Monday, June 6, 2011

Things to Do: Pearl Harbor, Pacific Aviation Museum

The last stop on the tour of Pearl Harbor is the Pacific Aviation Museum.  The museum occupies two hangars on Ford Island: half of it is in the refurbished Hangar 37, the other half in Hangar 79.  Hangar 37 is a 42,000 square foot hangar used to house seaplanes and was one of the structures that survived the Pearl Harbor attack in 1942.  Hangar 79 was the maintenance and engine repair hangar in World War II.  Now it holds the LT Ted Shealy Restoration Shop, the MiG Alley Korean War Exhibit, and the latest additions to the museum.  


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The shuttle bus that takes you to the USS Missouri also stops by the Pacific Aviation Museum at 319 Lexington Blvd.  It's about a 5 minute ride from the Missouri to Hangar 37.  Museum hours are from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm everyday.  Admission is $20 for adults, $10 for children, and $10 for the combat flight simulators (that includes the 30 minute briefing and flight).  

You can buy tickets either at the entrance to Hangar 37 or the main pavilion at the Arizona Memorial.  There is the Aviators' Tour (which costs extra) and is the guided tour through the museum and Hangar 79.  Plan on taking 2 hours to see both hangars.  Unfortunately, since we spent too much time at the Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine exhibit, and the USS Missouri we arrived too late for the guided tour.

It's seems like a cliche to say, but you're seen part of the museum in a movie.  Across from the museum is the old control tower that was filmed in the movie Pearl Harbor.  The tower is left in the same condition as it was after World War II.  Inactivity led to its deterioration over the years and there's a movement to refurbish the tower.  Any donations to the Pacific Air Museum are welcome.  I don't know who that guy is, he just walked into the picture.  Anyway, when enter the museum, you sit down in a theater and watch a film of what life was like back in 1941.  Since I didn't get here in time, I missed the film.

Walking past the theater is the first exhibit, a Japanese A6M Zero fighter on a mock deck of the carrier Hiryu.  The Zero's long range, ability to carry several bombs, and maneuverability made it the best carrier-based fighter in the beginning of the war. In Pearl Harbor, the Zero's were used to attack planes on the ground and in the air.

The attack on Pearl Harbor used three different types of aircraft: the "Zero" air-superiority fighters, the "Val" dive bombers, and the "Kate" bombers that carried either a torpedo or bombs.  

The weapons used in Pearl Harbor.  The Type 98 bomb on the left was used for precision dive bombing against surface targets.   Val dive bombers used Type 98 bombs to strike hangars, buildings, and aircraft on Ford Island.  The torpedo in the center was modified with wooden fins to keep from diving into the shallow mud of Pearl Harbor.  The bomb on the right was a modified 16-inch (406mm) naval artillery shell used to attack battleships from high altitude.  The "Kate" bombers dropped those modified Type 99 bombs that destroyed the USS Arizona.  

The attack on Pearl Harbor came in two waves launched from 6 aircraft carriers.  The first wave was the main effort and targeted the capital ships (battleships and, if present, aircraft carriers).  The second wave was to finish any objectives not hit by the first wave.

The first wave had the majority of the slower Kate bombers and focused on bombing or torpedoing moored ships in the harbor.  The Val dive bombers would hit ground targets, while the Zero would strafe parked aircraft on the ground and, if any become airborne, would attack them in the air.  The attack lasted 90 minutes and accomplished most of its objectives.  A third wave was planned, but was called off.  This was important, because fuel storage and the code-breaking building escaped damage.  Both were instrumental for the US later in the war.  

P-40 Warhawk fighter.  Because it lacked a two-staged supercharger, the P-40 wasn't effective at high-altitude and couldn't keep up with Germany fighters in Northwest Europe.  In the Pacific, where high-altitude wasn't a factor, it was effectively used as an air-superiority fighter, bomber escort, and fighter bomber.  A few pilots even managed to get their P-40s airborne to defend Pearl Harbor.  While the P-40s couldn't out maneuver Japanese fighters, it had a faster dive rate, great rate of roll, was better armed, and could take more punishment.  This lead to "boom and zoom" tactics where aviators dove down on enemy fighters and quickly climbed before they could be attacked.  The P-40 saw extensive action in the Southwest Pacific and was used by the "Flying Tigers", a volunteer squadron of American aviators, in China.    

