Air wars recalled in Hawaii

World War II began with an air assault in Hawaii and aviation has played a crucial role in military operations since. That role is told through the stories of inpidual aircraft in hangars at the Pacific Aviation Museum. While Hangar 37 is set up as a museum with completed displays, it is Hangar 79 that holds a wider variety of experiences.

The museum has used Hangar 79 to prepare planes and exhibits since February 2006, but it just opened to the public in January of this year. It is a working hangar and does not have the full signage and context of Hangar 37. However, it has planes from many different eras, through the Viet Nam conflict to today.

At the time of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the hangar was used to assemble and overhaul aircraft — the same thing it does now but no longer as an active military operation. The dozen or more planes in some stage of renovation include a P-40 Kittyhawk, F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, several Bell helicopters and a MiG-15 and F-86 Sabre. I am not an expert on planes, although I spent about an hour wandering around Hangar 79, those plane IDs are from a news release by the Pacific Aviation Museum.

I was more struck by the reactions of fellow visitors. Many had clearly flown planes like these. Several men were describing details of planes and missions to family members or companions. Two men stopped silently for a moment at a display honoring those killed in Viet Nam. This was a deeply personal visit for many. Others were interested in the planes in the same sense that one would visit an auto show – taking in the differences in construction and capacity.

Visiting Hangar 79 was a very different experience from touring Hangar 37. I would be certain to suggest it to anyone who flew or worked on aircraft in any military encounter. They would be especially interested in the Lt. Ted Shealy Restoration Shop, in its original WWII restoration configuration. The Aviator’s Tour would also be a good investment, providing a personal guide to discuss the planes with.

It doesn’t seem like it, but Hangar 79 is two acres of floor space according to the Pacific Aviation Museum website (probably because the planes are so huge). Allow some time to explore – this would not be an experience to rush through.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher