On Friday I not only had the chance to visit the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, but also to take the engineering tour which descends deep into the ship’s underbelly with one of the tour guides.
Oh and the best part? This was all for a work event so I was technically getting paid to be there.
What is it?
For those unfamiliar, the USS Hornet (CV-12) is a World War 2 era aircraft carrier that was mothballed in the 1970’s and was opened as a museum in 1998. In a lot of ways it’s similar to the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, another mothballed WWII aircraft carrier.
If you’ve been to the Midway, the Hornet is a little underwhelming — particularly the flight deck which currently only has two aircraft. That said it is worth climbing up to the flight deck for the great view of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay Bridge, weather permitting.
The main exhibits in the Hornet are largely based around various airplanes, helicopters, and NASA projects the ship was tasked with, from fighting Japan in WWII all the way up to picking up Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts.
What was the Hornet crew tasked with for the astronauts? They have that in their collection — the first moon astronauts were placed in quarantine in a modified Airstream trailer parked inside the Hornet. At the time there was a concern they might have picked up “moon germs” and started a pandemic. As ridiculous as moon germs may sound today, when it comes to pandemics I’m totally on board with a better safe than sorry approach.
The Engineering Tour
As a heads up all of the ship tours require an able body. I was a little apprehensive about some of the extremely steep stairs (they’re almost ladders) and low ceilings. The thing is the tour guides all served on either the Hornet or one of its sister ships and most are old enough to be my grandfather, and they’re all still nimble enough to go up and down the steep steps. So I had to figure if they can do it, so can I — even though I had to admit they’re faster at it than I am.
The engineering tour takes you down below water level to explore the ship’s massive steam engines. Some of the tour highlights include:
- Daily life on the ship, from the mess hall to the Marines running security to the limited fresh water available.
- The hydraulic mechanism that yanked the giant cables to “slingshot” airplanes off the flight deck.
- The absolutely massive steam engines and the primary control interface deep in the belly of the ship.
Our guide was great, happy to answer questions and even extended the tour a little when asked about the section where he worked.
The ferry is by far the easiest way to get to the USS Hornet Museum from San Francisco. SF Bay Ferry takes you from The Ferry Building to within a ten minute walk of the museum.
After exiting the ferry, turn right as soon as you hit the sidewalk and follow the signs. Not that you’ll need them, it’s pretty hard to miss a giant aircraft carrier.
There are plenty of dining and drinking options nearby. Although Alameda isn’t very pedestrian friendly it’s also almost entirely flat and the car traffic is light.
My recommendation: Anyone interested in US military history and NASA history will be interested in the main exhibits. You must be able to climb stairs to visit at all. Tours and the flight deck both require climbing extremely steep stairs.