Hand, of Oakland, walks with her son Finn McCamey,
8, and her daughter Bronwyn McCamey, 2, while
walking past a McDonnell Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk at
the Oakland Aviation Museum on Dec. 14, 2014 in
Calif. — Remember the scene near the beginning of
"Raiders of the Lost Ark," when Indiana Jones
boards a plane on the way to Nepal, circles a tight
staircase to the upper cabin, then settles into a cushy
seat, tugging his trademark fedora over his eyes for a nap
— all while evil, bespectacled Gestapo agent Arnold Toht
eyes him from a couple of seats behind?
you might not recall the scene in such detail, as it’s
only 45 seconds long. But you can relive it in that very
seat aboard that very plane — the big, tubby-bellied
prop-job City of Cardiff, a Short Solent Mark III flying
boat that now rests outside the hangar of the Oakland
Aviation Museum like a beached white whale.
folks keep a fedora on that legendary seat, and they let
people sit there and take pictures.
not quite the original seat now," docent Bill
Lippincott told me on a recent visit. "So many people
have taken pictures there over the years, the seat got
worn out, and we had to redo it."
any yummy Harrison Ford cooties are long gone. But it’s
still pretty darned cool.
Solent may be the big draw for movie fans and general
passers-by — you can’t miss it, if you stray anywhere
near the Old North Field at Oakland International Airport,
out among the streets with such names as Earhart, Wright
and Langley. But aviation buffs know there’s much more
to this under-the-radar museum. It’s a treasure trove
for anyone taken with the notion of flight. It’s filled
with old aircraft and memorabilia — each plane,
helicopter, old engine part, uniform, faded photo or World
War II log book tells its own tale in the history of
advised, the nonprofit museum — here for the past 25
years — is what you’d call no-frills. It smells of oil
and old rubber, and it demands meandering and a bit of
patience to read about various inventions and engine
specifications. Several flight historians have likened the
place — in a good way — to going into somebody’s
garage and rummaging around all their stuff.
the same time, this isn’t some fly-by-night operation.
don’t seem to know we’re here, but when they do find
us, they’re amazed," Lippincott says.
the hangar itself holds history. The corrugated steel
shell was built in 1939 by the Boeing School of
Aeronautics and used to train aircraft mechanics for the
Army Air Corps and Navy during World War II. It now houses
several vintage planes — one a full- size replica of the
Vin Fiz, an early Wright Brothers’ Model EX biplane.
Wooden propellers hang here and there, including a pair
from the Army Corps’ Bird of Paradise that completed the
first nonstop flight from the West Coast to Hawaii in
1927, piloted by Albert Hegenberger and Lester Maitland.
the building’s rim are exhibit rooms. One is dedicated
to Alameda-born Gen. James Doolittle, and another to the
Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots
of World War II. Still another highlights women in
aviation, including Amelia Earhart, who flew out of
Oakland and into an enigma in 1937 on her famous,
ill-fated, around-the-world attempt.
are interactive exhibits of the old-fashioned kind, where
you can climb inside the cockpit of an A-3 Skywarrior, the
Navy’s first strategic all-jet nuclear bomber and, if
you’re lucky, hear some tales from docent John Horton,
who flew that very plane. (Be sure to ask him about the
bright orange tape on a small piece of machinery inside
the bomb bay. It’s a story of life and death.)
chief Greg Ely often is out in the yard, tinkering on one
engine or another. "Other air museums, you’ll see
beautifully restored planes, which I love. But here, these
old girls, this is what the planes really look like, with
all their wear and tear," he says. "We’re the
caretakers of history."
took me up inside the nose section of a DC-6, a
predecessor to today’s jet passenger planes, he says.
This one, built in 1958, has lived a lot of lives with
various airline companies, flying the polar route, serving
as a U.N. rescue plane and then later converted to a
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of course, there’s the Solent Mark III. It’s an extra
$5 to climb aboard for a docent tour, but it’s totally
worth it. The aircraft, once owned by Howard Hughes, is
the only one of its kind left in the world, Lippincott
says. It was originally built in England as a military
submarine chaser during World War II, then was
reconfigured as a luxury plane to hold 34 passengers in
the 1940s, flying wealthy travelers to exotic ports in the
walls have faded paintings of palm trees and beach huts. A
fringe-trimmed bar can be found on the main deck, and the
ladies powder room is done up in pink with curvaceous
counter tops on the vanity. The only thing out of place is
a flat-screen TV, but it’s there with a purpose — to
run the 45-second Indiana Jones scene in a continuous
take the curved staircase to the upper deck — the same
steps Indy climbed — and there’s the infamous seat,
saved with a brown fedora. Sit there. Take a photo. Tug
the hat down over your eyes and dream of adventure.
Aviation Museum, 8252 Earhart Road, off Doolittle Drive on
the Old North Field at Oakland International Airport
museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
Admission is $10 for adults, with discounts for seniors,
military personnel and children. Additional fees apply for
special tours. Learn more at www.oaklandaviationmuseum.org.