Museum Mayhem (Part 2): Navy Air Museum

IMG_0571By now you know how much I love aviation museums. They’re the perfect way to chase away the winter blues. But recently I found something even better. What could be better than aviation museums? Aviation museums IN FLORIDA. And when you only have time to visit one aviation museum in Florida then your destination HAS to be Pensacola. Why? Because that’s where the National Museum of Naval Aviation is.

IMG_0573This museum doesn’t pull any punches. The first thing you see when you arrive is an F-14. And it’s not just sitting tamely by the front door. No, it’s up on a pedestal, wings swept back, looking as intense and as mean as only an F-14 can look. And did I mention that it is located on an active Naval Air Station? That’s right – there’s gates and guards and people in uniform everywhere. It’s awesome.

IMG_0586Once inside it just gets better. There is pretty much every Navy airplane you can think of. There are also a whole bunch you didn’t think of. Take flying boats, for example. Sure I’d heard of them. I’ve seen the Martin Mars at Oshkosh so I know how impressive they can be. Yet somehow the flying boats at the Navy Air Museum managed to be even more impressive still. Perhaps it’s the way they drawf everything around them. Maybe it’s the way they are a perfect blend of boat and airplane. Whatever reason, I fell instantly and completely in love with them!

The main part of the museum has two floors that are crammed full of airplanes and displays, including an exhibit on lighter-than-air ships and an extensive display of airplane engines. (I finally understand how a radial engine works!) There is also an impressive WWII area that gives you a taste of what life was like on board an aircraft carrier.  The second floor of the museum is open to the main gallery areas which I LOVE because it allows you to look closely at the planes that are suspended from the ceiling. I could have spent the entire day in the main building, but I didn’t because there’s a second building that I just HAD to see – Hangar Bay One.

37507296_UnknownThere was one airplane that I had been searching for the whole visit and I finally tracked it down in Hangar Bay One. No, not the F-14 or the F-18 or the F-4  (although they are all there and they all ROCK).  The plane I was looking for was the Bird Dog. Yes, that’s right. Tucked in the midst of all these power-house fighters is an ordinary little plane that looks a lot like a Cessna… because it is. But it’s not your ordinary GA airplane. It’s a Cessna that landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier, flown by a pilot who had never even seen a carrier before, much less landed on one. Did I mention there were seven people crammed into the plane’s small cabin? You absolutely MUST hear the full story. I highly recommend you listen to Captain Nick’s Plane Tale about it. 

Hangar Bay one also includes exhibits on female naval aviators, the coast guard and the space program.  There are also lots of stand-alone cockpits that you can climb into.  As is always the case, there are never enough hours in the day to really see and do everything I wanted.  However, I did make some time to stop at the museum store on my way out.

The one thing I didn’t get to do during my visit was take a look at the airplanes that are parked out back. I didn’t realize that the only way to see them is via trolley tour. The tours fill up fast and unfortunately by the time I tried to sign up, it was too late. But that’s OK. Now I have an excuse to go back (as if I really needed one).  If you ever find yourself in the area you absolutely MUST visit this museum.  And yes, it’s totally OK to listen to the Top Gun theme on the drive in

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I love airplanes with teeth!

8 thoughts on “Museum Mayhem (Part 2): Navy Air Museum

  1. Although the Cubi Cafe at the Museum is awesome in itself, when you go back and if you’re able have lunch at the Mustin Beach O Club at NAS Pensacola. Beautiful 1930s mansion w pre-WWII era floor mosaics of naval aircraft embedded in the main foyer. And if you wander over to the bar you will see all the tankards owned by all current Blue Angels’ aviators.

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    • Thanks for reading, Ray! I ate at the Cubi Cafe – decent food and excellent atmosphere. I will definitely have to check out the Mustin Beach O Club next time – sounds like my kind of place! Thanks for the suggestion!

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      • If you’re a veteran you shouldn’t have any problem getting to the O Club as long as you produce your military ID at the main gate (not the general public entrance gate used to get to the Museum.) Otherwise you’ll need to take a friend who’s a veteran so s/he can host you as a guest. Just check with the Visitor’s Control Center before you go

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  2. If you liked that one, you’d probably also enjoy the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. They also offer “behind the scenes” tours of the areas where projects are in the midst of restoration. Or at least, they used to. I went with a group of pilots about 15 years ago and we got to see some amazing stuff. They even let us examine a B-2 Stealth bomber up close. I was surprised at that, because it’s such a highly classified and protected animal.

    I still think Planes of Fame in Chino, CA would be your all time favorite if you ever got a chance to visit. The think that sets PoF apart from other museums is that most everything in their extensive collection still flies. Even the one-of-a-kind birds like the Northrop flying wing prototype, one of the last (if not THE last) original Mitsubishi Zeros, etc.

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    • Thanks for reading, Ron! I am a huge fan of the USAF museum – I visit annually at least. Not sure if they still do behind-the-scenes tours but I definitely need to find out! If I ever make it out to California Planes of Fame will be at the top of my must-see list.

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