USS Hornet Museum

Last week we were on vacation at my sister's place in Walnut Creek, CA (a bit to the east of Oakland). Vacation consisted of a few day trips, some sitting by the pool, and a fair amount of work with on the website. It's nice when your sister has wireless broadband.

One day, we headed to Alameda (west of Oakland) to spend some time on the USS Hornet Museum. The Hornet is an Essex-class aircraft carrier, commissioned in 1943, serving in WWII, and then in Korea with a new flight deck. Hornet was the recovery ship for both Apollo 11 and Apollo 12.

The Hornet was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1993, but was saved at the last minute, and was donated by the Navy to a foundation. So, that's enough for the brief history - you can find more here.

There Hornet is currently berthed in an out-of-the-way slip in what used to be Alameda Point Naval Base. Easy enough to find once you know where it is - if you need help, here's the Terraserver image.

We arrived when the ship opened at 10AM, expecting to spend a couple of hours. We left when hunger overcame us at about 2:30 - there is so much to see. You enter into the hanger deck, which is about as big as you'd expect for a ship that is 900 some-odd feet long. There are a number of displays of Navy aircraft in the hanger deck, and also the Mobile Quarantine Facility from Apollo 14.

Unlike a lot of historical places, the museum is actively working at getting as much of the ship open and refurbished as possible. We spent an hour on a tour of the areas underneath the hanger deck, including the surgery, the mess halls, the ready room, the brig, the cat room, and one of the engine rooms. Essex-class boats were steam-driven, and the surprising part of the engine is how compact it is. There are 4 boilers and four turbine pairs, with each boiler having a high-pressure and low-pressure turbine. The low-pressure turbine would fit inside a Microsoft office, and the high-pressure turbine was smaller still. Pretty impressive, given that each set of two turbines produces 37,000 horsepower. We also saw lots of other rooms which I've forgotten.

After that tour, we went up to the flight deck on the escalator, which is not yet operational. The escalator was installed in the 1950s when the ready rooms were moved down a deck - apparently it was too taxing for the pilots to climb that far up with all of their gear. We toured the island as well - not as exciting as the underdeck tour, but still interesting. We finished by walking the flight deck from back to front after taking in the killer view of San Francisco from the stern of the ship.

The docents who did the tour were all great.

If you're around this area and like that sort of thing at all, you should definitely do this. The only military tour I've enjoyed more was the tour we got of the USS Santa Fe back in 1999 or 2000, but that's another story...

Comments (10)

  1. Brad says:

    As a former Naval Aviator, I can tell you that humping up 2-3 decks to the roof in full flight gear sucks, especially in the middle of the Indian Ocean (can you say HOT). Lest you think us too terribly spoiled, the escalators never worked when the boats were in service either (oh well).

  2. Steve says:

    I only spent a month total on the Hornet as part of the TV crew for Apollo 12 splashdown but it had to be one of the most exciting and rewarding periods of my life. The 45′ TV remote van was strapped to the hanger deck not far from the aircraft elevator and afforded us a great view of the daily activities on board ship. Can’t wait to see the Hornet again.

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