The USS Hornet: Alameda’s Own Aircraft Carrier

Tuesday August 30, 2016

Bean became obsessed with airplanes and piloting last spring. As the weeks pass and her obsession grows, we’ve been seeking out any museum, book, or Person of Note in the Bay Area to satiate this 3 year old’s fixation.

Today, her curiosity took us to the USS Hornet in Alameda (courtesy of free tickets via the SF Library Discover & Go Program) and what a fascinating place. We were lucky enough to join a docent tour with two international commercial pilots, making a brief stop in Oakland before they fly back to Oslo tonight.

All while touring the USS Midway in San Diego a few years ago, I had no idea we had our very own decommissioned aircraft carrier right here in the Bay Area. Driving through the desolate industrial edge of Alameda, I still didn’t quite believe there was an aircraft carrier museum hanging out until suddenly there she was, berthed between active naval vessels all with panoramic views of San Francisco.

The USS Hornet (commissioned in 1943) is a couple years older than San Diego’s USS Midway (commissioned in 1945). It actually saw fighting in World War II. She also took part in Vietnam, but the biggest surprise and highlight of all was her part in the Apollo 11 mission, aka The Moon One/

On July 29, 1969, the USS Hornet and a naval helicopter retrieved Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins from their space module floating in the Pacific. Their first footsteps back on Earth are recorded on the USS Hornet’s hangar floor. We all obligatorily walked in their literal footsteps, as any visitor will be compelled to do. (They were immediately shuttled to a airstream trailer for 21 days of quarantine. The airstream trailer is also part of the USS Hornet’s Apollo mission display.)

The history of the museum runs deep, and I recommend joining a docent tour if you can in order not to miss out. Our docent pointed out the airplane George H.W. Bush flew in World War II, the airplane flown by Tom Cruise in Top Gun (not the actual planes, but the same makes). He would casually throw out drips of Mach 1 and Mach 2’s as we toured around, along with stories about basketball games on the aircraft elevator or USO concerts in the hangar. Or passing a locked door, mention that’s where they kept the nuclear bomb. You know, just in case, never know. (The Scandinavians proceeded to lose their calm, mild-mannered minds.)

On the flight deck, he explained the catapult system that would launch an aircraft on less than 200 ft of runway while our commercial pilots gasped and laughed that there was NO WAY this was possible.

And yet, it is, and it was all possible back in 1945. There is nothing like touring a 70 year old military ship to appreciate how massively skilled and dedicated all the men and women are who engineer, build, and operate these behemoths are (and yes, women built this thing).

While we walk through and skitter “OH MY GOD I COULD NEVER!”s, there have been tens of thousands of people who have and people who currently are.


The USS Hornet Museum

707 West Hornet Avenue, Alameda, CA

Open 10am – 5pm daily

Adults $20; Seniors, Military & Students $15, Youth $10, and all children under 6 are free

The museum doesn’t allow any bag larger than 12x12x8, so keep your backpacks in the car or pay $3 for a locker (if available)



More reading:

Reliving 1940s San Francisco at Lands End

A Marin Headlands Hike and Golden Gate Bridge Sunset

Hiking the Berkeley Steps

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