The USS Midway Museum is one of the 5 aircraft carrier museums in the US and one of only two on the West Coast. On January 10, 2004, the ship was moored at the Broadway Pier in downtown San Diego and opened to the public on June 7th the same year. It became an instant attraction, drawing over a million visitors a year from all over the world.
USS Midway (CV-41) was commissioned about a week after the end of World War 2, becoming the lead ship the new Midway-class aircraft carriers. During its 47 years of service, the ship participated in the Vietnam War and served as the flagship for Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. USS Midway underwent two major refits, in the 1950s and 1970s, greatly enlarging the flight deck to accommodate new modern aircraft.
The USS Midway museum displays over 30 restored planes and helicopters used by the US Navy. The carrier didn’t participate in WW2 but the first planes onboard after commissioning were the wartime designs that included F4F Wildcat and F4U Corsair fighters, SBD Dauntless dive bomber, TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, and a Texan trainer. You can view restored examples of each of them displayed on the Hangar Deck.
When touring the Hangar Deck, it is easy to miss a Cessna O-1 Bird Dog hanging from a ceiling. A similar plane was used in 1975 by Major Buang-Ly of the Vietnamese Air Force to escape Vietnam together with his wife and 5 children. He was able to locate USS Midway at sea and drop a note during a flyby, asking to be rescued. Several Huey helicopters had to be pushed overboard into the South China Sea to make more room on the flight deck for Major Buang to land. He landed safely, becoming the first Vietnamese pilot to ever land on an aircraft carrier. The original O-1 he used to escape Vietnam with his family is now on display at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.
Most of Midway’s aircraft is displayed on the Flight Deck. The largest two are a Douglas EKA-3B Skywarrior, an ECM/tanker version of the strategic bomber, and a North American RA-5C Vigilante, a supersonic bomber used extensively in the tactical strike reconnaissance role during the Vietnam War. The Vigilante’s neighbor, a Douglas AD-4W Skyraider is a three-seat airborne early warning version of the famous propeller attack aircraft also used in Vietnam.
Some of the early carrier-based jets displayed include a Grumman F9F Panther, Grumman F9F-8P Cougar, Vought F-8K Crusader, Grumman A-6A/E Intruder, Ling-Temco-Vought A-7B Corsair II. These are followed by a McDonnell-Douglas F-4S Phantom II, McDonnell-Douglas F-4N Phantom II, Douglas A-4F Skyhawk, McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18A Hornet and Grumman F-14A Tomcat.
The remaining planes in the collection include a Grumman EA-6B Prowler, an electronic warfare aircraft, Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye, a twin-turboprop airborne early warning aircraft, Grumman C-1A Trader, a carrier onboard delivery variant of the Grumman S-2 Tracker, Lockheed S-3A Viking used primarily for anti-submarine warfare and North American T-2C Buckeye, Navy’s intermediate jet training aircraft.
The museum also displays a large collection of marine helicopters including a Sikorsky HO3S, Sikorsky H-34A Seabat, Piasecki HUP-2 Retriever, Kaman SH-2F Seasprite, Boeing Vertol HH-46D Sea Knight, Bell UH-1B-BF Iroquois “Huey”, Sikorsky SH-60F Seahawk and Sikorsky UH-3H SeaKing.
For a complete experience of the “floating city at sea” you should also visit the engine room, officers and sailors’ quarters, squadrons’ ready rooms, sick bay, galley, the command information center (CIC) and the bridge, located in the superstructure, commonly referred to as an island. There are several docent-led guided tours available as well as a self-guided audio tour. The theater on the Hangar Deck also offers a 15-minute holographic show titled the “Voices of Midway”. It tells the story of one of the most important naval battles of WWII and a turning point of the war in the Pacific.