USS Midway Museum

There were many who said the aircraft was unstable, underpowered, had bad visibility and its engines flamed out when it rained.

For the F7U Cutlass, one of the Navy’s first jet-powered aircraft, rumors and mistruths started by those who never flew the aircraft unfortunately became its reality, and created a less-than-stellar reputation that followed the fighter-bomber during its short stint in the fleet.

For sailors who have never served on an aircraft carrier or a large-deck amphibious ship, they might be surprised to learn that these Navy flattops have Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agents on board.

NCIS is the Navy’s civilian law enforcement agency responsible for investigating crime, preventing terrorism and protecting sensitive Navy and Marine Corps information. Their agents deploy with carrier and amphibious strike groups when they head overseas.

Reporting aboard as the USS Midway Museum’s new education director, Tina brings 30 years of experience in a variety of educational disciplines that make her exceptionally qualified to take the reins of the museum’s education department.

“I didn’t really think there was a job that matched my eclectic skill set, so when I saw the position at Midway, I knew that my guardian angel had sent it my way,” said Tina, a New York City native. “Midway is the perfect marriage for my formal background in education with my love of museums and non-profits.”

Tina’s experience is as diverse as it is extensive. Graduating from University of California at San Diego (UCSD) in 1990, she has been an English teacher, dean of students, assistant principal, community college trainer and facilitator, program administrator and senior director.

“The competition for her position was exceptional and Tina emerged as the most qualified person to lead our programs moving forward,” said Mac McLaughlin, Midway’s president and CEO. “She brings a wealth of background in education at all levels, and I am sure the success of our education programs will continue under her leadership.”

A key experience during Tina’s career that significantly helped prepare her for her new role on Midway was her position as a program administrator and principal of the Balboa Park Program for the San Diego Unified School District. A public school program, she partnered with nearly 30 of the museums and institutions in the park, including the Natural History Museum, Fleet Science Center, Old Globe Theater and the San Diego Zoo.

“I worked with them all for many years and was always very impressed with the programming and passion provided to the school children I brought through their doors,” said Tina, who is credentialed in English and math. “I learned their day-to-day operations, budgets, programs, staffing, visitor experience. I got a mini crash course without actually being a museum employee.”

Through this experience, Tina came to appreciate how important museums are in educating the public, and she sees Midway is a great connector of the present to the past, people to academics, ideas, and each other.

“Midway is both macro and micro,” said Tina, whose most recent leadership position was with the San Diego Community College District. “It focuses on big, global movements as well as individual stories. Real life learning, history, math, science, communication, political science, all live and breathe here at Midway, and I get to be part of the team that promotes all of it.”

Settling into her new position and the Midway family, Tina’s early concentration is on keeping the museum’s nationally-acclaimed education programs running smoothly.

“My initial focus is to provide my education team the level of support they need to do the amazing work that they already do,” said Tina, who earned her master’s degree in educational leadership from San Diego State University (SDSU). “I’ve learned very quickly that everybody on Midway serves the one big purpose which is to honor those who’ve served and educate future generations. And my goal is to do exactly that.”

“I couldn’t be more excited to have Tina join our phenomenal education team,” said Maddy Kilkenny, a member of Midway’s board of directors and the chair of the museum’s education committee. “Midway educates thousands of children every year on board and online, and Tina’s experience both in museums and in the classroom will bring valuable leadership and new ideas to our world-class team of teachers and staff.”

As Tina gets her “sea legs” on Midway, she’s not only looking forward to carrying on the legacy of the museum’s outstanding education program, but is excited about the possibilities for the future.

“The sky is the limit,” said Tina, who has served on several boards and committees for education and the arts in San Diego. “Midway is such an amazing place and an incredible organization. The culture here is what so many other places aspire to. There is nothing this group can’t do. I’d like to explore how to continue to reach more people, provide more engagement opportunities, in person or remotely, and maybe see how augmented reality could expand the Midway experience.”

