The Moffett Field Historical Society is scheduled to reopen the Moffett Field Museum today, closed for repairs since late February.
The museum documents the history of the former Naval Air Station, its use as a training base during World War II and the role the military installation played during the Korean War, the Cold War and the years beyond.
In conjunction with the reopening, the Town Crier conducted a Q&A via email with Tom Spink, the museum’s director of public relations.
Q: What repairs were needed before the reopening?
A: Our landlord, NASA Ames, was nice enough to improve our HVAC system, providing more airflow. Only one-third of our old building has HVAC. The other two modules were originally for storage, but we are using most of that space for exhibits. It gets hot in the back during the summer months, and the increased airflow will help to keep the temperature down for our members and visitors.
Q: How long has the museum been operating?
A: We opened our doors April 12, 2005. That is exactly 72 years after the Naval Air Station was commissioned.
Q: Can you share some highlights from the museum, those that are popular with visitors or are your favorites?
A: We are arranged by eras. First is the LTA (Lighter Than Air). Hangar One was built between 1931 and 1933 to hold one huge dirigible, the USS Macon (ZRS-5). We have a beautiful diorama showing this unique airborne aircraft carrier. Remember, this was before radar and airships were used to scout in front of the fleet for adversaries. The small pursuit ships that dropped down from inside the USS Macon could extend the search area by another 100 miles.
Next is the pre-World War II era, when it was an Army Air Corps training base. Notables like Jimmy Stewart and Chuck Yeager passed through Moffett.
Once WWII started, the base reverted to the Navy, and many blimp squadrons were stationed there. Hangars Two and Three were built to be their home. Metal was not available for Hangars Two and Three, so they are made of wood. Hangar One was all metal.
When the carriers came back to Alameda after the Korean Conflict, many of the jet squadrons were stationed at Moffett. Later, the Navy built NAS Lemoore down in the Central Valley.
Then the Navy’s Patrol squadrons came to Moffett. The P-3 Orion was a long-range patrol plane, capable of multiple missions, the primary mission during the Cold War being tracking Russian submarines.
But in 1994, Moffett was decommissioned and realigned. The California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing is the only remaining Department of Defense aviation asset. They have more than 1,000 saves to their credit and have deployed in support of the war on terrorism as the major combat search-and-rescue asset in the theater.
Q: What do you tell people about the importance/significance of Moffett Field to the area’s history and why people should visit the museum?
A: Significance covers a long time. After World War I, a community group led by Laura Whipple was convinced that America was no longer isolated by two oceans. They petitioned the U.S. Navy to build a base to provide protection for the West Coast. They raised $500,000 during the Depression, and sold the 1,000 acres to the Navy for $1. When visitors go through the eras, they can see how the technology improved, alongside all of the changes in the valley.
During World War II, the war effort brought the women of the Santa Clara Valley out of the orchards and canneries and into building and maintaining the military hardware.
Side note: We have a Speakers Bureau and give “The History of Moffett Field” presentation to anyone who requests us.
The Collings Foundation will bring its WWII bombers to Moffett May 19-27. We help with crowd control and also have a display of additional instruments in our museum.
Q: How much is admission, and do proceeds support museum upkeep? Could you elaborate on the benefits of becoming a museum member?
A: Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for seniors, $3 for children 13-17, and free for children under 12 and active members of the military, guard and reserve. Membership is $25 annually and provides constant admission for a family of four. Admissions are only half of our operating budget. Donations and grants provide the other half.
The Moffett Field Historical Society Museum is located on Severyns Avenue, Building 126, at Moffett Field. Visitors must show a driver’s license at the Moffett Field Ellis Street gate before proceeding to the museum near Hangar One; the front gate will be closed through July 23.
For more information, call 964-4024 or visit moffettfieldmuseum.org.