WARNING: This post has a lot of photos. I make no apologies for my love of aircraft, so deal with it! 😉
While the beach was a big reason I wanted to hit the panhandle of Florida, I also wanted to check out the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. In case you are just joining us, I kinda like these types of museums, having already visited the following in 2014:
- National Museum of the United States Air Force
- Strategic Air & Space Museum
- Peterson Air & Space Museum
- National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
And those are just the museums that are related to military aviation. Yeah, I am a bit of a museum geek. I am OK with that. No therapy necessary.
The Naval Aviation Museum offers free admission to its 300,000 square feet of displays, as well as a free flight line tour which brings you onto a small portion of the air base to see a couple of dozen aircraft on display there.
The museum is located inside Naval Air Station Pensacola, which is considered to be the cradle of naval aviation. Primary flight training for the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard takes place here, and it is the oldest naval air station. It is also home of the US Navy Blue Angels (the Navy’s flight demonstration team, but you knew that already).
Originally designated the Pensacola Navy Yard in 1825, this base is steeped in history (more about that below).
OK, back to the museum. In addition to the main building, consisting of a south and west wing (no, not THAT west wing), there is a 55,000 foot Hangar Bay One building with additional exhibits. While not nearly as big as the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, the Naval Aviation Museum is well worth visiting if you are in the area. Or if you really like nice powdery white beaches and old planes, then make the trip!
Enough talk. You knew this part was coming. Onto the pics! (NOTE: While I did take the flight line tour, I didn’t take any pictures. Something about shooting out the window of a bus that really doesn’t do it for me. Plus there are plenty of pics below to satisfy even the most demanding reader!)
Oh, in case you are interested, here is a list of the aircraft on display.
Hangar Bay one
Cubi Bar Cafe
A pretty neat part of the museum was the Cubi Bar Cafe which recreates the decor and layout of the Cubi Point Officers’ Club that was located in the Philippines. The original club was closed in 1992 and the interior was shipped off to the Naval Aviation Museum where it was “re-opened” in 1996. It serves as both a museum exhibit and a place where you can grab a bit to eat.
I previously mentioned that Naval Air Station Pensacola is steeped in history, which I was totally clueless about until I was driving through the base on the way to the museum and saw a sign for a National Park Service property. I promptly hit the brakes and turned into the parking area as I tend to be a sucker for historic sites.
Turns out I had arrived at the Advanced Redoubt of Fort Barrancas. I guess if I had done some advanced research I would have known this existed. But that would have spoiled the fun of stumbling across something cool, right?
The Advanced Redoubt was the northern portion of Fort Barrancas and was built to defend the Navy Yard from attack by ground troops. The main fort was built as a coastal defense to defend the entrance to Pensacola Bay.
The first fort in this area was built by the Spanish in 1698, so there has been a military presence in the area for a very long time. Fort Barrancas saw very little action during the Civil War and was rendered obsolete soon after. Seems that masonry forts such as Fort Barrancas don’t withstand cannon fire very well. Who knew?
Despite this obsolescence, Fort Barrancas was used by the US Military for various purposes until it was decommissioned in 1947. The facility was handed over to the US Park Service in 1971 as part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
I visited the main fort area to the south of the Advanced Redoubt after I visited the Naval Aviation Museum.
Another nice find on the Naval Air Station was the Pensacola Lighthouse. You might not know this about me, but I am a sucker for a good lighthouse. When I was living in North Carolina I had the opportunity to visit several of the lighthouses on the Outer Banks, including the famous Cape Hatteras Light. Yes, I do have a varied group of interests. It’s enough to keep a guy on his toes!
Sometime during the drive to the museum I saw signage indicating that there was a lighthouse on the base that was open for tours, so I added that to my growing list of things to see the day I visited. I was quickly hoping that there weren’t too many more cool things to see as there is only so many hours in a day!
The 177 step lighthouse is open to the public but does require a nominal fee to get in. I didn’t hesitate to pay this as every other attraction of the day was free, so I was seeing a lot for $6!
The current light stands at 150 feet tall and was built in 1859 and offers a great view of the Gulf as well as a nice vantage point to check out the airfield. I spent equal amounts of time checking out both views as it isn’t often that I get the opportunity to enjoy two of my great loves at one time.
So what started as a trip to see some old planes ended up being a great trip through aviation history, as well as military and seafaring history. Can’t argue with that! This is one of the great things about traveling – you never know what is around the next corner.