The Legacy of Mac McLaughlin

The USS Midway Museum was an experiment. And in the minds of some, a very risky one.

After a decade-long effort by the fledgling San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum organization to bring a decommissioned Navy flattop to San Diego as a naval ship museum, the USS Midway arrived in January 2004 to much fanfare. While the excitement and enthusiasm were very high, for those working behind the scenes, the job ahead was equally formidable. 

The nearly 60-year-old carrier may have just gotten a fresh coat of paint on its exterior, but there wasn’t much else to offer future museum visitors. Other than a few restored historic military aircraft, the ship lacked just about everything required to become a successful museum including most of the basic necessities like power, water and bathrooms.

The schedule for readying the ship for its public debut left no time for the museum’s overjoyed founders to rest on their laurels. The grand opening was only six months away. 

“We were a band of strangers when Midway arrived at Navy Pier,” remembered Scott McGaugh, Midway’s first marketing director who joined the museum’s planning group as a volunteer long before the ship was towed into San Diego Bay. 

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Riley Mixson, who commanded the USS Midway in the mid-1980s, had served commendably as the museum group’s executive director, but had no intention of staying on as its president and CEO.

It was felt the museum would benefit from its new chief executive officer having senior military experience – an individual who understood what it would take to refurbish a rundown ship, which had been rotting away for the previous 12 years, and turn it into a self-sustaining and successful tourist attraction. Piece of cake.

A search was launched, interviews were conducted and an offer was made. However, the first candidate decided not to accept the CEO position. Time to shift to Plan B.

Mac McLaughlin, who had just retired as the head of the U.S. Naval Reserve Forces, will be the first to tell you he wasn’t Midway’s initial choice. The museum’s new board of directors, however, felt the former two-star admiral was a very strong “second draft pick.”

Mac with Brad Paisley.
Mac with Larry King.

“In Mac we saw a natural leader and team builder,” recalled Scott. “Overhauling Midway was no more important than building a crew from scratch in six months.”

“Mac has been a perfect CEO for the Midway Museum,” said Malin Burnham, the prominent San Diego philanthropist who became the museum’s board chair shortly before it opened in 2004. “I told him he was building an icon for San Diego. The rest is history.”

Over the last 18 years, with Mac at the helm, Midway has gone from 70,000 tons of rust and peeling paint to the world’s most popular and successful floating naval ship museum. According to Tripadvisor, it remains the number one thing to do in San Diego.

This did not happen because Mac became an overnight museum curator, but because of his vision and the ability to create an embracing culture that quickly put Midway on the path of becoming America’s Living Symbol of Freedom.

“He focused on building a culture and values that have ultimately driven Midway to unimagined success,” said Scott. “From day one to now, he has remained tremendously accessible. The result has been remarkable crew loyalty that has been the bedrock of Midway’s growth to prominence.”

Mac’s impersonation of Elvis.
Mac channeling his inner Bob Hope.

Mac’s 31-year naval career taught him that the best leaders are those who enable others. He believes strongly in the positive and uplifting impact of the servant leader. He’s been known to refer to himself as the CEO: Cheerleading Executive Officer.

“Mac truly understands the power of empowerment,” said Jim Reily, the museum’s docent director who has worked with Mac for more than a dozen years. “He sets directions and then trusts his staff and volunteers to execute. No micromanagement. To me, this has been a key to the museum’s success.”

“He is very good at providing direction to his team and then letting them run,” said Ben Clay, the board chair of the USS Midway Foundation. “Mac provides leadership, states his vision and expects his team to develop and deliver. He readily gives credit to his staff, volunteers and board members.”

Mac’s team often spoke of his instinctive understanding of how important every volunteer and member of the staff was to the museum’s operation.

Always at home on the golf course.

“I think everyone who had the chance to work alongside Mac felt they have had the unique opportunity to do something that made a difference,” said former Midway education director, Sara Hanscom, who worked with Mac for 18 years. “It didn’t matter who you were or what position you held, whether it be behind-the scenes, front-line, staff or volunteer, he ensured you knew how vital you were to Midway’s mission. Mac has a remarkable way making you feel like you’re a special part of the team.”

