This article was written by William Cracraft and first published in 1998 in an Oakland Tribune special adverstising supplement celebrating the opening of the Aircraft Carrier Hornet Museum.
The eighth USS Hornet, CV12 Essex Class Aircraft Carrier, retired, holds seven battle stars, a presidential citation for extraordinary heroism and a museum. The imposing, 55-year-old flattop, a veteran of three wars now resting comfortably at her old home at the former Alameda Point Naval Base, will be re-commissioned on Oct. 17.
Three football fields long, 192 feet wide towering 200 feet above the water, the ship’s great gray mass is a mute display of Naval power. Once on board, Visitors will be greeted by a video presentation orienting them to the Hornet’s history and layout.
The biggest artifact inside the ship is a resurrected World War II torpedo plane with folded wings, the largest aircraft of its era to fly off the Hornet. Modified into a crop duster after it was retired from the Navy, the aircraft, along with others from subsequent eras, is being restored to its wartime trim.
The plane roosts just aft of the centerline elevator, formerly used to raise aircraft to the flight deck, but long since sealed by Navy mothballers. Only one of the three elevators, each able to lift 20 tons, will be restored to service to help with events and restoration.
The main hangar deck, a cavern running nearly the full length of the ship, will house displays of aircraft, photo histories of events surrounding the Hornet and a reproduction of the Apollo 11 decontamination trailer.
The Hornet Foundation, dedicated to keeping the ship’s appearance as close to original as practicable, will keep the decks as clear as possible. Original paint colors are being used when available and the ship is carefully secured to avoid theft of fixtures.
Other displays will include a portrayal of USS Hornets from 1775 to the present, a history of all Essex class carriers, and information on espionage activities in Pacific and Far East in the ’30s.
Visitors will be able to wander the open spaces, stopping by side compartments to see interactive displays on the Apollo astronauts’ recovery and, eventually, a restored machinist’s shop.
Guided tours will go throughout the ship, visiting ready rooms where pilots were briefed on operations, galleys’ which prepared three meals a day for thousands of men, control rooms where radar screens still glow blue, and the glass-enclosed flight control tower, with banks of phones and switches forever in the off position.
This Hornet was ordered by the Department of the Navy in May 1940 and cost $69 million. The ship was launched in August, 1943 and commissioned two months later. Seventeen months after World War II ended, the Hornet was mothballed, but was refurbished in 1953 for the Korean War and kept in use until 1970, when she was returned to mothballs. In mid-1989 the ship was stricken from the Navy list and efforts to save her from the cutting torch began.
In 1995, after a brush with the scrap yard, the ship moored temporarily at Alameda Point and the Aircraft Carrier Hornet Foundation stepped up efforts to save her. In an agreement between the scrappers, the Navy and ACHF, the carrier’s title was turned over to the foundation in May, 1998.
Because it was in mothballs for so long, many of the original fixtures are still in place. Irreplaceable radar consoles, ships engines, instruments, and wiring, missing from other shipboard museums around the country, are in their original positions on the Hornet.
Details of the ship’s original equipment abound. Hanging on spools around the island passageways are inch-thick, 50-foot electrical cables which could be plugged in to terminals throughout the ship to provide a complete power net in case of damage to the main wiring harness.
The foundation’s mission is to restore the ship, already a National Historic Landmark, for use as a U.S. Naval Air and Sea museum, historical and technology education center and a ceremonial ship. The museum’s directors project 805,000 visitors, the first year, generating $79 mil1ion per year in revenue and $1.3 million in taxes.
An estimated 779 new jobs will be created in the area and the museum itself will have 150 full-time employees, with hiring priority to those who lost jobs in the Alameda base closure.
In time, the museum will host live-aboard programs and hotels utilizing officer staterooms, field trips and on-board classes on naval engineering, science and history.
The Hornet Foundation is retaining a strong flavor of the military with ceremonies during Fleet Week special events on holidays and military reunions.
Although the staff are called crew members, the foundation brought in professional museum designers to ensure top-flight displays.
Due to the size and complexity of the museum, multiple layers of exhibits will be available, so both first-time visitors and returnees will see new facets of shipboard life.
In addition, the foundation plans to arrange for community events, including symphony, theater ballet and jazz performances as well as benefits and fund raisers for those groups and humanitarian causes.