USS Midway Aircraft Carrier, America’s Most Popular Naval Warship Museum
The USS Midway aircraft carrier is America’s most popular naval warship museum. Located in downtown San Diego, the museum is open 10am to 5pm 7 days a week, closing only for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. The museum holds over 700 events a year, from Navy retirements and re-enlistments to changes of command.
What is the USS Midway Known For?
Commissioned after the culmination of World War II, the USS Midway was one of the longest-serving aircraft carriers of the 20th century. The United States Navy used the Midway throughout the Cold War, until the carrier was decommissioned in 1992. Midway was an important contributor to the US war effort in Vietnam.
During Operation Frequent Wind, known by civilians as the evacuation of Saigon, the Midway was the scene of a heroic rescue. Major Buang-Ly of the Republic of Vietnam Air Force loaded his family of seven onto a 2-seat Cessna O-1, evaded enemy ground fire while fleeing occupied Côn Sơn, and pleaded with Midway to let him land. After learning of the situation the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Larry Chambers, ordered $10 million of Huey helicopters to be pushed into the Indian Ocean to make room for the family to safely and expertly land. In so doing Major Buang was the first Vietnamese fixed-wing pilot to ever land on an aircraft carrier deck. Operation Frequent Wind is regarded as the most perilous period the Midway experienced. The ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) collapsed much faster than anticipated, and defectors from its air force bombed the local air base, restricting tactical options and projecting dangerous amounts of firepower into South Vietnam’s coastal waters.
Midway’s last engagement was in Operation Desert Storm, where she conducted the first carrier strikes of the war. Midway left the Persian Gulf in March 1991, and was decommissioned in April 1992, in Seattle.
The USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum
The former carrier departed the Navy Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Washington, bound for San Diego, California, where it would serve as both museum and memorial. On January 2004 it was moored at the Broadway Pier in San Diego and opened to the public in June of that year. More than twice as many visitors came aboard the USS Midway as were expected in its first year: almost 880 thousand in all.
Admission to the Midway aircraft carrier museum includes a self-guided tour in six languages:
- Mandarin Chinese
USS Midway Audio Tours
The USS Midway audio tour lasts between 2 and 4 hours, depending on the interest levels of the individual. For younger guests, there is a family tour, specifically curated for children. This tour is shorter, at between 2 to 3 hours. Both versions of the tour take in:
- The flight deck— visitors can hear from pilots who flew the more than 20 aircraft, check out the Officers’ Country, and pilot Ready Rooms.
- The hangar deck— here, visitors learn about how you dropped anchor for such a large carrier, what it was like to sleep in an enlisted sailor’s bunk, or fly a WWII aircraft.
- Below decks— this section of the tour introduces visitors to the Engine Room, Galley, Sick Bay, and Laundry, among other areas.
Other Museum Activities
There is far more than the audio tour for visitors to take in at the Midway maritime museum. USS Midway exhibits and activities include:
- Not one, but two flight simulators are available for visitors to experience what it is like to be a Navy pilot: one called Air Combat 360 which mimics aerial combat including rolls, spins, somersaults, and loops. The second, the Screaming Eagles exercise, simulates the experience of an F/18 pilot.
- There is a 90-seat theater with a 15 minute multimedia movie about the Battle of Midway, the story told by those who participated in it.
- A second tour, this one guided by a Docent, shows visitors the ‘island’: the command center for flight deck operations. This tour requires visitors to climb ladders and is often sold out, so those wishing to participate should go early to avoid disappointment.
- On the flight deck, Docents (many of whom are former Navy pilots) explain the process of launching off (catapults) and landing on an aircraft carrier (traps).
- Children visiting the museum can earn their Junior Pilot Wings by visiting the locations in the family audio tour and follow the instructions on their activity sheet. Those who finish the tasks will receive their wings in a special ceremony.
- For youth groups and families interested in an authentic aircraft carrier experience, the museum offers Snooze Crewz. During these overnight adventures, young visitors can sleep in the original Navy bunks, eat breakfast on board, and take part in other onboard activities.
Volunteer Docents wearing yellow hats are available around the museum to answer questions for visitors and even share personal stories.
All in all, the USS Midway Museum offers a great deal of educational and informational value for the cost of entry. Adults (those over the age of 12) pay $26, while children between 6 and 12, as well as veterans with proof of service pay the reduced rate of $18. Active duty military personnel (including reservists), as well as active sworn police officers and fire fighters that present qualifying ID enter for free, as do children under the age of 6. The museum also offers annual passes for couples and groups of 4.