Midway’s achievements as a museum, education center, events venue and San Diego icon revolved heavily around the development of a strong and passionate volunteer corps. For Mac, ensuring the nearly 800 volunteers knew they had as much ownership of the museum as the paid staff was critical.

Translating Mac-isms!

  • “That’s my opinion but I’m not sure I agree with it.” (questioning his own opinion)
  •  “It’s time for me to go simulate working conditions.” (heading to the office)
  • “We’ll murder board it.” (staff review before making a decision)
  • “I think it’s time for me to pull chocks.” (ready to go home)
  • “I need a SITREP.” (an update on the issue)
  • “He’s S-I-Q.” (sick in quarters or at home)
  • “Give me the latest gouge?” (what’s the scoop) 

“Frankly, working with Mac has been a total pleasure and it’s just one of the reasons I continue to be a volunteer,” said Todd Hyde, who has more than 7,300 volunteer hours since becoming a docent in 2011. “By talking with, not at, the docents, he keeps us in the know and makes us feel integral to Midway’s success. We all have ownership. I am very proud to have served with him. He made my Midway days some of the most rewarding times in my life.”

Mac’s proven recipe of caring for and supporting his staff and volunteers translated directly into providing all who visit Midway one of the finest and most unique museum experiences possible.

“He has been a true advocate for our guests,” said Mark Berlin, Midway’s operations director for the last 16 years. “Mac understood that Midway had to be more than just a clubhouse for retired Navy, and he intuitively understood that we needed to connect with a broad audience. He was the right leader in the right place at the right time.”

As Midway’s president and CEO, Mac also represented the museum in the community for nearly two decades. From the Port of San Diego and the County Board of Supervisors to the local chapters of the American Red Cross and Armed Forces YMCA, he made certain that Midway was not only a participant, but a strong supporter.

Mac with Lori Cartmill.
Mac with Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly.

“He is an outstanding community leader and well respected by many people,” said Sharon Cloward, president of the San Diego Working Waterfront and Association of the Port Tenants. “He knew he had his work cut out for him to ensure the Midway was something the community would be proud of, and he has certainly delivered on his promise. I love how he worked in collaboration with the community.”

Above all, Mac put a high priority of making work life as enjoyable as possible for the staff and volunteers. With a natural and easy-going personality, self-effacing demeanor and a keen sense of humor, he took great pleasure in engaging with everyone on the ship and giving them the credit they deserved.

“Mac’s policy of having fun, while building this ship into America’s Living Symbol of Freedom, has made Midway what it is today,” said Lori Cartmill, the museum’s senior executive assistant who has worked closely with Mac for nearly 15 years. “He has a way to capture everyone with his wonderful sense of humor. He always speaks from his heart.”

Mac with Tarzan the red kangaroo.
Mac with First Lady Laura Bush receiving the Preserve America Presidential Award.

In less than two decades, Midway, under Mac’s leadership, has risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of a dilapidated old Navy ship to become one of the most admired and respected museums, of any kind, in the world.

“Mac came to San Diego on a wing and a prayer that this carrier thing might be a success, and somehow, he mustered the courage to do it,” said John Hawkins, a founding member of the museum’s organizing committee and past board chair. “The heart and soul and the character and wisdom of its success is Mac McLaughlin. San Diego and the nation owes him a huge debt of gratitude.”

As Mac retires to the rolling hills of South Carolina, the entire crew of Midway gratefully wishes him Fair Winds & Following Seas.

Voices from the Flight Deck

Reflections from Midway board members, staff and volunteers who have worked with Mac for many years.

“I had the good fortune to work with Mac directly. Mac’s vision, dedication and leadership have been the primary reason that Midway has been successful and has become one of the leading attractions in San Diego and the entire nation. I’m pleased to be his associate and friend.”

– Vince Benstead, museum board member and former board chair

“Mac’s dedication and personality have been the best assets for Midway. Mac will always remain part of the essence of the museum and of course, the Midway Magic.”

