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Pensacola NAS — home of the Blues and the National Naval Aviation Museum, prelude

8 June 2011

Pensacola NAS — home of the Blues and the National Naval Aviation Museum, prelude

30º 20′ 55″ N / 87º 18′ 14″ W

“The Spirit of Naval Aviation” by Sandra Van Zandt — photo by Joseph May

The nation’s naval air museum lies with the Pensacola Naval Air Station (NAS) and is open to the public. Entry is through a security gate, of course, where one is guided to the visitor’s lane. I was asked if I had weapons in my car, then given a pass to place on the dash to show I was permitted to be at the museum, Barrancas National Cemetery, historical forts and the old Pensacola lighthouse.

Main entrance, with a Grumman F-14 Tomcat and three bronze statues, to the National Navy Aviation Museum on Pensacola Naval Air Station, Pensacola FL — photo by Joseph May

The National Naval Aviation Museum is obviously a national caliber museum but is a gem among them and here are a few of the reasons:

  • Parking is plentiful with dedicated zones for RVs as well as buses
  • Restroom facilities are evenly spread around the main building and present in the smaller auxiliary building
  • A full service restaurant in the main building
  • Children’s play area
  • All of the above are free (except for the restaurant, of course)
  • Almost more aircraft than can be imagined as well as ones which were flown into history
  • The two display buildings are climate controlled
  • A new display hangar with 35+ aircraft exhibited (opened November 2010)

Detail of the F-14 Tomcat showing a typical warload (two AIM-54 Phoenix missiles under the fuselage, two AIM-7 Sparrow missiles on the inboard side of the wing pylons with two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles on the outboard sides) — photo by Joseph May

This museum is a joy to explore, starting from the main entrance with its F-14 Tomcat in a steep ascent and three life size bronzes (“Sailor”, “Yellowshirt” and “Aircrewman”).

“Yellowshirt” bronze, at the museum’s entrance, by Robert L. Rasmussen — photo by Joseph May

There are a few dioramas (part of an aircraft carrier island, WW I era dioramas, and a WW II Pacific jungle aircraft maintenance diorama), however, there are numerous aircraft on display and much in the way of art. And there is a lot to enjoy! I didn’t count the number of aircraft but I would be greatly surprised if there are less than 100. Aircraft in blue, in white, in yellow, suspended from the ceiling, parked with wings extended as well as folded – and the visitor simply ventures through, in and around them in air conditioned comfort. There aren’t more than a few helicopters but seaplanes abound. The entry hall has a replica of the navy’s first aircraft, Glenn Curtiss’s A-1 Triad suspended and in rotation above the main foyer and over a bronze installation of a group of naval aviators from then until now, “The Spirit of Naval Aviation” by Sandra Van Zandt. Fittingly, Glenn Curtiss’s early aircraft are well represented. The histories of the birth and rise of US Navy aviation and the history of Glenn Curtiss are more intertwined than the IRS tax code — with the exception that we enjoy one and not the other — and this museum has aircraft exhibits on this subject unlike any other.

Like a rare view from a photo ship, the Blue Angels in diamond formation — photo by Joseph May

Pensacola NAS is also home to the Blue Angles (“The Blues”) and there is a Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet sitting on a creatively painted concrete expanse resembling a catapult portion of a carrier’s flight deck. There are two more aircraft in Blue Angel livery displayed on the base but that will be a subject in a future post. The crowing display, though, are the four Blue Angel Douglas A-4 Skyhawks suspended in a tight diamond formation in an atrium where they are viewed from below as well as from a second story wrap around balcony — this display is absolutely fabulous 🙂

Port side profile of the A_4 Blue Angels as seen from the wrap around balcony — photo by Joseph May

I was luck the day that I visited this museum because, as I was viewing the Blue Angels A-4 Skyhawk display from the second floor, I was witness to museum staff installing the Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet exhibit.

Blue Angel Boeing (formerly McDonnell-Douglas) F/A-18 Hornet — photo by Joseph May

Forward quarter aspect of the Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet — photo by Joseph May

So, visit quaint old Pensacola along with its beaches and barrier islands, then go onto Pensacola NAS  to wander about the cavernous National Naval Aviation Museum. I would suggest three hours or so, including a refreshing break from the wonderful richness of displayed history for lunch. Realistically, four or five hours as the aircraft are many, the displays full of information (such as kamikaze debris from a WW II attack on the USS Enterprise), the world class dioramas, and no less than two buildings to explore. Then, unusually for an aviation museum, there are places to go in less than  ten minutes such as the old Pensacola lighthouse (a picnic by the shore is possible there) and the Barrancas National Cemetery — as well as two historic forts.

If one has not been to a national cemetery then Barrancas National Cemetery would be an excellent stop to see how these grounds are immaculate and well ordered. History can be seen here in the persons interred there as well as the aging grave stones which date back to the 1800s. There are ten graves of servicemen from the United Kingdom who died in training during WW II, which I photographed for the War Graves Photographic Project and managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, as an example. Significant history remembered at the Barrancas National Cemetery can be viewed at their web site.

A note about the bronzes mentioned in this post. Robert L. Rasmussen created the three (“Yellowshirt”, “Aircrewman” and “Sailor”) life sized bronzes which stand with the F-14 at the main entrance and he influenced the design of the five person bronze, “The Spirit of Naval Aviation”, on display in the main lobby — but he is also the museum’s director; an accomplished artists not only in sculpture, but in watercolors and oils; a former Blue Angel and a retired U.S. Navy Captain.

The National Naval Aviation Museum has well over a hundred aircraft on display along with portions of airships, flying boats, amphibious aircraft, replica aircraft as needed since the originals are gone, record setting airplanes and exhibits (e.g., a bullet riddled prop from a Vietnam era A-1 Skyraider and fragments of a kamikaze aircraft which struck the USS Enterprise in WW II), as well as original art on display in the form of bronzes, paintings and ship models. It is open daily for most of the year but check the website for details. The museum is comfortable since it is air conditioned and not vulnerable to the elements — and there are other historical sites to see as long as you are on the base. Pensacola Naval Air Station adjoins the city of Pensacola on the southern side and both are served by the Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport.

There will be more posts regarding the aircraft and displays of this museum interspersed with posts which will be written on the other sites visited on my recent road trip. Pasting “National Naval Aviation” into the search window and selecting ENTER will bring to all of the links.


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