To many visitors, Oahu conjures up images of Mai Tais, dramatic sunsets and sandy beaches.
However, it’s also home to one of America’s most iconic and historic sites, Pearl Harbor. And that is home to Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. As “America’s Aviation Battlefield,” the museum provides a stunning visual narrative of aviation’s role in the history of the Pacific. It’s no surprise that TripAdvisor calls it “One of America’s Top 10 Aviation Attractions.”
The Museum is home to two WWII era hangars, which survived the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and the Ford Island Control Tower. The hangars and surrounding tarmac still bear the scars of the attack in the form of bullet holes, strafe marks and bomb craters.
As you step into the hangars, you cross the threshold of time and walk into the pages of history. Up first is a short introductory film in the 200-seat theater that sets the tone with memories from survivors recounting the day of the Japanese attack. Then, it’s on to the vintage aircraft.
With 48 aircraft on display, including the instantly recognizable Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and its nemesis, the Mitsubishi Zero, the 1942 Stearman Biplane flown by President George H.W. Bush and the remnants of the “Ni‘ihau Zero,” which crash landed on Ni‘ihau Island after the Pearl Harbor attack. Among the other aircraft on exhibit are some of aviation’s most iconic military aircraft, like the B-17 “Swamp Ghost” Flying Fortress, F-15 Eagle and AH-1 Cobra. From propeller planes to the jets of the Korean War and the Vietnam War, the Museum offers a compelling visual timeline of aviation history as advancements led to ever faster and deadlier aircraft.
While tales of WWII dogfights might capture the most attention, civilian aviation also has its share of historic milestones in Pacific aviation history. Also on display are artifacts detailing the historic trans-Pacific flights of Pan American Airlines at a time when air travel was viewed as a luxury. Not to be missed is the photo exhibit capturing legendary aviator Amelia Earhart’s time spent in Hawaii.
Impressive though the planes may be, what sets the museum apart is its focus on telling the human side of significant aviation events. For that, the museum runs a series of docent-led tours to enhance your visitor experience. Many of the docents are retired aviation veterans with first-hand knowledge of the planes on exhibit, so you can just imagine what personal anecdotes they’ll impart as you wind your way through the tour.
After taking in all the exhibits, you can indulge your aviator fantasies by climbing into the cockpit of the Museum’s combat flight simulator and trying your hand at becoming an ace. And if all this works up an appetite, the best food on Ford Island just happens to be served at Laniakea Café, located right in the museum. Alongside the café is the Museum Store where you can stock up on memorabilia. To book your tour, visit PacificAviationMuseum.org.
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