The City of Irvine Neglects and Destroys PV-1 Ventura

The Ventura following the application of a coat of white paint to the aircraft's undersides. (image via Tom O'Hara)
Aircorps Art Dec 2019


By Adam Estes

A year ago, we reported on the efforts undertaken by the city of Irvine, California’s efforts to acquire and restore a WWII-veteran Lockheed PV-1 Ventura patrol bomber, Bureau Number (BuNo) 33327 (The City of Irvine’s Lockheed PV-1 Ventura | Vintage Aviation News (vintageaviationnews.com)). To summarize, the aircraft had been stationed with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) at RCAF Terrace Station on Terrace Island, British Columbia before returning to the United States and was converted into a Howard 350 executive transport, and after a series of owners, was damaged by Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans Lakefront Airport. Shortly after this, the city of Irvine purchased the former bomber in 2008 as part of the development of a museum on the ground of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, which is now the site of the Orange County Great Park, a multi-purpose development for housing, public parks, entertainment, and galleries for arts and culture.

Photo taken by Eric Shively, on November 11, 2023

However, the city also purchased two WWII training aircraft in the form of a North American SNJ-5 Texan (BuNo 43921 – formerly AT-6D 42-88402) and a Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3 (BuNo 04425), with the intention of these aircraft being placed inside a museum dedicated to the military aviation history of the site, and as a tribute to local veterans, many of whom once served at El Toro during their time in the USMC. Over the next seven years, from 2008 to 2015, a dedicated team of restorers worked on the Ventura using Hangar 114 as their main restoration facility. In 2015, however, work was halted on the project, and the aircraft was then kept in storage in another of the former El Toro hangars, this one being once used by Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 (HMM-268; the Red Dragons).

The blue camouflage paint going on during the respray. (image via Tom O’Hara)

Sadly, the old Ventura was left to rot and collect dust in this hangar and was subject to vandalism by trespassers. All the way, new housing, schools, and parks were being constructed near the abandoned hangars off Cadence. In 2022, the city of Irvine and the Great Park council announced the demolition of some of the abandoned Marine infrastructure remaining on the site. In all public announcements, no mention was given of the status or future of the Ventura in the old HMM-268 hangar. There was some hope that the Ventura would be saved when the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum joined the picture.

Originally founded as the El Toro Historical Center and Command Museum at MCAS El Toro in 1989, the closure of MCAS El Toro in 1999 would see the collection moved to MCAS Miramar, just north of San Diego, would it would operate as the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum (FLAM) until 2021, when budget cuts forced the Marine-funded museum to close, and for some of its aircraft to find new homes at separate museums across the country. But luck and public support was on the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation’s side as they reached an agreement with local public officials for the museum to return to the site of MCAS El Toro, taking up the old Marine Air Group 46 (MAG-46) hangars, not far from the two training aircraft at Hangar 244. As of now, the MAG-46 hangars (Hangars 296 and 297) are being decontaminated from the decades-worth of chemicals from the base’s active days as the surrounding buildings have been demolished by contractors from the city. As author of the previous Ventura article, I reached out to retired Brigadier General Michael Aguilar, CEO of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum for comments about the Ventura, and he replied that it was his hope that the museum foundation could work with the city and park councils for them to either loan or donate the aircraft to the museum, especially since the former HMM-268 hangar was only a mile from the MAG-46 hangars that were reserved for the (FLAM).

But this very month (November 2023), contractors at Unlimited Environmental Inc were hired by the park and city councils to demolish the old buildings at Cadence and Pusan Way. Among these was the HMM-268 hangar, and infuriatingly, PV-1 BuNo 33327 was scrapped on site, and its remains were trucked away, along with the remains of the old buildings. Nothing but the concrete foundation and small piles of rubble remain. To add insult to injury, General Aguilar and the museum foundation were not informed until after the fact that the Ventura had been scrapped. The site of the old hangars and of the PV-1 Ventura are to be slated for a new library and an arboretum, which will be expected to be completed within the next couple of years.

