Marines, museum foundation working to relocate vintage aircraft in Irvine Great Park, California.

“Lady Ace 09”, a CH-46E “Sea Knight” helicopter at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, was repainted and noticed in 2010 by Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 Marine Cells. Restoration updated the helicopter to look like it did during the evacuation of the Vietnamese ambassador during the fall of Saigon. (Sean McGinty/US Marine Corps)

(Tribune News Service) – The CH-46 helicopter that evacuated the ambassador and the flag from the roof of the American embassy during the fall of Saigon in 1975 could soon make another trip and land at Irvine Great Park in California. .

The helicopter and more than 40 other aircraft from the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum in San Diego may soon be on display in a newly restored hangar that was once part of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.

The base was the original home of the Aviation Museum when it was active in the late 1980s. Since then, American aviation artifacts have been housed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

Discussions between the Marine Corps, the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation and the City of Irvine are progressing to have the museum move to Orange County, and officials expect a deal soon that would result in a public/private partnership where the Marines would lend the plane and artifacts to display in the Great Park hangar.

“We are currently working with the Marine Corps on a draft memorandum of understanding that will allow Marines to loan the aircraft once the city and foundation are able to provide appropriate safety and security,” Marine said. Retired Brig. Gen. Mike Aguilar, executive director of the museum’s nonprofit foundation. “During discussions, we received their (Marines) 100% commitment to this project.”

Camp Pendleton officials have confirmed that the service branch is “ready to loan aircraft and smaller artifacts” when it “become a viable museum and able to properly care for artifacts.”

In the meantime, the Corps will maintain its planes at Miramar; ship smaller artifacts to the National Museum of the Marine Corps for cataloguing, preservation, and storage; and shipping archival materials to the Marine Corps History Division for cataloging, preservation, and storage.

“Our goal is to meet and exceed their requirements,” Aguilar said of the Great Park museum projects.

The proposed location is in a former Marine Corps hangar built during World War II, known as Hangar 296, which is east of the Great Park. The hangar is big enough to house all the planes and souvenirs.

Engineers are studying what restoring the hangar will entail, which is estimated to cost about $14 million, Irvine officials said. Irvine would essentially own the museum.

Mayor Farrah Khan said the installation of the museum in the Grand Park is “very important” for the city.

Many of the aircraft in the collection were already part of the museum while it was still part of the El Toro base.

“It will be like coming home,” she said. “As we develop the Grand Parc, it’s so important to know how it came about.”

The interior design and exhibition of the museum will be left to the foundation to develop. Some of the museum’s funding could come from private donations or corporate sponsorships.

“I am excited about the collegial effort between the Marine Corps, the foundation and Irvine to bring the Flying Aviation Museum back to the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro,” Aguilar said.

The museum, which in El Toro was the El Toro Historical Foundation and was under the direction of Brig. Gen. Jay Hubbard, moved to Miramar in 1998 when the base was decommissioned.

Hubbard’s vision was to preserve and tell the rich history of Marine Corps aviation on the West Coast, dating back to 1920. Most Corps air forces that deployed for combat and other contingencies have been trained in the Southern California constellation of air stations and facilities since the 1920s.

The museum’s collection of aircraft, exhibits and archives were moved to a site on Miramar Road adjacent to the air station. There, over the years, the aircraft collection grew to more than three dozen historic aircraft, some of them unique to the Marine Corps.

Amid budget constraints, the Miramar base closed the museum in 2020. Aguilar said the foundation was approached by Irvine to bring it back to where it was established in the late 1980s.

The museum’s collection, which actually belongs to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, is considered the only collection dedicated to aviation in the Marine Corps.

One, an Iraqi Bell 214 ST assault helicopter, was captured and acquired by retired Marine Colonel Charles Quilter of Laguna Beach following the seizure of Kuwait International Airport by the 1st Marine Division during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Quilter, an aviator and historian who flew F-18s for decades in the Marines, is grateful the museum’s plans are moving forward.

“As part of its planned Cultural Terrace, the City of Irvine is preparing to transform a sprawling historic hangar into what will be Orange County’s largest aviation museum, by square footage,” a- he declared. “Most importantly, the story of the Marine Corps Aviation’s role in Southern California will not only be preserved, but told well. I hope the museum’s modern design will make it a worthwhile experience.” to be lived.”

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