Midway Museum draws crowds in San Diego

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Visitors explore the hangar deck on the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. (Photos courtesy of Midway Museum

<p>By Richard Irwin Travel Editor</p>

<p>My brothers leaned forward in the air boss’ seat high up in Pri-Fly tower jutting over the flight deck of the USS Midway in San Diego.</p>
<p>Navy jets spread out below him, giving this Easterner a unique perspective that he would never get in Pittsburgh. But then, San Diego has always been a big Navy town.</p>
<p>It was only appropriate that they sample some naval history during a recent vacation.</p>
<p>We were surprised by the tight, steep ladders we had to climb to reach the Primary Flight control center of the Midway; the longest serving carrier in the 20th century.</p>
<p>But the view, with the beautiful harbor glistening far below, made it worthwhile. Our guide explained that the air boss controls everything from the flight deck up to 25,000 feet.</p>
<p>Another level in the island bristled with navigation equipment used to guide the ship around the world for 47 years. Commissioned one week after the end of World War II, the Midway’s odyssey ended as the flagship in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm.

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<p>The pride poured into this museum shows and visitors have responded. The Midway has become the most-visited floating ship museum in the world, with more than four million visitors from 2004 to 2009.</p>
<p>Clambering back down, we toured the large flight deck, which features 26 meticulously restored aircraft. Everything from the huge Skywarrior, the largest aircraft to operate off American carriers, to the tiny Skyhawks used in Vietnam squatted on the deck.</p>
<p>The Midway has aircraft from all the wars, ranging from World War II to Desert Storm.</p>
<p>Be sure to stop at the forward catapult, where a museum docent will explain how the steam-driven system shoots a 45,000-pound plane from 0 to 165 mph in a couple seconds.</p>
<p>These volunteers are often retired Naval officers. The ones who helped us flew Crusader jetfighters off the pitching deck.</p>
<p>Another docent showed us how a tailhook grabs an arresting cable to slow a plane from 150 mph in 315 feet of landing space.</p>
<p>Below is a huge hangar deck, where aircraft was stored and repaired. This large space also has aircraft on display, as well as flight simulators that anyone can enjoy for a additional cost.</p>
<p>Visitors receive digital audio guides to show them around the rest of the ship. The audio tour explains what life in this floating city was like. A cook describes how they prepared 13,500 meals every day in the shiny galleys below.</p>
<p>There’s also a barbershop, hospital, post office and brig below. Visitors can also drop down to the engine room to see how the giant boilers produced 212,000 horsepower to drive the warship through the water.</p>
<p>The Midway is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $17 adults, $9 for kids 6-17 and free for kids 5 and under.</p>
<p>If you have any energy or time left, leave the car in the parking lot and walk down North Harbor Drive to the nearby Maritime Museum.</p>

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<p>There they can explore the Soviet attack submarine used to stalk American carrier groups. Carrying 24 torpedoes, including some with nuclear warheads, the low-tech Foxtrot hunted U.S. warships for 20 years. </p>
<p>A word of warning, however: If you have trouble climbing, bending and crouching then you don’t want to tour this submarine. We still can’t figure out how they managed to cram 78 men into this tin can.</p>
<p>The HMS Surprise docked next to her is a replica of a 24-gun Royal Navy frigate from Lord Nelson’s era. Russell Crowe commanded this ship in the Academy Award winning film “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” </p>
<p>The attention to detail is quite striking. And the many exhibits do a good job of explaining what life was like for sailors in the 18th century. </p>
<p>The flagship has to be the Star of India, the world’s oldest active ship according to museum officials. Launched in 1863, she was one of the first iron ships. </p>
<p>The Star’s woodwork is very impressive, as is the size of her holds. Visitors can go below to learn the history of this majestic sailing ship. </p>
<p>The museum also has many other exhibits and vessels to explore. It is open every day from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is $14 for adults, $8 for kids 6-17, and free for children 5 and under. For more information, check the Web site www.sdmaritime.org</p>
<p>richard.irwin@sgvn.com </p>
<p>(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801 </p>

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