Perhaps the greatest source of frustration for those who played a role in the story of PV-1 BuNo 33327, which had so dutifully served the Allies in WWII, had soldiered on until the hands of Mother Nature grounded her, and then to be shipped across the country to be restored by a passionate team largely made of volunteers, only for the volunteers to be dismissed is the fact that the city council, park officials, and developers allowed the aircraft and the hangar it was in to be neglected and to deteriorate to a point that they considered this aircraft which had been intended for public display worthless to the point that no objections were raised to its destruction at the hands of contractors who saw its destruction as just another day’s work.

As of now, the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum is preparing to move its fleet up Interstate 5 back to Irvine following the modernizations to accommodate museum-goers, with the museum hoping to open its doors by 2025. Let’s just hope that the city planners and developers don’t have anything to say about the treatment of the incoming aircraft.

Aerial View of Hangar 296 at Great Park, Irvine, CA, the future home of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum.

17 Comments

  1. What a crying shame! Shades of Meigs Field! I was acquainted with this aircraft when it was for sale many years ago in Maryland as a Howard 350. It’s owners had had a fire on the right engine and some structural damage existed. The airplane was later purchased by a wealthy collector in New Orleans and was tied down at KNEW when hurricane Katrina struck. I saw a couple of photos of the airplane on its back. Heard later that it was somehow moved (transported) to a location on the West coast. Glad but, sad, to know the final fate of this once grand old bird.

    • It’s all a concerted effort by OC politicians to eradicate the military history of OC ! Tustin Hangar,Mile Square aux field, El Toro, etc

  2. This is a terrible loss to aviation lovers, and when the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum returns to Irvine, I hope they contract Worldwide Aircraft Movement, to help move their aircraft. This company specializes in disassembly of aircraft via the factory break points, which allows them to break down the aircraft for transport to a new location, and faster reassembly, whereas other contractors would just cut up the planes before moving them.

  3. Let’s go trash their cars and homes and anything of value since those who allowed this to happen don’t care or appreciate things. Better yet, if we ever get invaded, let them be captured since they have no respect for the history of our country and the thousands of sacrificed.

  4. A correction: the Ventura was not purchased, it was donated (at least according to articles published in the Orange County Register back in 2008 when the aircraft was acquired).

    This is the sort of thing that keeps happening with the Great Park. Something is supposed to happen (like an air museum). Some money gets spent, but there’s little or no progress, and then the project gets abandoned. Unsurprising, given that the Great Park was not born out of a desire for a park, but out a desire to NOT have an airport.

    • Fully agree. I was a controller from 77-79 at MCAS El Toro an aviation museum would have been nice to represent the rears of military aviation and those who died while flying into and out of the station. But it is California so who is surprised.

  5. Jumpin Jehosafats….
    Grandpa Pettibone sez the Marines got coldcocked on this manuever….Thanks so much dear city of Irvine….hopefully you won’t need the Corps to spearhead for you anytime soon. I flew A4’s out of El Toro in the early 80’s. Since BRAC things have turned quite brackish for our beloved El Toro….what a shame.

  6. This is especially distressing news to the Ventura Memorial Flight Association in Canada. Some background.

    This aircraft was RCAF #2198, purchased in 1943 and served with #149 (BR) Sqn. in Annette Island in Alaska, then in Terrace, BC. It served alongside our aircraft #2195, and #2193, among others.

    In October 1943 #2193 went missing in Alaska with 4 RCAF crew. It was not found until 1948. At that time it was discovered that some of the crew had survived the crash but were trapped in the wreckage. One kept a diary for 11 days, a very sad event.

    Postwar #2198 and #2195 were stored at Vulcan, Alberta. Some were there for only a few months, including #2195, before being converted to gunnery trainers. All the others, including #2198, were later purchased by Dee Howard for conversion to executive aircraft.

    #2195 was sold in the 1950s to a photo survey company as CF-FAV. Again a sister aircraft, CF-FAW/#2233, went missing, in Labrador, and has never been found. CF-FAV force-landed in a remote area in the Arctic, and was recovered in 1988. It is different from all the others that is served with in that it was never converted and remains in it’s original condition.

    It is sad that the Ventura, which served so well in so many areas, is such a neglected aircraft that one survivor can be scrapped and junked without any notice.

  7. Don’t blame the state of California or the county of Orange. It’s the City of Irvine. They didn’t just neglect to death. A wonderful old WW2 warbird, they worked very hard NOT to save air El Toro Marine Air Base and turn it into an international airport!

