It all started on May 22, 1912, when Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham reported for flight training at the Naval Academy at Annaplois, it wasn’t until August 20, at Marblehead, Massachusetts, that Cunningham soloed in a Curtiss B-1 Seaplane and became Naval Aviator number 5. Since then, Marine pilots have done their job to defend America and each other, with names like Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington (Medal of Honor awardee) of the Flying Tigers in China, and the infamous VMF-214 “Black Sheep” squadron of WWII, and Lt. Col John Bolt, the only Marine aviator to achieve the title of “Ace” in both WWII and the Korean War; and remains to this day the only Marine “Jet Pilot” ace.
Because of these men and many more, 2012 brings us the 100 year Anniversary of United States Marine Corps Aviation, and no place is that history better represented, than at the little known Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, based at MCAS Miramar, in San Diego, CA. This museum is probably the best kept secret in the aviation world, which is not something this museum wants.
Every branch of the U.S, Armed Forces is allowed only one official museum, and is funded by Congress. The Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum has undergone a rigorous certification process and is one of only three certified Marine Corps Command Museums. The museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to the primary purpose of preserving the history of U.S. Marine Corps aviation
The museum was originally founded and based at MCAS El Toro, in Orange County, CA but with base closures in the 1990’s El Toro was shut down and NAS Miramar, became MCAS Miramar, after the U.S. Navy’s move to Fallon, Nevada (including it’s famous “Top Gun” school). Along with the Marines came the Command Museum in 1999, opening in the year 2000 to the general public.
Steve “Smitty” Smith (USMC Ret.) is currently the Curator of the Museum. He started working at the museum, back when it was located at MCAS El Toro, where Smitty was stationed and he decided to volunteer at the museum. He worked as the museum’s librarian, and then he became the Assistant Curator. After the museum moved to MCAS Miramar, Smitty was promoted to his current position. Along with Asst. Curator Leon Simon (served in the US Navy), both men are responsible for all of the aircraft maintenance, and restoration, along with over 100 volunteers who either work in the museum as docents, or work in various positions from the gift shop, office, to restoring the planes that are acquired from the military. Most volunteers are former and retired Military. Former US Senator and Retired Marine Colonel John Glenn is the Chairman of the Board of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum Foundation that runs the museum.
The museum currently has approx. 40 planes and vehicles that are either displayed outside of the museum, or in its restoration hanger nearby. Most planes date from the WWII era to the Present day, and the helicopters from the Korean War to the present. Inside the current building, housing the museum are rooms full of Marine Corps aviation history with paintings, pictures, documents, and other displays showing that the Marine Corps’ proud history and tradition isn’t only held by the Marines hitting the beaches and fighting on the ground for over 236 years.
The current plans are for a new two story 90,000 square foot building to be built as soon as the Marines make a final decision on the museum. They have already decided where the new building will be built and funding does not seem to be an issue, it’s strictly some red tape that is slowing down the process of getting the final okay’s done. The new building will house a library, a small theater, a gift shop, and more rooms for the many displays. Modern technology will be made available to watch videos and other films. There will be more room for more planes as “Smitty” is constantly attempting to add more to the museum’s inventory.
The museum, while located on MCAS Miramar, it has its own entrance, and is located directly across the street from 8604 Miramar Road. From I-15, proceed west for 1.3 miles and turn left into the parking lot. From I-805, proceed east for 3.9 miles and turn right into the parking lot. Look for the American flag and Marine Corps flag on the fence, and the museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday (except on Federal holidays) from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.