Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum Lets You Climb Into Cockpits
Hop into a historical plane at Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum’s Open Cockpit Day.
Photos: olivier koning
Walk into Hangar 79 on Ford Island and you’ll find tourists taking cellphone photos, listening to headset tours in six different languages. Look up and everything changes. Above, turquoise-and-white glass windows lining the building still show the scars of bullets from Japan’s attack on Dec. 7, 1941. That day, workers at what was then a maintenance and engine repair shop for aircraft quickly found themselves under fire. The shattered panes were never removed—a stark reminder for wartime employees that they were still operating in a combat zone.
It is more than history to some volunteers at the museum. They lived through it. One, who works in Hangar 79, was in that very hangar during the bombing. Another volunteer, a World War II veteran, has flown every American aircraft in nearby Hangar 37. He celebrated his centennial birthday this year. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot both survivors talking story with visitors.
The role men like these and aviation played during WWII is the new focus for the museum. That is why, after 12 years as the Pacific Aviation Museum, it is now the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. The name change marks a new era for the museum, which opened on the 65th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing. Aircraft and exhibits will center around what happened in the sky that fateful day.
Photo: Courtesy of Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
“For many visitors, the idea of going to see random aircraft is not something they’re interested in doing, but they are absolutely interested in better understanding Pearl Harbor,” says Elissa Lines, the museum’s executive director. “We are very focused on doing a better job at interpreting those early days of World War II and then showing the progressive story of World War II and beyond of the role that aviation played.”
Besides model aircraft and exhibits that depict Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, hop into a (virtual) cockpit and coast through the skies, dogfight in the air and land on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the museum’s combat flight simulator. It is also used by students to log hours for their pilot’s license.
Lines says one of the major projects they are working on is opening up “Freedom’s View,” the breathtaking view of Pearl Harbor atop Ford Island’s 158-foot white and red control tower.
“It’s very intergenerational,” she says. “You have a grandparent who was closer to World War II and then their kid and the grandchildren. It isn’t until they come to these historic sites that many people start to speak about their experiences. It is a learning and breathing environment that really can help change the future. But first you have to take care of it.”
Climb behind the controls during Open Cockpit Day. Typically held in March, this annual day also usually offers special speakers along with the photo ops.
Visit during Living History Day. Held in September, admission is free and you’ll find World War II-themed games and activities, re-enactments, lectures and more. At this year’s event, visitors also learned how to take care of vintage photographs and watched the film Go for Broke: An Origin Story, followed by a Q&A with the cast and crew. Be aware, additional programs mean additional crowds.
Need a class activity? The museum’s Barnstorming Tour will take the flight simulator and wind tunnel to sixth-grade classrooms on O‘ahu.
Middle and high school students can spend two nights on the USS Missouri for Discover Pearl Harbor. For three days, teens engage in aviation activities including an accident investigation into a WWII bomber crash, visits to the Arizona Memorial and the USS Bowfin, and an aircraft simulation.
Download the flight simulator coupon for a free “orientation” flight.
Founded Dec. 7, 2006
Info Ford Island, 319 Lexington Blvd., (808) 441-1000, pearlharboraviationmuseum.org
Hours Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day
Admission $20 for adults and $10 for kids (ages 4–12) when you book online; kama‘āina and military rates are $15 adults and $8 kids; children 3 and younger are free.
Size About 128,000 square feet (86,000 in Hangar 79 and 42,000 in Hangar 37)
Annual visitors 273,000