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Places in Oahu: The Pacific Aviation Museum

Basic Information

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Narrative

2016 is the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing which initiated America’s entry into World War II.  Most visitors to Hawaii stop to see the US Arizona Memorial which is administered by the National Park Service.  A great place to stop at to augment any visit to the USS Arizona Memorial is the Pacific Aviation Museum.  The museum is located inside of an old hangar on Ford Island:

Ford Island is accessed by a bridge that requires US military identification to cross.  For those who do not have a military ID the museum can be accessed via a shuttle bus from the USS Arizona Memorial instead.  For those driving to the museum it is easy to find since it is located next to this control tower:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

For those that have watched the classic movie Tora! Tora! Tora! this tower should be instantly recognizable since it is prominently featured in the film.

This tower was actually under construction during the Pearl Harbor bombing, but the terminal building at its base was in use when the attack happened.  Across from the tower is the parking are for the museum.  After paying for tickets ($25 adult, $12 kids) we entered into the museum.  We found the museum to be quite well done with various static displays that depicted equipment from both the US and Japan that were used during the Pearl Harbor bombing:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Here is a static display depicting a Japanese aircraft on an aircraft carrier preparing to bomb Pearl Harbor:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

The US aircraft that had displayed was the P-40E Warhawk:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

This type of aircraft was flown by Lieutenants George Welch and Ken Taylor against the Japanese planes.  After witnessing the attack on Wheeler Field they drove to Haleiwa Field on the North Shore to their aircraft.  The airfield was still operational and the two pilots were able to take off and engage the Japanese aircraft.  During the battle they each scored multiple kills of Japanese aircraft:

Picture from Pacific Aviation Museum

One of the displays is of a civilian aircraft that was on a pleasure flight when the attack happened:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

The pilot Roy A. Vitoursek’s plane took some bullet damage as he dodged attacks from the Japanese planes.  He safely landed at Honolulu International Airport where he and his son hid in the bushes to avoid being strafed.  Interestingly Mr. Vitoursek would later become the Territorial Governor of Hawaii:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Besides static displays the museum has many maps that depict how the attack on Pearl Harbor happened.  As this map shows the attack on Pearl Harbor was far more than just Pearl Harbor.  Just about every military installation on the island was attacked by the Japanese:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

There is a very cool model of Pearl Harbor as well that helps visitors picture what the base looked like 75 years ago:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

A display that showed an aspect of the Pearl Harbor attack that few people know about was the Ni’ihau Incident:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

On December 7, 1941, Japanese Airman First Class Shigenori Nishikaichi’s aircraft was damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The sparsely populated island of Ni’iahau off the coast of Kaua’i was identified by the Japanese prior to the attack as a location for emergency landings.  However, when Nishikaichi tried to land on Ni’ihau has plane crashed due to the trenches the island’s owner Aylmer Robinson had dug across the island.  Eight years prior to the attack a US Army officer was able to convince Robinson to use a tractor to create trenches across the island to prevent its use as an advanced airbase by the Japanese to attack Oahu from.  This foresight ended up being correct as the Japanese could not use the island as an advanced airbase.  As Nishikaichi would find out the trenches even prevented a single aircraft from landing safely on the island.  The tractor that Robinson used to put the trenches in can be seen at the museum:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

After Nishikaichi crashed, a series of events unfolded where a Japanese-American couple on the island aided him in an attempt to retrieve papers taken from him after he crashed.  Nishikaichi ended up being killed in a violent confrontation with a Native Hawaiian islander Benehakaka “Ben” Kanahele who was wounded in the fight and later received the Purple Heart and other accolades for his courage.  Today what remains of Nishikaichi’s airplane is on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Another display I found to be really interesting was the one on the 2nd attack on Pearl Harbor:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

I did not know that the Japanese had actually attacked Oahu again a few months after the Pearl Harbor attack.  Operation K was an operation carried out by the Japanese on March 4, 1942 by Japanese Kawaishi H8K “Emily” flying boats.  They hoped to disrupt repair operations going on at Pearl Harbor after the initial attack.  Two of the flying boats flew from the Japanese occupied Marshall Islands to the French Frigate Shoal in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands where they refueled by submarine.  After refueling they flew to Oahu, but cloud cover ended up obscuring Pearl Harbor.  One plane dropped its bombs into the water near Pearl Harbor while the other plane’s bombs were dropped on Tantalus Ridge above Honolulu:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

