tower and F-15
- PAM 02 - F-15
- PAM 03 - yet more planes
- PAM 04 - WWII exhibition
- PAM 05 - B-25
- PAM 06 - wreckage
- PAM 07 - original hangar
- PAM 08 - inside
- PAM 09 - Swamp Ghost B-17 wreck from PNG
- PAM 10 - helicopters
- PAM 11 - deadly helicopter
- PAM 12 - MiG-21
- PAM 13 - Australian F-111
- PAM 14 - unequal opponents
- PAM 15 - bullet holes left by the Japanese attack in 1941