We arrived at San Diego around noon and got to the ship around 2:00 after checking into the hotel and grabbing a bite for lunch. Bill Purcell met us at the pier and found us parking near the brow. Troy Prince of MidwaySailor.com and San Diego photographer/CV41.ORG contributor Ramón Purcell were also with Bill. Troy had been enlisted to help out as a Saftey/Security volunteer and was decked out in the same red shirt/hat as Bill. This would come in handy Thursday as we were able to use his position to gain access to compartments in the 02 level.
We chatted a bit on the pier as if we'd been long lost shipmates though I had never met Bill before and had only met Troy last January for the Bay Crossing. Troy and I had been in contact via e-mail since 1997 when he was still in the Navy. Bill and I had served on Midway at the same time, but worked in different departments.
Bill hustled us up the the Flight Deck before the day's "Tip of the Sword" program was to begin honoring Midway's sailors and service during the 1980's and 1990's. This was my first look and walk up the easy access stairway or "Bunny Slope" as it's called. I was really worried how this would look since they carved into the flight deck to create it. It's actually pretty cool because you get a great view of the sponson area that you never got before, however it's not my preferred way to get up to the roof. Give me the ladders any day. By the way, none of the ladders from the hangar to the flight deck are open to visitors, though I was able to use a couple of them with Troy or Bill as an escort. Up on the roof Bill introduced me to retired Admiral Mac MacLaughlin, Chief Operating Officer of the Museum. I also got to chat a little with Scott McGaugh, SDACM spokesman and author of "Midway Magic". I had met Scott for the first time during the Bay Crossing and he had sponsored my boarding pass for the ride.
Scott started the program by mentioning Midway highlights from the 80's and 90's including the collision with the Panamaniam Freighter Cactus and Midway's record performance and lead role in Desert Storm. He then handed the mic over to Mac where he went on to tell us what had been done to the ship in the last six months and all the great additions planned for the near future. When he was done Scott took back over. In what was probably the biggest surprise of the trip he had some great compliments for me and my website and asked if I would stand and tell a story about Midway. Mac came out of no where and slapped a mic in my hand. I felt like I had been shot with a tazer. I thanked Scott for the kind words and stumbled through a story from one of the NORPACs I was on. That actually segued well into another sea story from a shipmate who was aboard during Operation Frostbite in 1946.
After the program I slapped Bill and Troy a few times for not warning me. Then we went down to the hangar bay to check out all that had been done in the last six months. It's truely an amazing transformation. The AIMD Jet Shop has been converted into the "Jet Shop" gift store. I was happy to see the Jet Shop mural is still there. On the fantail the hush house has been removed and there is now a Cafe there. It really is set up well though they could use a few kid's items on the menu.
With Troy leading the way we checked out the starboard aft sponson, which I can thankfully say is now closed for the dumping of all trash. *LOL* We went over to the Mach Combat area in Hangar Bay 2 and it is very impressive. I really didn't have much detail on the combat flight sim area prior to my trip and my expectations weren't very high. Folks, this is one awesome setup. There are two rows containing 12 flight sim stations in which you sit in front of a screen with HOTAS gear (Hands On Throttle and Stick) all networked together. The displays are very nice and the graphics are top notch. There are also three cockpits modeled after F-4 Phantom II's and a side by side cockpit. Dave Kinney, president of Mach Combat explained that the system uses his own code and that it's designed to give civilians the closest thing to a real combat flight sim experience they can find. Dave let me tour his spaces in the 02 level and there he's converted the old VA-115 Maintenance Control room to a pseudo prep area for "squadron pilots" to don flight suits prior to receiving a preflight briefing in the Ready Room (the old air intel space I believe). Dave is set up to support virtual squadrons that fly with or against each other. I was hoping to get a quick 10 minute ride, but it never materialized. I was either too busy at the time, or the sims were packed. Look for a Mach Combat website and my photos to be posted soon.
We took a quick tour through the aft mess decks (they've enlarged the ladderway and made it shallower) and then pretty much called it a day. All of us were beat from a day of air travel.
Melanie and Kelsea wanted to spend time at the pool, so I headed out to the ship to get some 02 Level photos and access to the Island before the crowds arrived. Troy and I helped Scott set up the sign-in table for Midway Vets. It was right next to the old VA-115 AQ and Powerplants shops so I took a peek in the old AQ shop. There was about 4 inches of water on the deck, so I just looked in and snapped one photo. The cover to the vent that we used to keep the SSG's was now bolted on. No way to check if they were still there, but I doubt they are. Went up to the Island from there to visit Pri Fly, Captain's Bridge, and Chart Room. I was able to get quite a few good photos before the tours began coming up. Ran into docent Bob Hartman who has contributed to CV41.ORG and the Ready Room Five project. Bob and his wife were kind enough to give us free admission passes to the San Diego Zoo. I can't thank Bob and his wife enough for their generosity and hospitality. That goes for all the folks we ran in to.
From there we checked out the old Eagle Line Shack, Ordnance Shop, Maintenance Control, Upper Berthing, IM-3, and Ready Rooms on the 02 level. Also checked out the AIMD berthing area that is open to visitors. They have a rack and locker sealed in plexi that contains items that were found in the berthing areas after decommissioning.