After the Pearl Harbor bombing the US military looked for an option to immediately strike Japan.  The idea that was developed was to secretly move an aircraft carrier with Army B-25 bombers on it within striking distance of Japan.  The bombing strike became known as the Doolittle Raid after Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle who led the attack.  The Doolittle Raid was successfully executed on April 18, 1942 with a bombing strike on Tokyo that brought the war home to Japan for the first time.  In honor of this raid the Pacific Aviation Museum has a B-25 bomber on display:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

There was also a nice display about former President George H.W. Bush’s service during World War II:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Another display in the museum is the display about Amelia Earhart’s visits to Hawaii to include one time where she crashed her plane on Ford Island back in 1937:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Earhart would later disappear over the Pacific in attempt to fly around the world which would have saw her land in Hawaii.  Interestingly enough when I visited the old Imperial Japanese jail in Saipan it was believed Earhart may have been held there by the Japanese after she disappeared. Outside of the museum there is also a signboard that shows where Amelia Earhart crashed her plane at on Ford Island during a previous flight:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Adjacent to the museum there is a number of aircraft on display outside:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Next to the static display there is a large hangar that has even more aircraft on display inside of it.  For example here are some of the Korean War era aircraft on display:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Here is a Vietnam era American F-4 Phantom:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Here is a Soviet MIG-21 Fishbed::

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

The hangar also had some rotary wing aircraft on display as well:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

 

There is even a South Korean Air Force fighter on display as well:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Here is the aircraft my kids liked the most, this small rear propeller plane that looked like an air taxi:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Probably the most popular aircraft at the Pacific Aviation Center is this B-17E known as the Swamp Ghost:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

This aircraft was recovered from a swamp in Papua New Guinea.  Here is the description from the Pacific Aviation Center’s website that explains the history of the Swamp Ghost:

Captain Frederick “Fred” C. Eaton, Jr.
Captain Frederick “Fred” C. Eaton, Jr.

High above recently captured Rabaul, New Britain, and piloting a fully loaded B-17E Flying Fortress, Capt. Frederick “Fred” C. Eaton, Jr. had just spotted his target – a 10,000-ton enemy freighter. As he lined up to unleash his payload, the bomb bay doors malfunctioned. The crew worked feverishly to open the doors as he circled for a second attempt. Japanese anti-aircraft batteries zeroed in on the lone bomber’s altitude and unleashed a hellish barrage, damaging the wings. Lining up the target once more, he went in. This time, the doors opened and the bombs fell toward their target. As if on cue, Japanese fighters swooped in, guns blazing. Eaton and his crew were in a fight for their lives.

The aerial battle raged, bullets and cannon shells riddling the Flying Fortress as it ran for cover. In the skirmish, tail gunner John Hall claimed an enemy aircraft while waist gunners William Schwartz and Russell Crawford added two more claims to the tally. In the aftermath, Eaton believed the port wing was bleeding fuel from an unexploded flak round. Knowing he wouldn’t reach the safety of the refueling field at Port Moresby, New Guinea, he flew as far southwest as the fumes could carry them. Salvation revealed itself just as the crew determined the stricken bomber couldn’t climb over the towering Owen Stanley mountains — an isolated swamp in the foothills of the New Guinea mountain range. Eaton slid the heavy aircraft into the swamp water for a wheels-up landing. The B-17 slewed sideways and settled in the deep kunai grass without breaking up. Despite the running battle and the crash landing, there were zero casualties. Six weeks and dozens of malaria-infested miles later, Eaton and crew finally reached safety. They were assigned another B-17 and continued to fly for the rest of the war.

For more than seven decades, that lucky Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress, serial 41-2446, lay intact and virtually undisturbed, all but forgotten. In 1972 it was spotted by a Royal Australian Air Force helicopter and local press dubbed it the “Swamp Ghost.” It is not the historical name of the bomber, but it is the name history has given it.  [Pacific Aviation Center]

You can read the rest at the link, but the Swamp Ghost definitely has a fascinating history.  To maintain this history the Pacific Aviation Museum has been busy restoring the Swamp Ghost. On the way out after finishing our tour of the museum we noticed that the glass hangar doors actually has some bullet holes still in it from the Pearl Harbor attack:

Picture from the Pacific Aviation Museum

Conclusion

The Pacific Aviation Museum is a bit pricey, but it definitely has an impressive amount of exhibits and aircraft on display.  I feel like visitors get their money’s worth with a visit to this museum.  Speaking of visitors they get a lot of them at the museum considering how tour bus after tour bus kept dropping hordes of people off at the museum during our visit.  The crowds at times made spending the necessary time to read all the displays a little challenging, but overall the crowds are no where near as bad as other tourist attractions on Oahu.  For those who want to learn more about the Pearl Harbor bombing and the military history of Oahu it is definitely worth visiting the Pacific Aviation Museum.

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