A trip to Pensacola Florida usually means a visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum. Can you say F-14s? (Talk to me Goose!) Unfortunately, an incident that happened at NAS Pensacola in late 2019 forced the closure of the museum to the public – only Department of Defense ID holders can visit. I have a family member with that clearance who could escort me, but coordinating with them hasn’t been possible.
So I found myself searching for an alternative. A friend mentioned a museum near Destin. She couldn’t remember the name of it, but recalled that they had a lot of airplanes. That got my attention! I did some research and came up with the Air Force Armament Museum on Eglin AFB. A museum on an Air Force Base? Heck yeah!
On the way there we drove by Hurlburt Field, another military base. They had a number of signs posted to “Beware of Low Flying Aircraft. Any time you have to watch out for airplanes on the way to an Air Force Museum located on an Air Force Base it is pretty much guaranteed that you are going to have a good time.
The first thing I noticed upon arrival at the Armament Museum is that a lot of the airplanes and exhibits are outside. I started at the B-52 and made a sweep around the building to make sure I saw them all. I was pleased to see that the collection includes some of my all-time favorites, like the SR-71 Blackbird, the A-10 Warthog, the F-16 Falcon, the F-15 Eagle and the F-4 Phantom. Actually, there are two Phantoms. Because the more Phantoms the better.
They also have a number of historical airplanes on display including the C-47, the B-17 and the B-25. Most aviation and military history enthusiasts are well aware of the critical roles these planes played in WWII. In case you are wondering, yes – they have a P-51 Mustang as well (inside the museum).
I was about half-way through my tour of the outside exhibits when I heard the unmistakable sound of military jets taking off. Needless to say, this got my immediate attention. I stopped inspecting the airplanes on the ground and started scanning the skies instead. Sure enough, an F-35 came into view, quickly followed by another. Then two more.
They flew overhead and then out of sight. I could still hear them so I kept watching and after a minute or so they circled overhead again. And again. And again. If I had to take a guess I’d say they were practicing approaches and possibly touch and goes. Whatever they were up to, I now had an air show going on overhead to go along with all the cool airplanes on the ground. Excellent!
I finished the tour of the outside exhibits and somewhat reluctantly headed inside. (The F-35s were still ripping around – it was hard to stop watching!) I quickly discovered that while the building itself may be rather small, it sure packs a big punch. If you can drop it, shoot it or launch it from an airplane, they’ve got it. And then some!
When it comes to munitions I can’t really say I have a favorite. (For me it is really all about the airplanes.) That said, there were a few items in the museum that I recognized. For example, the AIM 9 Sidewinder. It entered service in 1956 and versions of it are still being used today. Airplanes that have employed the Sidewinder include the F-14, F-15, F-16, F-18, F-22 and F-35. Is that an all-star list, or what?
Another weapon that caught my eye was the Tomahawk cruise missle. It entered the US military arsenal in 1985. It is designed to fly subsonic at low altitudes and has a variety of uses. I typically think of them as Navy weapons, but maybe that’s because they play a prominent role in Top Gun Maverick. (Talk to me, Rooster!)
After a thorough exploration of the building, it was time to head back to the beach. If you find yourself anywhere near Destin, Florida, I highly recommend you spend an hour or two at the Air Force Armament Museum. There is no admission charge and it is open every day from 9:30am – 5pm including most Federal holidays. And who knows – there might be F-35s putting on a show when you visit. Be prepared to stay awhile, just in case.