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!

Wings Over Avgeeks

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Photo by Capt Nick Anderson www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

They say the first time you attend an air show it’s about the airplanes, but after that it’s about the people. For a long time I really didn’t understand this. Hey – I’m here because I love things with wings! (And stairs trucks!) But the more you get into aviation the more you value being able to spend time with other people who love aviation too. And you find that being with them makes air shows and fly ins and other events even better than you ever thought they could be. Such was the case with Wings Over Pittsburgh.

 

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Photo by Capt Nick Anderson www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

Awesome: The F-22

Ah, the Raptor! It is one hell of a bad-ass airplane. I saw it at an airshow in 2009 and was completely blown away. I saw it again more recently but wasn’t as impressed. The performance that day had to be limited and it just wasn’t as spectacular as I remembered. At Wings Over Pittsburgh, however, the Raptor completely redeemed itself by being even more amazing than it was in 2009. That plane flies in ways and directions that defy all logic. Planes just can’t fly like that! Except somehow this one does!

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Photo by Capt Nick Anderson      www.nickandersonphoto.co.uk

Even More Awesome: Watching the F-22 with people who worked for Pratt & Whitney.

The F-22 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney F119 turbofan engines which have nozzles that incorporate 2D thrust vectoring. I have no idea what any of that means. What it does, however, is allow the Raptor to fly in ways that are, frankly, ridiculous. Max and his wife are retired Pratt & Whitney employees who were with the company during the development of these engines. Watching them watch the F-22 demo was a true highlight of the weekend for me. When I asked how it felt to see their hard work on display the answer was a single word: goosebumps. I couldn’t agree more!


img_5484.pngAwesome:
The F-18 Super Hornet

I have long been a fan of the F-18. Many years ago I had a friend who was a mechanic in the Marines who worked on F-18s. I was unfamiliar with the plane so I looked it up. Woah – what the heck is this? Sweeeeet! I was instantly smitten and have loved the plane ever since. Yes, the Super Hornet is a bit different from the original Hornet, but I don’t care. The F-18 display remains one of my very favorites.

Even More Awesome: Watching the F-18 demonstration with a former F-18 pilot.

I wasn’t standing close enough to hear what Nick had to say during the demo, but just watching his face was enough. It was very obvious that he still loves that plane. And who can blame him!

IMG_9098Awesome: C-130s and paratroopers

I have no desire to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. However, I think it is really cool to watch other people do it. And it’s even more cool when those people are paratroopers jumping out of C-130s. How the heck do so many of them manage to leap out all at once?

Even More Awesome: Watching paratroopers with a skydiver.

I wish I had been able to watch with Steph on Saturday when the weather was better. It was much windier on Sunday and she knew right away that they weren’t going to be able to make the jump. Still, it was interesting to get her take on their performance from the previous day.

IMG_9093Awesome: All the amazing airplanes on display.

The static displays at Wings Over Pittsburgh were impressive and quite varied. They included some of my old favorites like the C-5 and KC-135, as well as the iconic B-52, the way-cool F-35, an Embraer E175 and many, many more. I could have spent hours and hours examining them in detail and still not gotten a good look at everything.

FullSizeRender (68)Even More Awesome: Wandering through the displays with an aviation historian.

David has probably lost count of the number of airshows he has attended. He has spent countless hours on military bases and soaked up more information than anyone I know. All that knowledge was so much fun to be around! I could ask any question and he knew the answer.  I learned a lot and I loved every moment!

Awesome: Spending three days surrounded by airplanes AND by people who are as passionate about them as I am.

Even More Awesome: Actually, I don’t think it gets more awesome than that!

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Big bird, little birds. Photo by Dr. Stephanie Plummer