– Angie Ginn, an 18-year docent with more than 33,000 volunteer hours

“Mac is very caring and humble leader. He is probably the best boss I’ve had. He is the Midway.”

– Jim Nash, who joined Midway in 2004 and retired as the docent director in 2019

“It’s been a real pleasure to work with Mac. He is a great leader and a real gentleman. Mac is Midway. He built it and it is in his blood.”

– Ronne Froman-Blue, who was a member of the original museum board and former board chair

“The thing I appreciated the most about Mac was that his vision for the museum never varied from the day he was hired until he retired.”

– Rudy Shappee, docent and assistant director of the Midway Institute for Teacher who started volunteering for the museum’s organizing committee in 2001

“Mac has been the ultimate ambassador for the ship and those who work here. He truly values the volunteers and the genuine reflection of the museum mission that they bring and represent. He has a smile for everyone, and I think his expressions of gratitude go a long way.”

– Laurie Switzer, Midway’s director of volunteers for 18 years

“Mac carried out a challenging task in transitioning us from a raw ship, into a functioning public attraction, and then building it up into a cherished community asset. He has been the most decisive individual I have ever met. He is innovative, and often has the simplest and most practical answer to most any question.”

– Karl Zingheim, Midway’s historian since 2004

“Mac’s personality and unique leadership was vital to the success of Midway. His open-door policy, approachability, and transparency created a culture of inclusion and equality amongst the staff and volunteers. We all felt heard, opinions and thoughts valued and respected. An open forum that created camaraderie and memories to last a lifetime.”

– Vanessa Pineda, assistant marketing director who has been with Midway for nearly 16 years.

“I think Midway would not have been nearly as successful if not for Mac. He was the right guy at the right time.”

– Frank Hudson, assistant docent director who started with Midway in 2004

“Mac brought a happy light to the ship. He injected Midway with enthusiastic laughter and joy that was tangible – the real deal. Working for Mac brought me a boatload of pride because he always made people feel special.”

– Jill Hammons, former Midway membership director who worked with Mac for nearly 14 years

“He has been absolutely crucial to the museum’s success. He had a central vision and understanding that the museum must be, above all things, authentic.”

– Margaret Riggs, director of the Midway Sailor program who joined the museum as a volunteer in 2004

“He is funny, irreverent, hard-working, has an amazing knack to work with all levels of people and make it look easy. His investment in Midway is to wear his heart on his sleeve for her. He loves his volunteers and always has high praise for them in keeping this great grey lady running.”

– Karen Garst, Midway’s membership coordinator & veteran liaison since 2009

They called it the Ensign Eliminator.

There were many who said the aircraft was unstable, underpowered, had bad visibility and its engines flamed out when it rained.

For the F7U Cutlass, one of the Navy’s first jet-powered aircraft, rumors and mistruths started by those who never flew the aircraft unfortunately became its reality, and created a less-than-stellar reputation that followed the fighter-bomber during its short stint in the fleet.

“The F7U aircraft has been saddled with an almost Edsel-like reputation that careful analysis and dedicated research proves to be anything but true, said Al Casby, an F7U expert who owns Cutlass Aeronautics in Mesa, Ariz. “If anything, the aircraft was well built, met its design specifications, and provided the Navy what it asked for at the time.”

Regardless of the lingering and misrepresented myths that have dogged Cutlass over the last 70 years ago, there was total agreement that it was one of most exotic and futuristic-looking aircraft designed and built at the start of the jet-fighter age.

A fully restored version of this spectacular Cold War-era aircraft, built by the Chance Vought Aircraft company in 1953, is now on exhibit on the USS Midway Museum’s flight deck.

The restored F7U Cutlass is hoisted onto Midway’s flight deck.

“It is very exciting to have completed this restoration effort,” said Walt Loftus, Midway’s air wing director. “This is a very unique aircraft and it’s a great addition to Midway.”

