Museum of Memories

New Pacific Aviation Museum opens at Pearl Harbor

By: Dawna L. Robertson

My father flew and fought in the Pacific during World War II. So when I heard about the Pacific Aviation Museum (PAM), I was eager to see how Hawaii’s newest tribute would chronicle our military’s aerial efforts. I wasn’t disappointed.

Located on Ford Island, a National Historic Landmark and site of our nation’s first aviation battlefield, PAM is housed in a series of original hangars and control tower complex that were at the epicenter of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

Opening on the 65th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, PAM’s first phase encompasses a 42,442-square-foot 1930’s era seaplane hangar that survived the attack. Hangar 37 has been transformed to provide an interactive perspective of WWII aviation.

“There couldn’t be a more historical site for an aviation museum than right here,” noted Clinton Churchill, PAM board of directors president. “Our goal is to show visitors what it would have felt like to be here the day of the attack and beyond.”

“History surrounds the museum,” added PAM executive director Allan Palmer. “We have some of the aircraft and artifacts that were here during the attack. This is the only aviation museum in our country on an actual aviation battlefield.”

PAM complements an elite roster of historical attractions at Pearl Harbor: the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri Memorial and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. Three additional PAM phases will open in Hangars 54 and 79 and the landmark control tower complex.

“[PAM] is a great addition to the existing Pearl Harbor historic sites,” said Palmer. “The museum will continue to honor the bravery and sacrifice of those who have dedicated their lives to the defense of freedom.”

Aside from its revered location, what stood out to me was how seamlessly PAM draws visitors into another era. And it starts the moment you enter the museum’s foyer.

Covered with an aerial view of Pearl Harbor and the surrounding areas, the floor leads to a colorful corridor that sets the stage with sights and sounds of the easy-going era.

First stop is a 200-seat theater where a short documentary with historic footage transports viewers into the surprise attack on Dec. 7. Upon entering the exhibit area, visitors continue to experience the air attack on Hawaii through dioramas with aircraft and artifacts from WWII in the Pacific. Highlights include a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighter and a Navy Wildcat fighter used at the beginning of the war.

“The Wildcat is significant because it was the counterpart of the Zero,” said Palmer. “These two were arch rivals. Both are original and very rare. These were flying aircraft before they entered the museum. And they’re the types of airplanes that were at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 one on ground and one in the air.”

I was drawn to the Army Air Corps B-25 Mitchell Bomber, a replica of one my father had flown in during WWII. The aircraft gained fame as the bomber used in the 1942 Doolittle Raid.

Also on display is the 1942 Stearman Biplane that former U.S. President George H.W. Bush piloted on his first solo flight. At the time, Bush was only 18 years old making him one of the youngest American aviators in WWII.

A Battle of Niihau exhibit features the remains of a Zero that crash-landed on the small island off Kauai. And then there’s the Aeronca 65TC, the first American plane engaged in combat during WWII.

“A pilot and his teenage son were flying back from Molokai to Honolulu when they encountered the first wave of 150 Japanese Zero fighters headed to attack Pearl Harbor,” explained Churchill.

Two Zeros circled back and attacked the civilian general aviation plane, damaging the aircraft but sparing its passengers.

In addition to the numerous historical dioramas, PAM provides visitors the opportunity to “fly” an American or Japanese plane and communicate via radio with other aviators while surrounded by a panoramic view of the sky from a pilot’s point of view. It has the aviator-style Blue Heaven Cafe as well as a gift store.

At the end of the tour, I couldn’t help but be uplifted about how PAM’s first phase and those to come would help us so vividly remember our history.


Pacific Aviation
Museum, Pearl Harbor

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except major holidays
General admission: $14
Commission: 20-30 percent with contract agents.
Transportation packages booked through Polynesian Adventure Tours pay 10-25 percent (800-622-3011).