Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not Bad for Government Work: the Beauty of Moffett's Historic Hangars

Looking up at the arc of Hangar Three from inside the south end looking north.

Several days ago, one of the volunteers I'm working with at the Moffett Historical Society and Museum suggested I go to the other side of the field to see some of the vintage aircraft he and his crew are restoring for display.

Lou Somontes is retired Navy--like a lot of the volunteers--and he has spent thousands of hours restoring some vintage military planes for display in the museum's new Air Wing lot. I don't know much about aircraft, but I'm helping with publicity and was interested to see the work. 

What I got was a rare treat.

The vintage planes being restored in Hangar Three are dwarfed by the building itself, and--as fascinating as the old planes are--they must compete with their stunning surroundings.

I got to go past security and inside Hangars Two and Three, the remaining of the still functioning historic blimp hangars at Moffett.  Unlike Hangar One, which is being dismantled and was built of steel in the 1930s, Hangars Two and Three are made of wood. That's because they were built during World War II when metal was reserved for the really important stuff like fighting machines.

Inside Hangar Three, the look of the carefully crafted wood, combined with the classic Roman arch, and the scale of the building--something like 8 acres--combine to create the look of the world's largest Gothic cathedral. It is almost difficult to believe that something this beautiful was built on a government contract.

Lou feared I found the surroundings more interesting than his planes. 

A SP-2E "Neptune" maritime patrol bomber, being restored by the Moffett Historical Society's Air Wing. The work goes on, thanks to NASA, inside historic Hangar Three. The P-2 won't be ready for several more months.

But that wasn't really true.  The planes are beautiful in themselves and give scale to the building. The combination is pretty awe-inspiring. 

The Lockheed TF-104G "Starfighter" is as slim as a New York mannequin. It will go on display soon at the Moffett Museum's new Air Wing. With a top speed of 1400 mph it was nicknamed "the missile with a man in it."

The AH-1S "Cobra" attack helicopter is the second of the vintage craft that will soon go on display at the Moffett Museum's new Air Wing. Its powerful armaments made it a formidable weapon on the battlefield.

The vintage aircraft will be towed into a newly paved parking lot adjacent to the museum in just a few weeks. Lou and his volunteers are already concerned about how the aircraft will weather sitting outside 365 days a year.

What is really too bad is that historic Hangar One is also adjacent to the museum, and would be an ideal place to display the vintage planes. If it weren't being dismantled. 

The interior of Hangar One: what a great place to display historic aircraft! An historic landmark like Hangar One could be preserved for just such a use. Photo courtesy of the Santa Clara County Historical Society.

Somebody, somewhere in Silicon Valley will step up to make this happen before old Hangar One is gone: won't they? As I looked at it across the field from the old wooden hangars, with the Coast Range in the background, it was hard to imagine an office park or housing development there. I sure hope I won't have to.

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linda said...

a couple of questions for your friend; the attack helicopter, painted green, is that one of the vintage jolly green giants used during vietnam? we had a helicopter squadron at NAS North Island that flew them. although, a reserve squadron, it was the only one in the Navy in the early 1990's flying them.

second, is that a P-2 or a p-3? from the outside, it looks like a P-3. i flew in a few while at moffett. intersting plane but the bathroom was made for men only.

once the planes are restored, will they go on display up there? i ask because i have an old navy friend who works for an aviation magazine that might be interested in what your friend is doing. no promises.

Robin Chapman said...

I am not an aircraft expert, but the Jolly Green Giant was a different chopper. This one, the Cobra, wasn't for rescue or lifting stuff: it had rockets and mortars and grenade launchers and room for just two guys; a pilot and a co-pilot/gunner.

The bomber being restored is a P-2, the predecessor to the P-3.

They will go on display in the lot next to the museum: first the f-104 and the Cobra, then the P-2, the U-2 and they also have an old Blue Angels jet coming up.

But as I said, having them outdoors isn't going to be as good for the vintage craft as having them indoors, in that big Hangar One next to the museum.

Don Meuler said...

Keep at it until someone steps up big. Don't give up the (air)ship!

Robin Chapman said...

I'm not really optimistic for its future, though it is in the National Register of Historic Place and on that Register's list of Most Endangered Places. As I've said we aren't really good at preserving our history here in the States.

linda said...

you know i did have a thought. my former, fellow navy photojournalist friend is a senior editor at aviation international news (or something close to that). i wonder if his magazine might be interested in a piece about hangar one. he was a former editor at naval aviation news and his knowledge of naval aviation is impressive.

linda said...

i did send an email to my friend, pitching a story about hangar one. if i hear from him, i'll pass it along.

Robin Chapman said...

Linda: thanks for the idea. If he likes it, please have him contact me and I can at least give him some good sources on it. This is the 78th anniversary of the U.S.S. Macon's arrival at Moffett so it might be pitched as the 80th anniversary of Hangar One (approximately).

linda said...

Sorry he said his magazines don't cover military. Suggested air and space in dc. Trying to get you a contact.

linda said...

Sorry no contact. Trust you can contact them yourself and see if you have any luck!