July 17, 2022

Museum Review - USS Hornet

After the main DSL meetup officially finished, I organized the last museum ship visit of the trip, to the aircraft carrier Hornet in Alameda.1 Knowing that this would be a bigger ship, and easier to take a group through, I opened it up, announcing it both here and via the rationalist group meetup system, which brought 8 or so people I'd never met out of the woodwork. Add on cassander, Garrett, Evan and CatCube, and it was a good-size group.

Type: Aircraft carrier that served from WWII through 1970
Location: Alameda, California
Rating: 4.4/5, A very nice place to visit, with some cool planes and lots of the ship open
Price: $20 for normal adults


Hornet herself is an interesting ship, one of the Essex class carriers that bore the brunt of the fighting during the later half of the Pacific War. She served well throughout, although she was stateside at the end of the war after getting her bow smashed in by a typhoon. Postwar, she was part of the first batch of refits to fly jets and got an angled deck, but she never got steam catapults, limiting her utility in the strike role, so from 1958 on, she was classified as an anti-submarine carrier (CVS). In this role, she supported operations off Vietnam, and in the twilight of her career served as the recovery ship for the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions before being retired in 1970.

One of the guests, cassander and me2

On the whole, Hornet was done well. A lot of the ship was open, there was plenty of signage, and a reasonable number of airplanes to look at. And the price was very reasonable for a ship of this size, much less those of the Bay Area, making it not even the most expensive ship I toured during my visit.3 General admission covers the hangar deck, the flight deck, and the deck below the hangar, which has a lot of living spaces. This is all we got to, as we ran out of time, but the island and engines can be accessed by docent-lead tours that cost $10 each and are posted to take an hour or so, run multiple times a day. This strikes me as a very smart way to run the ship, although it is going to be more labor-intensive than the way Iowa does it, with tours only on the weekends. But she seemed pretty well-staffed, so I wouldn't begrudge them too much. Unfortunately, I didn't have much opportunity to interact with the staff, because I was talking for nearly the entire time, except when Cassander seized the reins and I got to breathe.4

The hangar deck was done quite well, with an F-14 Tomcat, an F-8 Crusader, an FM Wildcat, an FJ Fury, a TA-4J, a UH-34, an SH-2 and SH-3, an S-2 Tracker and a TBM Avenger. At the aft end, they did have an F-4 Phantom, although it was being painted while we were there, delaying Cassander's description of the various fighter generations. Also in the hangar was an exhibit on the Apollo 11 recovery, with a version of the Mobile Quarantine Lab that was provided for the astronauts to make sure they didn't bring any diseases back from the Moon. It was also home to the gift shop and some minor artifacts, including a B57 nuclear bomb/depth charge.

A lecture on the flight deck

The fight deck appears to be undergoing some sort of work, with only two planes displayed, a T-28 Trojan trainer and an S-3 Viking. Signage was largely absent, but it did give us a chance to talk about flight ops and even about the guns, both 5"/38 and 3"/50, visible below the edge of the deck, including an explanation of the proximity fuze. The lower deck was much better. The various spaces were dressed well, looking like they were reasonably lived in, and covered a nice variety from enlisted berthing to the chapel, sick bay, and officer's wardroom. There were also exhibits on various topics, although we didn't have time to look at any of them, and several seemed to be closed for renovation. A particular highlight was the torpedo workshop, which was gorgeous and had two torpedoes, one Mk 13 and the other a Mk 45 ASTOR. It didn't make any sense to have there, but I still loved it very much, as you can see from the photo below.

So on the whole, I would very much recommend Hornet. She didn't quite reach the heights of Midway or Iowa, but she's definitely worth a visit if you're in the area, and even consideration as a destination if you don't. In particular, I like the way the special tours are run, although it's worth pointing out that we were there for 3.5 hours and didn't get to see everything under General Admission. Some of that was the group size slowing us a bit and some was the fact that it was guided and we kept stopping to explain things, but expect a long day if you want to see the whole ship. But it will be a very good day, as my day on the Hornet was.

1 The only major Bay Area museum ship I didn't get to was Red Oak Victory up in Richmond, but it's hard to see her being a better option than Jeremiah O'Brien.

2 This and later photos courtesy of Garrett.

3 Yes, I am kind of annoyed at Pampanito and very annoyed at the National Park Service.

4 In seriousness, he's a pretty decent tour guide, and if you get a chance to follow him through something like this, you should take it, unless the alternative is me. I won't quit halfway through. The other three DSLers also helped out on occasion, which I appreciated.


  1. July 17, 2022Emilio said...

    Oh, we were on the same ship!


    I was there in 1999... :-D

  2. July 17, 2022Mike Kozlowski said...

    ...Okay, the flight deck pic raises a question I've had ever since I was aboard YORKTOWN for the first time 29 years ago - did the ESSEX refits still have wooden decks throughout their careers? I was under the impression that they got steel plate flight decks during their refits, but I know YORKTOWN still has some wooden planks topside (though it's slowly being replaced with steel plate)and your flight deck pic of HORNET shows what appears to be planking.

  3. July 18, 2022bean said...


    I'm not really sure. I found a 1984 photo of Lexington which seems to show steel in most areas and wooden planks on the outer edge. So it's very possible that different ships got different amounts of steel at various points. Friedman might have answers.

  4. July 18, 2022Garrett said...

    My uninformed opinion: the Jeremiah O’Brien was a better museum experience than the USS Hornet. Make no mistake - an aircraft carrier is a hell of a lot cooler than a mass-produced cargo ship. But the O'Brien had enough density that everywhere you stepped you both had enough room to stand and something substantial new and exciting to learn.

    In contrast, the Hornet frequently felt empty, like it was trying to find stuff to fill up space with. Granted, it's an aircraft carrier so there was a lot of space to fill up and only so much stuff. But it still had the feeling that I had to do a lot more walking for the amount of "stuff" there was to see.

  5. July 18, 2022bean said...

    Interesting. I can see where you're coming from, and you're not wrong, although I do wonder how much of the difference is from the context you experienced the ships in. Large-group tours are a very different thing from hanging out with a small group aboard a ship, and there are definitely plenty of things I might have mentioned aboard Hornet if I wasn't in full-on tour guide mode and handling the logistics of getting a dozen people through the ship.

    On the other hand, yeah, O'Brien was a lot smaller, and could close off the boring bits in a way that Hornet couldn't.

  6. July 19, 2022Chris Bradshaw said...

    Regarding the aircraft at the aft of the hangar deck, isn't that clearly an F-14 instead of an F-4?

  7. July 19, 2022bean said...

    Oops. Forgot to list that. There was also an F-4 elsewhere in the hangar. I am able to tell the two apart.

  8. November 15, 2022William France said...

    The torpedoes the hornets torpedo repair/storage area, came from nas Alameda naval Air station officers mess walkway, when the base closed / was decommissioned the ship acquired the torpedoes, they were painted with American flags with stars I believe they were used as lampposts / decorations the ship acquired them added the propeller guard and placed them on display one torpedo is also displayed under the TBM aircraft, not historically accurate to ship or aircraft that may have used them, these torpedoes may have been fired from a submarine, not a naval warship

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