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Alameda Naval Air Museum — you have got to see it!

25 April 2010

Alameda Naval Air Museum — you have got to see it!

37° 46’ 53” N / 122° 17’ 58” W

A Chamber of Commerce day — cool, clear and bright — greeted me when I parked in the vast lot of Building 77 at Alameda Point. It was built as an air terminal building, not for an airport but for a military base — Alameda Naval Air Station. This handsome construction has some peeling paint that behave as laugh lines, signaling character not age, and is the comfortable home of the Alameda Naval Air Museum. Overlooking the historic seaplane basin* that was home to the Pan American International Airways China Clippers this museum may be easy to miss as it is not heavily advertised. Several hangars are nearby and they are large, meant for servicing flying boats and military aircraft.

Front sign for the Alameda Naval Air Museum — photo by Joseph May

This is an unusual museum for me to like so much as it has no aircraft. Lacking aircraft the staff has devoted its time to displaying an immense collection of artifacts and relics which relate to both aviation and military history. Using both floors the museum is chock full of items I’ve not seen before — like an ancient torpedo, an ingenious diorama giving the visitor a bird’s eye view of a WW II carrier battle and more. The second floor’s area is devoted primarily to models, and there are quite a few on the first floor as well. I do not often write about models but these are plentiful and exceptional. Many were built by Chief Bronson Parry and what caught my eye was the variety — not all were from the US Navy, or even the USA — a remarkable number represent WW II aircraft flown by the Imperial Japanese Navy but there are even more. There are several large scale models like the one of the airship USS Macon, the modern day aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, the IJN Yamato 宇宙戦艦ヤマト and an early WW II US Navy aircraft carrier of the Lexington class with her deck full of aircraft set for a major strike — Wildcat fighters first, Dauntless dive bombers second and Devastator torpedo bombers third. The museum does not limit itself to the US Navy alone — its overall spectrum is quite wide.

WW II Yorktown (our thanks to  Mr. Paul Vigeant, docent  at the USS Hornet Museum for correcting my mistaken identification)  class aircraft carrier in 1/72 inch scale — photo by Joseph May

IJN Yamato 宇宙戦艦ヤマト model — photo by Joseph May

IJN Yamato 宇宙戦艦ヤマト Aichi E13A 零式水上偵察機 “Jake” scouting aircraft — photo by Joseph May

The chief, along with Bill Willmoth, were docents I spoke with on this day — both have their 60s in their wakes but with them energy belies age. Each has a good measure, enough to shame most men who are much younger, and have knowledge beyond what is in the history books. The Chief mentioned that the Bofors 40mm gun mount was from the Kamikaze devastated USS Franklin but it was his story of how it came to the museum that was as remarkable as it was unpredictable. I can’t go into it but let’s say the right thing ended up getting done. Bill is a retired aviation machinist’s mate and worked on Curtiss-Vought OS2U Kingfishers. Now, how often does one run into that? Recorded history mentions the Kingfisher as moderately capable, underpowered etc. Yet, Bill says he and the pilots he knew loved it for its ruggedness and reliability — not a small desire when flying over the open ocean.

View from the parking lot of the Alameda Naval Air Museum — photo by Joseph May

2 x 40mm Bofors gun mount from the USS Franklin — photo by Joseph May

There is no café there but plenty of eating is available to the east, only two miles away. Restrooms and friendly staff are there as well as the general historical area of Alemeda Point. Costs to enter are insignificant — $5. This museum is a hidden treasure among museums, not well known but well worth finding. Getting to the museum at 2151 Ferry Point Dr in Alameda CA could hardly be easier … use either Oakland International Airport** or the slightly farther away San Francisco International Airport*** … and you can also visit the neighboring USS Hornet Museum (an aircraft carrier with several aircraft displayed as well).

* a post discussing, in part, the history of the seaplane basin was published on 18 April 210 and is called, Alameda and Miami — bonded with clippers

** the Oakland Aviation Museum is located at the Oakland International Airport property and a post will appear soon regarding my recent visit there

*** the San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library & Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum (but informally called the San Francisco Airport Museum & Library) is located with the International Terminal, soon a post will be made regarding my recent visit there

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Vigeant permalink
    4 December 2012 19:49

    Never visited this museum although I am over at the Hornet Museum as a docent. Will need to drop by one day soon. BTW the 1/72 model of the CV is a Yorktown Class, in fact it is either the Yorktown CV-5 or Enterprise CV-6. If the paint scheme is accurate it can not be CV-8 Hornet which was one of the three Yorktown Class.
    Retired Navy CPO

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      5 December 2012 17:37

      Paul — thanks for the insight. I’ll check on it and get back with you. Joe

      PS — I see your point and thanks for making it. I reviewed my photos and cannot find a clue to the carrier’s identity. There is no numeric on the deck nor a name on the fantail. I looked more carefully at photo of the three CVs you mentioned and I see what you mean. Why I thought the Lexington Class escapes me but thanks very much, again, for your help 🙂

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