The restoration route for Midway’s newest aircraft exhibit was long, circuitous and involved tens of thousands of volunteer hours.

“It was originally slated for the USS Hornet Museum, but the museum was unable to get the restoration started,” said Walt, “It came to us in 2007. It was received in very poor condition along with another Cutlass that we used for parts.”

Three years later, the aircraft, which was actually flown by Wally Schirra, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, was sent to the Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation’s retiree group in Dallas for additional restoration support. The Texas-based retiree group, many of them in their 90s, rebuilt the fuselage, cockpit and landing gear.

“The Vought retirees worked on the aircraft a total of five years,” said Walt. “Their team was about 15 people and they normally worked six hours a day three days a week. Being able to work with the Vought retiree group on this project was great. They dedicated more than 56,000 man-hours to the restoration.”

In June 2018, the Cutlass, which accumulated only 273 flight hours while in the fleet, was shipped back to San Diego for Midway’s air wing team to finish the job. Over the course of the next four years, Midway’s restoration team completed the structural repair on the fuselage, wings and outer wing panels. Roughly 80 percent of the aircraft required some form of refurbishment ranging from minor repairs and major restoration to completely replacing and remanufacturing aircraft components.

Former Cutlass pilot, Dick Cavicke, with an F7U he flew in 1954 (l), was on board Midway when the restored Cutlass arrived on the ship in December 2022.

“The wing and outer wing panel skins were a challenge,” said Walt. “The originals were a sheet of plywood with a thin sheet of aluminum on either side. We had to use fillers and a thicker piece of aluminum. The manufacturing process used to originally build the wings is no longer available.”

Four years, and more than 20,000 volunteer hours later, Midway’s air wing finished the restoration project with a glistening coat of silver paint to help the Cutlass resemble its former self when she flew with Attack Squadron 212 (VA-212) on the USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) in 1956.

Just before Christmas, the aircraft was finally moved from its long-time home at Hangar 805, Midway’s primary aircraft restoration facility at Naval Base Coronado, to Midway’s flight deck. On hand for the F7U’s arrival was Dick Cavicke, a 91-year-old retired Navy Captain who logged more than 400 flight hours in the Cutlass along with 26 carrier landings.

“I’m very pleased that it’s here on Midway,” said Dick, who flew F7U’s with Fighter Squadron 124 (VF-124), the first west coast Cutlass squadron starting in 1954 and deployed the following year on the USS Hancock (CV-19). “There aren’t many F7Us on display, so there a very few Cutlasses available for the public to see and to learn about.”

Midway’s restored Cutlass is only the second to go on public exhibit, with the first F7U being at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla. Seeing the aircraft on the museum’s flight deck brought back a flood of memories of being one of the Navy’s first Cutlass pilots.

“Flying the Cutlass was very dramatic,” said Dick, who was the assistant operations officer on the staff of Carrier Division 1 (CARDIV 1) deployed on the USS Midway in the early 1970s. “It was quite exciting because it was a dramatic looking airplane and it flew very well. I’m very happy the Midway now has one to help the public understand what it was and admire it as I still do.”

“The volunteers here were very eager to work on the F7U and accomplished an outstanding job of taking parts from three different aircraft and fitting everything together,” said Royce Moke, Midway’s aircraft restoration project manager who oversaw the refurbishment of the Cutlass. “I am very proud of the volunteers for the outstanding work they do restoring the aircraft that go on display on Midway.”

F7U Cutlass
Amazing and cutting‑edge “firsts”

  • 1st tail-less U.S. fighter
  • 1st U.S. Navy swept-wing fighter
  • 1st aircraft to incorporate afterburner
  • 1st U.S. Navy supersonic production fighter
  • 1st aircraft to release bombs while in supersonic flight
  • 1st Vought aircraft with fully-pressurized and air-conditioned cockpit
  • One of the 1st U.S. Navy tactical aircraft capable of delivering a nuclear weapon 

Becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States is hard, and intentionally so.

