Museum History

Ford Island is a 441-acre island located in the middle of Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii. It was purchased by the United States Army for use as an airfield for the defense of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor in 1918 and was named Luke Field in honor of Lt. Frank Luke, an Army aviator killed in action during World War I. Air Corps flying was the only human activity on the island until the Navy moved its flying operations from the Pearl Harbor Naval Base in 1923. As technology improved and aircraft became more powerful and capable in the 30’s, joint flying operations made the small airfield a congested and somewhat dangerous place. The Army finally decided to move its flying operations to the newly constructed and more spacious Hickam Field, leaving Ford Island entirely to the Navy.

In 1941 the ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet surrounded Ford Island. Moored off its shores on Sunday, December 7th, were some of the largest ships of the fleet. Among them were the cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, the seaplane tender Tangier and eight battleships- Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland, Oklahoma, California and Utah. Navy patrol and scout planes filled the airfield and hangars. Numerous carrier-based planes that would have normally been parked at Ford Island were at sea aboard their aircraft carriers for exercises that fateful morning.

Preserving a National Treasure

Ford Island, now a National Historic Landmark, is quiet today but it still shows the scars of war. In developing the master plan in the 1990s, the Navy consulted with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Historic Hawaii Foundation. The Navy agreed to protect several historic buildings and nearby grounds. However, preserving these artifacts is outside the Navy’s primary mission, so an innovative method for adaptive reuse and preservation was required. Perhaps serendipitously, a group of concerned Hawaii citizens stepped forward with a solution and a plan to create a world class aviation museum in the historic hangars that survived the attack that initiated the US effort in World War II.

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Ford Island Runway and Hardstand Areas: “An American Battlefield”

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