• National Museum of Naval Aviation

    Posted on April 19th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    We arrived at Naval Air Station Pensacola (NAS-P) yesterday a little before noon. Check-in procedures were straightforward – after a paperwork review and vehicle inspection we were given our housing credentials and key. We were walking the very short distance from our “cottage” to the beach less than 45 minutes after arriving at the gate. Our long-time friend and host Tom Thomas had facilitated the process and made our extended visit possible.

    We spent some time on the beach. It was, after all, still winter back home in Wisconsin. We then took a brief tour of the air station. Our tentative plans for today were to watch the Blue Angels demonstration in the morning and then visit the museum. Forecasted low ceilings threatened the air show portion of those plans. After drinks and snacks with Tom and his family we returned to our cottage to dream of learning more about naval aviation and its history.

    National Museum of Naval Aviation

    It is right that we should visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation this year as it is naval aviation’s centennial. Four significant milestones in naval aviation history occurred in 1911.Eugene Ely landed aboard the USS Pennsylvania on January 18; Lt Theodore Ellyson flew with Glenn Curtiss in a hydroaeroplane on January 26; Captain Washington Irving Chambers drafted specifications for the Navy’s first aircraft on May 8; and the Navy’s first aircraft, the Curtiss A-1 Triad, first flew on July 1. May 8, 1911 is recognized as US Naval Aviation’s birthday.

    Blue Angels' demonstration flight

    The weather folks were correct. Today dawned with a fog that rose slowly to a low cloud base. The visibility increased only slightly faster. After breakfast and a wistful look at the gulf we headed to the flight line and what we hoped would be an air show. The US Navy Blue Angels call NAS Pensacola home. During the air show season, they practice to the delight of hundreds of adoring fans on an almost daily basis. Today was one of those days. Today’s flight demonstration (low, due to those pesky clouds) was unlike any of the other three we have seen previously. There is something about performing (playing) at home.

    Vought F4U Corsair restoration project

    After the air show, we slowly made our way past the nearly 50 aircraft displayed on the ramp between the flight line and the museum’s restoration hangar. The flight line is open for only a short period before and following the Blue’s demonstration. Other times a 20-minute trolley tour is available. The trolley departs from the museum’s main entrance. Sadly, tours of the restoration facility have been suspended.

    Curtiss A-1 Triad, the Navy's first aircraft

    The museum is open 9:00 to 5:00 daily. We arrived about 9:45, missing the initial crush. Guided tours are available throughout the day. The museum is, in a word, spectacular. The museum has nearly 300,000 square feet of exhibit space on a 37-acre campus. From the building’s architecture to the more than 150 display aircraft, from the I-Max Theatre to the simulators and trainers, the museum is educational, interactive, and inspiring.

    We had an early lunch at the Cubi Bar Café. The café is a recreation of the Cubi Point Officers Club in the Philippines that closed in 1992. More than a place to grab a quick sandwich and rush back to museum exhibits, the café provides visitors a unique glimpse of naval aviation history.

    Curtiss / Navy NC-4

    The museum has added an annex building, Hangar Bay One, displaying additional aircraft while a building that will house the National Flight Academy is nearing completion. We spoke with a number of docents and other volunteers. They were all, for the most part, Navy or Marine retirees who were happy to share their passion and knowledge of naval aviation and its history. We stopped at the Flight Deck Store and purchased, among other items, the soft-covered book, National Museum of Naval Aviation, the Aircraft Collection. We highly recommend that purchase.

    Blue Angels exhibit

    We ended the day sitting on the beach watching waves march tirelessly to shore, the shorebirds dodging the water as it slides up the sand, and navy aircraft returning to base after a training mission. US Navy aircraft have been in the pattern at NAS Pensacola since 1914, almost as long as naval aviation has existed. We can’t say enough about the National Museum of Naval Aviation. You must visit the museum and, if at all possible, visit the facility this year. Celebrate US Naval Aviation’s 100th year by experiencing its history firsthand.