B-25B Mitchell Medium bomber used in the Doolittle Raid.  The Doolittle Raid was the first US air strike against the Japanese Home Islands.  The bombers were stripped of some weapons and equipment to make them lighter for their long flight.  The raid was named after Lieutenant Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle who  planned and led the operation.  Because of the long distance to the Japan, the Army Air-Corps bombers had to launch from Navy carriers and land or ditch in China.  The plan was the aircrews would link up with the Chinese Army and make their way back to the States.   

Step inside the briefing room on the USS Hornet for a short video on the Doolittle Raid.  The Doolittle raid was a symbolic victory with no military significance and unintended strategic consequences.  Ironic, since Doolittle thought the raid was a complete failure and he would face court-martial on his return to the States.  The objective was to strike back at Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack.  It succeeded, though damage was minimal and all the bombers were lost.

However, it did cast doubt on the ability of the Japanese military to defend the island and resulted in two decisions that would effect the outcome of the war.  The first was to withdraw Admiral Chuichi Nagamo's carrier task force from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.  Admiral Nagamo's fleet devastated the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean and by withdrawing allowed the British Navy to reassert control in the Indian Ocean.  The second was to force the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) into attacking the US Navy and prevent another raid.  

This resulted in the Battle of Midway.  This was a decisive point in the war and marked the beginning of the end for the IJN.  Admiral Yamamoto planned to lure the American aircraft carriers into a trap to destroy the fleet and establish Midway Atoll as the first line of defense against future attacks against the Japanese Islands. Unfortunately, the plan was based on incorrect assumptions of American intentions, the wide dispersion of the Japanese fleet, and American code-breakers deciphered Japanese communications.  

SBD-3 Dauntless Dive Bomber were critical in the Battle of Midway.  Dauntless pilots used dive bombing tactics to sink or cripple all four Japanese aircraft carriers.  While the loss of the aircraft carriers was devastating, the loss of experienced and trained pilots and carrier crews was catastrophic.  The Battle of Midway led the way for Guadalcanal, which was a prelude to end of the war.  

The Battle for Guadalcanal, codenamed Operation Watchtower, was the first Allied strategic offensive in the Pacific.  The Allies captured a Japanese airfield on the island of Guadalcanal and renamed it Henderson Field in honor of marine aviator MAJ Lofton R. Henderson who died in the Battle of Midway.  Henderson Field was a difficult and tough airstrip due to poor conditions and lack of facilities early in the war.  It became home to the Cactus Air Force, named after the Allied codename for Guadalcanal, Cactus.  The squadrons of F4F Wildcat fighters and Dauntless fighter-bombers that made up the Cactus Air Force (CAF) became engaged in almost daily fights with Japanese fighters and bombers.  Through improved tactics and attrition, the CAF wore down the Japanese air force, sunk enemy transport ships and paved the way for the eventual defeat of the Japanese Navy.  Pictured is a F4F Wildcat fighter on Guadalcanal.

You too can find out what it was like as part of the Cactus Air Force in one of the combat flight simulators.  Each flight would cost $10, includes a 10 minute brief, and 30 minutes of flight time.  There's more to the museum, we just didn't have time.

This was a nice stop on the tour of Pearl Harbor.  It would be nicer if we'd arrived earlier, spent more time here, and seen Hangar 79.  Because we came late, we missed the MiG-15 and F-86 Sabres from the MiG Alley Korean War exhibit.  Not to mention the F-14 Tomcat, F-4 Phantom, F012 Delta Dagger, and more.  I would suggest coming on a separate day to just see the Pacific Aviation Museum since it's so easy to get caught up in the USS Missouri.

If you're thinking about booking the Pacific Aviation Museum for a special event, like a wedding, and want information email Specialevents@PacificAviationMuseum.org or call 808-441-1004.   

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