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
“[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
“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
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.
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).