A long-time museum at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar is closing its doors for good.
The Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum, which is operated by MCAS Miramar, will close forever on March 28, according to a spokesman for the base.
The museum is run by a "group of Marine aviation historians, veterans and enthusiasts dedicated to preserving the aviation history of the United States Marine Corps." That group includes Brig. Gen. Michael Aguilar, who is retired.
Aguilar said there were discussions about an agreement that would absolve MCAS Miramar and the Marine Corps of the overhead, but much to the museum foundation’s disappointment, the two parties were unable to make an agreement to the satisfaction of the Marine Corps.
According to MCAS Miramar director of communications Capt. Matt Gregory, the base's commanding officer, Col. Charles Dockery, decided to close the museum due to budgetary constraints.
"Over the past 10 to 15 years, we’ve tried various different strategies to align all those rules, regulations, and get that into a coherent strategy for the museum to move forward, and we were just never able to get there," Dockery said.
"The air station annually pays over $400,000 to the museum’s salaries and operations, and that money is now being planned for reallocation toward higher-priority missions -- breathing apparatus equipment for flight-line firefighters and rescue, for example," Gregory said.
The museum originally opened in 1989 on MCAS El Toro, just up the I-5 in Orange County, moving south to San Diego in 2003. As many as 35,000 people have visited the museum in a year.
There are 40 historical aircraft in various states of preservations at the site, including the World War II-era General Motors FM-2 Wildcat, "one in the line of production models of the better known F4F Wildcat" that was a workhorse in the Pacific, and a Sikorsky HUS-1 UH-34D Sea Horse, a helicopter model that flew thousands of missions in Vietnam.
Photos: MCAS Miramar's Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum to Permanently Close
Military officials are now working with other aviation and Marine Corps museums to find new homes for the 30,000-plus artifacts -- including aviation art and NASA logos -- as well as the decomissioned aircraft currently housed at the the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum.
Locally, the USS Midway Museum has confirmed it plans to take one of the aircraft, said Gregory, who added that officials are in talks with the San Diego Air & Space Museum to take some of the other aircraft as well. There is also a Navajo Codetalker exhibit at the site that the San Diego Marine Corps Museum at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego has expressed an interest in taking, Gregory told NBC 7.
Finding a place to relocate is critical, said Aguilar.
"If there isn’t a new location identified for them, they stand a chance of going to the dump," Aguilar said.
Aguilar said the day the museum shuts its door for the last time will be a difficult one for him.
"It will be very emotional -- not only for me but for all the volunteers," Aguilar said.
Sadly, the Flying Leatherneck -- like all museums in the state -- had just reopened its doors this month when the county moved from a lockdown back into the purple tier. Until March 28, though, the museum will remain free and open on Fridays through Sundays to the general public, who can park for free as well.