The number of aviation museums in Hawaii was recently halved with the closure of the Naval Air Museum Barbers Point. Hayman Tam guest reports for GAR on the current state of the museum and the disposition of the collection.
I am fortunate in being able to travel fairly often, and when I do, I enjoy visiting aviation museums. Having been to Hawaii numerous times, I have made many visits to the well known Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. One aviation museum that I could never fit into any prior trips was the Naval Air Museum Barbers Point located on the Western side of Oahu. Imagine my dismay when I finally made the time to visit the museum only to find out it had been closed by the State of Hawaii. Though I couldn’t gain access, I settled for taking photos of what I could through the fence.
Hawaii news and aviation news outlets chronicled the ongoing friction between the Museum and the State that culminated in an eviction notice being served in September 2019 and the eventual closure in June 2020. Padlocks, chains and security guards work in concert to keep visitors out and prevent Museum staff from performing any work other than packing up.
The State Department of Transportation Airports Division notes the main reasons for eviction were because the Museum was lacking insurance, failed to address environmental issues like oil leaks and spills, and parked aircraft where they shouldn’t be. The Museum made every effort to comply but not soon enough for the State to cease eviction proceedings. The Museum had their day in court but to no avail, sealing the fate of the 22-year-old attraction.
The State has contacted the agencies that had donated aircraft and asked them to reclaim them and remove them from the premises. Ten of the Museum aircraft were on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum and, when you consider that many of the aircraft were flown in and decommissioned onsite, this will surely make for a complicated removal and possibly needless destruction of the aircraft, and maybe an environmental mess.
A follow-up visit in 2021 revealed that most of the aircraft were still in place on the tarmac. One of the three A-4 Skyhawks on hand did find a new home at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. A recent development now has five of the aircraft slated for transfer / transport to the Castle Air Museum in California. Those lucky airframes are a Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion and AH-1W Super Cobra, Navy UH-3H Sea King and SH-60 Seahawk, and an A-4 Skyhawk. Remaining aircraft with an uncertain future include two P-3 Orions, a USCG C-130, and an F-4 Phantom.
Kalaeloa Airport is now located on the grounds of the former Naval Air Station Barbers Point. With more than 3,800 acres and up to 6,500 military, family members and civilian employees, Naval Air Station Barbers Point was the largest naval air station in the Pacific. The base was closed in 1999 and has been in gradual decline ever since the base property was portioned out for development. Hawaii is noted for being overzealous in protecting the island’s history, so to see such a grudge against an established Museum was uncharacteristic.
The military history of Barbers Point starts in the 1930s. A wide variety of military services were based there over the years and the Museum chronicled that history. NAS Barbers Point also hosted the Coast Guard, which has been part of the base as a Coast Guard Air Facility since 1949. The facility was designated Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point in 1965 and is still utilized for C-130 Hercules aircraft and H-65 Dolphin helicopters performing search and rescue missions within the central Pacific region.
Moral of the story, support and visit your local aviation museum sooner than later because it might not be around later.
Naval Air Museum Barbers Point website http://nambp.org
Global Aviation Resource would like to thank Hayman Tam