The Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum is expected to return to its original locale in Irvine, California, in late 2023 after losing its agreement last year to operate at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
The museum was converted into a nonprofit and signed an agreement last year with the city of Irvine to relocate to a hangar at the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, not far from its original site.
Now, according to museum president retired Brig. Gen. Michael Aguilar, the organization is finalizing a memorandum of understanding with the Marine Corps to retain 40 aircraft in its collection and numerous artifacts and is receiving support from Irvine for renovating the World War II-era hangar.
"At least two of the larger [aircraft] will be put outside, and of course, there will be some aircraft that will be in the restoration process, but the vast majority of the aircraft collection will be indoors," Aguilar said Monday during an interview with Military.com.
The museum closed its doors on March 28, 2021, after the Marine Corps stopped providing funds to pay five employees and cover maintenance and utilities, roughly $460,000 a year.
At the time, Corps officials said it had cost the service roughly $8 million in the past two decades.
Two museums are largely responsible for the aircraft and artifacts: the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia, and the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. The Pensacola museum will retain the seven aircraft it owns while the remaining Marine Corps museum aircraft will be relocated.
The museum's aircraft include the CH-46E Sea Knight that evacuated the U.S. ambassador from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon in 1975, an OV-10 Bronco observation plane and a World War II PBJ-IJ medium bomber.
Under the agreement, the city will contribute the funding to restore the hangar, while the museum association will renovate the interiors and office spaces, according to Aguilar. The nonprofit has been taking pledges as it awaits the final agreement with the Marine Corps to ink the deal, he added, raising almost $5 million.
At Miramar, the museum was free and attracted roughly 35,000 visitors per year. Aguilar said that when it reopens at the former El Toro, now called Great Park, the museum will charge a small admission fee but has high hopes for increased attendance.
Aguilar hopes the museum will reopen in the "last quarter of fiscal 2023" or by early 2024. The museum, which was established at El Toro in 1989 as the Jay W. Hubbard Aviation Museum, moved to Miramar ten years later when El Toro closed.
"There's really nothing like it in Orange County," Aguilar said. "We feel very confident we are going to be able to be successful."
– Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.