Up on the flight deck we checked out bow area that was fenced off for free access. Note, I said "was". By Saturday it was down. No one was using the area and all it did was prevent the rest of us from accessing it unless we departed the ship and came up the "freebie" brow. I wouldn't be surprised if SDACM didn't use that for ammunition to pull the fence down. Speaking of fences, the entire flight deck is surrounded by one and I was worried that it would be a huge distraction. It's not. You really don't notice it that much.
The program Thursday and Friday honored Midway Veterans. Again, it was hosted by Scott and Mac who did a great job relaying Midway history and explaining the future of the museum.
Friday we went to the San Diego Zoo in the morning and had a great time. It really is as great as it is made out to be. I'll have photos of our trip there posted to my personal photo album soon.
I got to the ship in the early afternoon and got to finally meet Chuck Cavanaugh. Chuck was a photographers mate and has contributed many great photos to CV41.ORG. Chuck was with SDACM volunteer Brian Peller who was in the Weapons Dept around the same time Chuck and I were aboard. Brian has been helping restore the #3 Engine Room, but today he was working in Safety/Security. We toured the LOX plant prior to going up to the flight deck for the daily program. Brian and Chuck told me their stories from the collision with the Cactus and the damage done to the LOX plant.
Troy, Chuck, and I went aft to the volunteer offices and found Karl Zingheim. Karl is one of the ship's curators and model builders. He showed us projects we was working on and the large collections of model kits he has that will be used to outfit the giant scale carrier models they plan on builing and displaying in the old AIMD spaces.
Up on the flight deck I finally got to meet Pete Young, ex-VA-115 BN and fellow Intruder Association member dispite me forgetting to call him. Pete and I have been corresponding on sponsoring Ready Room Five for Intruders and VA-115 and we feel the goal is obtainable.
During the program I ran in to Midway Forum member Dylumph. I really wanted to spend more time chatting and meeting his Dad. Sorry I missed you shipmate! Hope you and your Dad had a great visit. After the program I ran back to the hotel to pick Melanie and Kelsea so I could get back in time for a tour of the #3 Engine Room. I also got to see the Main Engine Control Room, Ship's Store, and finished up photographing the aft mess decks. Brian also gave us a look at the SAS cage and told us some cool stories about it.
We originally were all going to meet somewhere for dinner, but when the line was too long we decided to grab pizzas and hang out at our hotel's pool. Excellent call on the pizza by Chuck. Bronx Pizza was best I've had in a long time. We BS'd around the pool until they kicked us out around 10:00.
We took Kelsea to a puppet show in the morning after stopping by Chuck's to pick up a cruisebook (Thanks Chuck!). After that I went to the ship to meet Robert Anderson (Rander) and Bob Hartman (NavyBob) for a tour of the Restoration Hangar on North Island. Bob was too busy to get away so Rander and I went alone. The Lincoln had pulled in over night and had loaded a strange fuselage aboard. Troy had seen it earlier that week and thought is was an old YF-23. I've compared my photos with pics of the YF-23 and I don't think it is. To be honest, I don't know what the heck it is. *LOL*
Rander and I got to the hangar and it was closed. I shot a few photos through the gate, but that was as close as I got. We did get over to the gateguards and got photos of the display aircraft there.
Rander dropped me back off at the ship and I went aboard one last time to say some good byes and get photos of things I missed earlier. One of the spaces was flight deck control and there I ran in to Craig "Packrat" Brown. Craig was in VA-115 with me. I had run into him last January after the Bay Crossing and it was great BS'ing with him again and remembering old Eagles stories. Craig has also made a pledge to the Ready Room Five campaign. Thanks Bud!
That was the last time I was aboard during our trip. It was an amazing and draining experience. There are a few things that can be tweeked for improvement, but considering it was opening week I don't think you could ask for more. Attendence was much greater than what was planned. Daily visitors were at or over 3,000 every day and I believe it was over 4,200 each day of the weekend.
What was done well? Just about everything. My list of improvements and changes is small. They really need a changing table at least in the women's head. Laying your kid down on non-skid isn't an option. According to Melanie there is plenty of room in the head for just a plain table which would suffice. Also, it would be nice if the Cafe on the fantail had some items for kids even if it's just a PB&J. Lastly, shirt selection in the gift shop. Every shirt I found that I wanted wasn't available in XL.
I think the audio self tours were a huge hit. Docents were all very friendly and happy to talk to any visitor about anything. Modifications made to ship to accomidate ez access were all done very well. I was worried they would be distractions and they really weren't at all. There is already a great selection of static display aircraft and you won't believe the excellent work that has been done on them. They look better than fresh from the factory.
Finally, I have a list of folks I want to thank and I apoligize up front if I forget anyone. It was a long hectic week! *LOL* So, in no particular order... Vic Vydra, Bill Purcell, Troy Prince, Bob Hartman, Mac McLaughlin, Scott McGaugh, Robert Anderson, Brian Peller, Chuck Cavanaugh, Chuck Smiley, Dave Kinney, Karl Zingheim, and especially Pete Clayton. Thanks to all of you and the many other SDACM and Restoration Hangar volunteers that have made the USS Midway an amazing place to visit. I can't wait to see what you all have to show in the future!
This was mentioned on the forum much earlier but I failed to mention this is a timely manner here and I apologize! I found out from Bill Purcell that within days of mentioning the lack of a changing table in the heads and the lack of kid friendly food at the Fan Tail Cafe these items were taken care of... during opening week! That's outstanding! Bill tells me the PB&J sandwich is pretty popular too. ;)