On December 19, 1979, Lt. General James P. Mullins, 15th Air Force Commander, delivered an address at the dedication ceremony for the new March Air Force Base Museum.
The new museum was initially housed in the March Air Force Base's 1930-vintage base theater (shown here) located just north of the base's parade ground. There, the museum's 2000 square foot main exhibit area was filled with photographs depicting the history of the base from its founding in 1918. Model airplanes and paintings were also original display items. An aircraft park, to feature aircraft that once flew from March, was also established near the main gate at Cactus and Graham. "It's important to capture the essence of our past and to portray and illustrate the history of March Field." said Major Brian Daly, the museum's first director.
In 1980 three important museum events occurred:
1) The March Field Museum was officially recognized as an Air Force Facility in March 1980.
2) The March Field Museum Foundation was established in May 1980.
3) in November 1980, the display area for museum aircraft (featuring three aircraft) was opened to the public.
The March Field Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to support the museum with fund raising and volunteer help. The Foundation operates a Gift Shop, holds golf tournaments, annual Santa Maria Barbeques and other events to raise money. $400,000 was raised to build the current hangar building.
During the early years the March Field Museum grew by leaps and bounds, so much so, that within a year the museum quickly doubled the number of artifacts in its possession and filled the theater building to capacity. So rapid was the growth that the museum outgrew its original building and needed to be moved to new quarters.
On February 20, 1981, the March Field Museum opened its doors to the public in another facility shown here (Building 420--the former commissary building). The building was 26,000 square feet and allowed for two or three aircraft to be put indoors plus the relocation of the collection and office space. Prior to 1993, most of the approximately 50 airplanes were located on a flightline parking ramp. The March Field Museum remained in the commissary building until 1993 when the museum moved to its current location on the west side of the runway. The 26,880 square foot facility allowed for more and better displays on aircraft and March Field history.
The aircraft are now parked at the new museum location and can be seen from the freeway. Before 1996, the museum director's office had been staffed by either civil service or military personnel under the Vice Wing Commander's office. In April 1996, upon the realignment and downsizing of March Air Force Base, the museum (all but the airplanes, which remain on loan to USAF) was turned over from the USAF Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, through the Joint Powers Commission, to the March Field Museum Foundation, to be run as a private, non-profit institution.
Since that time, the P-38 National Association has added their museum building to the grounds. On June 15, 2000, a dedication ceremony for the new Dick Van Rennes Restoration Hangar was held. The restoration hangar is located near the P-38 building.
In May, 1999, the Board of Managers approved changing the name of the museum from "The March Field Museum" to "The March Field Air Museum".
After a rigorous process, March Field Air Museum received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums AAM in 2011. The museum joined an elite group of only 3% of American museums that are accredited. Also in 2011, the museum opened a new 12,000 square foot "Hangar 2” for educational programs, the museum library and events.