Mike Restivo Is High on Aviation
Volunteer Mike Restivo knows its local history and wants to share it.
Mike Restivo said he can’t think of a more rewarding cause to support than the Oakland Aviation Museum.
Photo by Pat Mazzera
After dedicating his career to the aviation industry, retired United Airlines maintenance trainer Mike Restivo, a Bay Farm Island resident, volunteers at the Oakland Aviation Museum with nonstop enthusiasm.
What is the Oakland Aviation Museum?
The Oakland Aviation Museum is a hometown museum featuring a diverse variety of aircraft, engines, and exhibit rooms. People who haven’t ever visited the museum are often shocked at all that it offers. We have general aviation, one-of-a-kinds, naval aircraft, and our crown jewel, the Short Solent MK III flying boat. The Solent was used for passenger service in the 1940s from Southampton, England, to Johannesburg, South Africa. The round-trip cost at the time was $1,400, the modern-day equivalent of $35,000. And our claim to fame is that our Solent was used in the filming of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. I highly recommend that locals and tourists come by and see what travel was like in that era and where Harrison Ford sat in our aircraft. You can’t imagine how cool it is until you see it in person.
How long has the museum been here and what was the building used for?
The museum has been at Oakland’s North Field since 1981. The Boeing School of Aeronautics built the building in 1940. It was originally used to train mechanics and for prototype aircraft such as the beautiful Boeing T3 that we have on display in the museum. The Boeing School of Aeronautics also trained military and civilian pilots in the main hangars across from the museum. It really is astonishing how much important history there is right here in our backyard. I’m always surprised when people in the area don’t know about this treasure of a museum.
Who is your primary audience?
Good question. Everyone seems to love us. Moms and dads with their excited children, aviation enthusiasts, individuals visiting the Bay Area from across the country, and even many from overseas frequent the museum. We also get school groups as well as veterans and seniors in the communities who have so much of their own history to reflect on and share. In addition, we feel well supported by the aviation professionals working right here at the airport. Just recently we had a pilot visit who had just flown a Boeing Dreamliner into Oakland from Stockholm. Many people returning their rental cars often stop by just before flying out. I really enjoy these visits, because it gives me the unique opportunity to share the accomplishments of our historic airport and learn about places and people from all over the world.
Tell me about the history of the Oakland airport
In its origins, Oakland’s North Field was the West Coast hub of aviation. Between its origins in 1927 and into the 1930s, we were considered the most modern airport in the entire country. We had a 1,700-foot runway and airport lighting, which at the time was very high-tech and essential in an era where pilots were pushing the limits of aviation. Even more, we had something that no other airport at the time had—a hotel and restaurant on the field. Because we were one of very few modern airports at the time, most of the who’s who in aviation flew through and in fact set many records into and out of the airport. Shortly after his transatlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis into Oakland to dedicate the airport. Did you know that Albert Hegenberger and Lester Maitland were the first to fly the trans-Pacific route from the West Coast to Hawaii? How about Amelia Earhart’s three records into and out of Oakland? Or the first flight from the U.S. mainland to Australia? Have you noticed Bessie Coleman drive? Do you know of her accomplishments or that a Chinese immigrant named Fung Joe Guey was the first to fly a powered aircraft on the West Coast? Yes, all of this happened here in Oakland. I could go on and on about this airport and museum, but I’ll save it for my tours.
Other fun facts?
Many events are held at the museum and they are a blast. We have weddings about once a month, technical school graduations, birthday parties, and even corporate events. In addition, we have three open cockpit days a year where many of our aircraft are opened up so that families and enthusiasts can get a bird’s-eye view from inside the aircraft. If you’d like to board our flying boat, we open it every Sunday starting at 12 p.m. We even on occasion host a period-correct dinner served in style aboard this nostalgic airplane. Our museum is a wonderful venue for almost any event. You can be sure that our docents have many more fun facts to share in person. We volunteers all are passionate about aviation, fellow enthusiasts, families, and our community. I can’t imagine a more rewarding cause to support.
Mike Restivo tells fascinating stories about flight as a volunteer at the museum.