  8. Forwarded By Darren Paches, Ventura Memorial Flight Association, Edmonton Alberta, Original email by Paul Squires, VMFA also.RCAFVentura@Hotmail.com
    You think an aircraft that is has been taken on as a restoration project has some protection, but then something like this happens.

    This is especially distressing to me, as a member of the Ventura Memorial Flight Association, which has saved and hopes to restore RCAF Ventura #2195.

    This aircraft was RCAF #2198, and served in #149 (BR) Sqn. alongside our Ventura and #2193 at Annette Island, Alaska, then at Terrace, BC. #2193 was lost October 1943 with 4 RCAF on board and was not found until 1948, when it was discovered that some of the crew were alive after the crash and unable to get out of the wreckage. One kept a diary for 11 days, and they could hear some of the aircraft searching for them.

    We don’t often remember those lost in North America, but this was especially grim.

    Postwar this aircraft and ours were stored at Vulcan, Alberta, then they parted ways, #2195 was one of several selected for further use and was flown to the new company Avro Canada to be refurbished as a gunnery trainer. The others on site were all purchased by Dee Howard for conversion to Howard 250, 350 and pressurized 500 executive transports. He had been looking for PV-1s for this and Vulcan was a treasure trove; most USN Ventura’s had already been scrapped.

    It is said that so many parts had been removed from the Vulcan Ventura’s that at least one was flown to Texas with the pilot sitting on an orange crate for a seat!

    Why it the US Marine Corps interested in Venturas? Well, during the Solomons campaign they discovered they needed an effective night-fighter to deal with Japanese bombers. They wanted Beaufighters, but there were none to spare. But the British were able to provide the radar sets. So the Marines modified Venturas with the radars, because the Ventura had a performance similar to the Beaufighter (actually better). Thus the US had it’s first successful night-fighter, but it served in a remote area, and it’s purpose was secret at the time and it had no special designation, so it gets little recognition.

    Many of the ‘PV-1’ aircraft in museums today are ex-RCAF and Dee Howard conversions. This includes the one stored at the USMC Museum in Quantico, one under re-build in Florida, and the RAAF aircraft now on display. All of these came from Vulcan and all require major work to make them look like ‘PV-1s’. The exception is #2195, which after service with the RCAF was used by Spartan Air Services and is still in it’s original PV-1 Ventura condition, the last RCAF Ventura.

    But this story is about #2198, and how easy it is to lose heritage if no one fights for it.

    I thought you’d like to know about this story and it’s Canadian connection. And if you want to help protect other historic aircraft, consider joining the Canadian Aeronautical Preservation Association (applications attached).

    Paul Squires
    Wetaskiwin, Alberta

  9. Orange County sure has had some “solutions” to problems they couldn’t solve lately. Hanger just magically catches fire and burns to the ground. Mysterious “scrapping” of a wwII bird. Just disgusted at the whole of Comiefornia!

  10. I was a part of the team working on these aircraft while in High School at Woodbridge High in Irvine. 2010-2014 were the years I spent countless evenings working on the SNJ, N3N and PV-1. This is an absolute gut punch coming from the City of Irvine which I now consider near dead to me. I had reached out to Brig Gen. Aguilar some months ago about attempting a game plan to save that plane. The fact that they reached out to NOBODY before scrapping the Ventura is downright neglectful and damn near abusive. Irvine will be hearing from me about this. Beyond mad and disappointed.

    • Was some good times back then, so sad what’s happening these days. So many long days and nights working to get those birds airworthy, all for nothing, at least the SNJ and the N3N are still in good condition, was just there with my dad the day before the city burned down the Tustin hangar

    • Hi Jason,

      Thanks for sharing this! I’m a reporter at the OC Register looking into this matter and wanted to ask if you’d be available to chat about this. You can reach me at hkang@scng.com. Hope to hear from you soon!

  11. A bunch of IDIOTS, with no clue what the PV-1 Ventura was, allowed this to happen. Prob less than 11 of these in the world in 2023. I mean seriously? Flying Leathernecks personnel should have been allowed to evaluate and possibly move the aircraft to where the FLN museum is being located too. What a loss. (shaking head).

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