Those wishing to become citizens must meet a stringent criteria established by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and more importantly show that they are committed to the values and principles that are unique to Americans.

Beyond the age and residency requirements, the seemingly endless amount of forms that need to be filled out and the criminal background checks that have to be endured, citizen candidates must demonstrate a proficiency in English and pass a challenging exam that tests their knowledge of U.S. history, civics and government.

For many hoping to become naturalized citizens, help is often needed when studying to pass the test. This is where a corps of dedicated USS Midway Museum volunteers comes to the rescue.

“In 2015, my wife and I saw an article in the newspaper calling for volunteers to assist in the San Diego Continuing Education’s Citizenship Program,” said Rudy Shappee, the assistant director of the Midway Institute for Teacher. “We both thought it would be a perfect fit for the Midway.”

Midway volunteer Cheryl Brierton (l) tutored María de La Paz Plascencia Davis, helping her pass her U.S. citizenship exam.

Reaching out to San Diego Community College District, which oversees the continuing education programs, Rudy laid out a proposal to marry the city’s existing volunteer tutors with Midway volunteer program to enhance the effort already in place to assist immigrants to the United States as they worked to learn English and prepare for their citizenship test and interviews.

“I have been so fortunate to work with the Midway citizenship tutors,” said Mechelle Perrott, citizenship volunteer coordinator for the San Diego College of Continuing Education. “The volunteers share their knowledge and expertise on subject matter relevant to the course. They are great role models on civic participation.”

Midway volunteers are trained and placed in classrooms to tutor individually or in small groups. During the course, they help students improve their English language skills and knowledge of American history and government. They assist them as necessary with completing their citizenship application as well as with preparations for the citizenship exam and interview.

“The way I see it, helping potential citizens prepare for their interviews with USCIS is a natural fit for anyone who enjoys helping others and who feels proud to be an American,” said Louise Shappee, who has been a volunteer tutor since the inception of Midway’s collaboration in 2015. “Working with these immigrants has made me appreciate my country even more than I had before.”

Students taking the citizenship course, either online or in person, come from all over the world. Many of them dream of becoming U.S. citizen long before they arrive in the United States. The four-month class helps them to better take on the challenges of the citizenship process.

“Every would-be U.S. citizen must pass an extensive three-part test that many those born in America could not,” said Cheryl Brierton, who has logged more than 1,000 volunteer hours in support of the museum’s citizenship tutor program. “I am so thrilled when I can help strengthen our country by its acceptance of applicants who pass this test, and thus become informed voters and contributors to a healthy society.”

Cheryl, whose own grandparents escaped the horrors of World War II fleeing their homes in Eastern Europe to become US citizens, most recently helped an immigrant from Guadalajara, Mexico prepare for and pass her citizenship exam.

“Cheryl was very nice and acted like a real immigration officer that made the real interview easier,” said María de La Paz Plascencia Davis, who received her citizenship in November 2022. “She helped me practice the interview outside of the normal class time and explained all parts of the interview in great detail. It really helped a lot. She is an amazing person and I’m so happy to have her help me.”

Currently, 15 Midway volunteer citizenship tutors working with little fanfare or notoriety, yet provide assistance that is invaluable to those they helped become citizens.

“Midway volunteers bring an authentic voice in the delivery of the Midway mission,” said Laurie Switzer, Midway’s director of volunteers. “Their endeavor in outreach on behalf of the museum is priceless.”

Many of the students have experienced and endured horrific persecution and oppression in their home countries as well as years of living in deplorable refugee camps prior to arriving in the United States. Gaining their citizenship is more than a dream come true, it’s the start of a new life in a free and democratic society. An opportunity for which they are profoundly grateful.

“Almost to a one, they express deep appreciation for the assistance I am able to offer, said Louise, who spent several years working with school groups on Midway. “Perhaps the proudest moments are when students return after their interviews with the news that they have passed.”

“Midway’s citizenship tutors help our program flourish,” said Mechelle. “Thank you to these volunteers for helping so many individuals become Americans.”