Last week I visited Moffett Field and its Museum. Located in Mountain View beside the Bay, the airfield has served as a military presence in Silicon Valley since the 1930’s. Moffett Field began as a Naval Air Station in 1931, became an army base (1935-42), the headquarters for early space research (NACA in 1939 and NASA in 1958), and a site for the National Guard. The base was decommissioned in 1991 but continues to serve as a federal airfield, a NASA research center, and even a testing ground for the Google driverless car. Admiral Moffett, for whom this airfield was named, was a Naval officer who was an early director of Naval Aviation and the first chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. He was killed in 1933 in the crash of the USS Akron, part of the early fleet of lighter- than-air dirigibles for the US Navy. Moffett Field is distinguished by the prominent structure known as Hanger One. This 8-acre storage facility was built in 1933 to shelter up to 3 large dirigibles for the Navy. Of the early dirigibles, only the USS Macon was housed in Hanger One. The Macon, built in 1933, was a sister ship to the USS Akron. It was designed for scouting and for training, and could store up to 5 Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk fighters in its hold. It would deploy those fighters from an lowered trapeze, hooking the planes until ready to fly. The Macon’s logo was a cartoon-like image of 2 trapeze artists. The Macon visited Moffett Field only once in 1934. By 1935 it too had crashed, taking with it plans to build more dirigibles and bring them to Moffett Field. In 1999 tests showed that the outer skin of Hanger One contained toxic PCBs and the Navy was charged with cleaning it up. Unsatisfied by attempts to coat the skin with impervious substances, the Navy decided to remove the toxic outer skin in 2011. Since then the structure has remained open and bare, a network of steel girders without an exterior. Recently Google signed a 60-year lease for Hanger One. Google plans to spend $200 million for re-skinning and improving the property. The Moffett Field Museum showcases the history of this airfield, displaying books, photographs, artifacts and aircraft from past decades.
The Museum features:
- The story of the original 1,700 acre Mexican land grant (Rancho Posolmi), given to an Ohlone named Lupe Ynigo, in 1844, and the subsequent sale of the land grant to settlers
- Efforts by San Francisco and other cities to encourage the Navy to build a Naval base along the South Bay. In 1931 the cities purchased 1000 acres for $476,000 and sold it to the Navy for only $1. Fortunately, this gamble paid off and the Navy chose to build an air base in Mountain View, investing $5 million in immediate improvements.
- Scale models of Hanger One and the dirigibles inside
- Aircraft of the 1930s-1960s
- Information about WWII, the army base and its famous soldier Jimmy Stewart
- An Electronic warfare exhibit
The museum is open 10-2 Thursday thru Saturday. Admission is $8.