story by Dennis Hollier
photo by Dana Edmunds
The ride out to the Naval Aviation Museum at Barbers Point feels a little like a journey into the past. Once you leave the highway and make your way toward the sea, the present gives way to the Hawai‘i of sixty-five years ago. Three times, the road changes names—Fort Barrett, Enterprise, Midway—as if to trace the passage back in time. By the time you pass through the unguarded gates of the old Barbers Point Naval Air Station, you’re firmly in the grasp of the kind of nostalgia inspired by ruined churches and old battlefields.
The state’s only naval air museum, open since 1998, is a remarkable evocation of the once spic-and-span air station that has today almost vanished into the kiawe scrub. It’s a modest collection—a dozen or so aircraft and a small squadron of vintage Jeeps and Willys—but it’s the largest in the state. More important, almost every piece carries with it a bit of local interest; these aircraft were either stationed here or played a role in Hawai‘i’s aviation history. That’s because, strictly speaking, this isn’t so much an aviation museum as a monument to Barbers Point Naval Air Station itself, which, at the height of World War II, was the busiest airport in the world.
“Every aircraft carrier that ever came here put the air wing here,” says Brad Hayes, the museum’s enthusiastic director, as we trundle over the tarmac in a rattletrap old Willys. “But all these airplanes and helicopters were stationed here.” He pauses to identify a few of them: “This is a perfect A-4,” he says, gesturing to a Skyhawk fighter much like the one Sen. McCain flew when he was shot down in Vietnam. Nearby is a Lockheed Constellation, nicknamed the “Willy Victor.” It was a crucial part of the Distant Early Warning system during the Cold War. “These guys would fly from Barbers Point to Midway and then patrol the skies between Midway and the Aleutians, looking for Russian bombers.”
Although the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island might be more popular, nowhere will you get a better taste of the old days of naval aviation than here, on the lonely tarmac of Barbers Point. HH
Barbers Point Naval Air Museum