Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation Update – September 2023


At the Grampaw Pettibone Squadron, September 14, 2023 meeting, Brigadier General Michael J. Aguilar USMC (Ret.) provided an update on the plans for the relocation of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum (FLAM) to the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, currently known as the Great Park.  As the CEO/President of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation (FLHF), General Aguilar holds a central position in the rebirth of the museum which was closed in April 2021 from its current location at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, San Diego.

The leadership of the FLHF is chaired by retired Lt. General Terry M. Robling USMC(ret), formerly the Deputy Commandant for Aviation and  BGen Michael J. Aguilar, formerly Deputy Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces South, Miami, Florida, and commanding general, Fleet Marine Forces South.  In addition to these two gentlemen, the foundation Board of Directors is made up of retired military personnel, many with aviation background as well as a host of local businessmen and community leaders with an interest in the rebirth of the museum in the local Orange County area.

During its 21-year operation at MCAS Miramar, the museum received financial support from the United States Marine Corps.  In 2021, the Marine Corps ceased supporting the museum operation causing it to be permanently closed.  The museum supporters began a search for a new location.

Research by the FLHF led to discussion with the City of Irvine and subsequent decision to relocate the museum back to its former home at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, which had closed in 1999.

In May 2022, the City of Irvine approved $20 million for the transportation of the museum collection and construction of an interim museum facility at Great Park.

The following are milestones for the project.

  • Site preparation by city is underway
    • Agreement with city for storage of collection at Great Park signed
    • Agreement with USMC for loan of aircraft collection signed
    • Agreement for transportation of collection pending
    • Agreement for restoration of museum collection pending

The General introduced the audience to the proposed location of the new sites at Great Park.  Restoration of an existing building 297, along with construction of a new 100,000 square foot building that will be known as Cultural Terrace West and will be shared with other new attractions at the park.

The current schedule is to move the aircraft collection from Miramar to Great Park and store them in   building 297, which is the storage and restoration center.  The collection will be moved to the new building after the building is ready.

The current collection will contain 40 aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary on static display.  With the exception of four larger aircraft, the remaining collection will be housed inside the new hangar.  Each of the aircraft will be accompanied by signs indicating the aircraft history.

The museum will be purposefully built not only to address the aircraft history, but also to display and provide examples for the development of education programs meeting the approach to the STEM (Scientific, Technology, Engineering, Math) education standards.  It is the desire of the museum leadership to make the location a source for Marine Corps Aviation research, expanded understanding of aviation and technology and inspire today’s students to consider this path for their future.

Our speaker shared with the audience the proposed display/exhibit model aircraft selection.  Utilizing resources from AI displays, miniature and life-size diorama displays, simulation events as well as interactive examples to enable visitors a higher level of human engagement with computer generated real-time interactive content.

The General emphasized the need for and presence of docents who can tell the story associated with particular displays or the aircraft featured in the museum.  Knowledge, skill and the ability to share the information with visitors will be part of the interaction.  The organizers of the museum are inspired to make the experience educational as well as entertaining for guests.

Included in the aircraft inventory for the museum, is “Lady Ace,” the helicopter that evacuated the U.S. ambassador from the embassy’s rooftop in Saigon on April 30, 1975.

Exhibits will also include US Marine Corps examples of the military engagements from World War II to the present.  Other exhibits will contain not only examples of Marine Corps aviation, but also the various programs that comprise the education and training support for the service.  Such programs will include: radar and electronic countermeasures development, wind tunnel testing, air traffic control, flight simulation, night vision AR and VR events, cartography and ejection seat development.

Simulation exercises will be available for visitors to understand Orienteering and select options to safely return to their home base after bailing out of their aircraft.

Historical information will be part of the museum interaction, including over 600 personal stories told by veterans that are recorded and available for visitors.

Each of the museum areas are in the conceptual stage.  Some may evolve as presented while others may require intermediate steps.  The current schedule from proposal to opening will run from early 2023 to early 2026.  This is both for the building design and construction as well as exhibit preparation, aircraft and artifact relocation, restoration, reassembly and display.

Grampaw Pettibone Squadron extends, their thanks to General Aguilar for this presentation and the wish for a successful development and opening of the Flying Leatherneck Museum.

Pictured from left to right: Grampaw Pettibone Squadron (GPS) Commander, Tim Brown, Speaker – General Mike Aguilar, USMA (Ret.), GPS Staff – Vince Van der Brink, GPS PAO-David Malmad, GPS Staff – Cindy Macha


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