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Misawa Naval Air Facility will loan this P-3A Orion to Misawa Aviation and Science Museum in Misawa city, Japan.
Misawa Naval Air Facility will loan this P-3A Orion to Misawa Aviation and Science Museum in Misawa city, Japan. (Kelton Washington / Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — A Navy airplane that could have been salvaged for parts and dispatched to a boneyard instead will become a hands-on outdoor educational display at Misawa Aviation and Science Museum in Misawa city.

Misawa Naval Air Facility is loaning a P-3A Orion aircraft to the museum, which opened in August.

It’s a significant gesture, say Navy officials.

“As far as I know, it’s the first time the Navy has made a major donation to a Japanese museum in northern Japan,” Commander Naval Forces Japan spokesman Jon Nylander said.

Officially, the aircraft is a loan, but it’s a donation in spirit, said Cmdr. Steve Visser, air facility executive officer.

The Navy will maintain ownership and continue with periodic maintenance and cleaning, officials said.

“It’s like a permanent loan,” Visser said. “It will never leave, but if for some reason we want it back, we can get it back.”

The P-3 was designed as an anti-submarine patrol aircraft. But the plane was modified for transport and most recently used to shuttle the 7th Fleet commander, officials said. It’s now assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One at Misawa.

P-3As entered service in 1962, and the 7th Fleet aircraft was starting to show its age, according to officials.

“There were structural problems with the plane,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sam Valencia, air facility operations officer, noting it hasn’t flown in more than a year. “It was a better value to get rid of it than to fix it.”

Former air facility commanding officer Capt. Richard High thought loaning the plane to the museum would be a good way to enhance relations with the local Japanese community, Valencia said.

But first there were many hoops to jump through, as Navy officials at Misawa wanted “to give the Japanese folks a good-quality display,” Valencia said.

Navy officials worked with the State Department and Naval Inventory Control Point in Philadelphia, Pa., among other agencies, to approve the loan, Valencia said.

Some parts, such as the engine, will be salvaged, but much of the plane will be left intact.

The aircraft will sit outside the museum on three concrete pads.

“Their idea is to have it open,” Valencia said of the museum owners. “They want to try and make it as interactive as possible.”

Museum officials were not available for comment.

The air facility is hoping to deliver the P-3A in December, but officials first have to figure out how to transport the plane, with nearly 100 feet of wingspan, to the museum adjacent to the base.

Options include towing it or using a crane to lift it over a fence line, air facility spokesman Petty Officer 1st Class Don Rule said.

The Misawa Aviation and Science Museum showcases the contributions to flight by Misawa and Aomori Prefecture.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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