Tuesday, October 30, 2012

National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida

We heard a lot of great things about this museum from a variety of people, so we definitely wanted to check it out. (Okay, let’s be honest ~ Brad was really interested, Suzanne mildly……) The National Naval Aviation Museum is on a navy base, so bring photo identification, as it will be checked.  The museum is free, as well as the parking. 

We arrived close to lunch time, so we ate at the Museum’s Cubi Bar Café. This is a replication of the famous Cubi Point Officers’’ club closed in 1992 that was located on a Philippine base. The original club was used by Navy and Marine squadrons and other military units for more than 40 years. All the original 1000+ plaques were sent to the museum where the layout and spirit of the original club was replicated as much as possible. We were we told that retired military personnel now come to the Museum’s Cubi Bar Café to find their names on the plaques and have a beer. The food was just okay. The sandwiches are probably the best thing to get on the menu. There is seating out on a deck overlooking one of the hangars of the museum. This helped make up for the food.

Now that we were fortified it was time to explore the museum. The museum is comprised of three hangars. The first floor of the main two hangars consists of an IMAX theatre, the gift shop, and various aircraft from WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, as well as various other naval aircraft. The second floor of the main hangars had a WWII carrier exhibit, Hall of Honor, four Blue Angel planes, an art gallery, space exhibit and a few different flight simulators. There were also a few cockpits one could go into ~ we’ve decided that Brad’s definitely too tall to be a pilot!

At each plane or exhibit were informative plaques explaining the purpose of the plane, strengths and weakness, as well as specifications including speed, distance it could travel and payload. The “skins” on some of the planes were open in sections so you can see the tight quarters the pilots and crew had to deal with. We were surprised that the WWI planes were wood frames covered by canvass. In addition, there were many airplane engines on stands next to the plane in which they were used. This included old piston engines as well as the turbines used in modern aircraft.  The information plaques for the engines included the horse power generated, top RPMs and other facts that a gear head like Brad would enjoy ~ Suzanne often overheard him say “wow” under his breath as he approached and studied an engine display. (Under her breath, one could hear her say, "What a dork." :-)
Hangar Bay One is a separate single story building which houses the Marine One helicopter for Presidents Nixon and Ford. There is also Coast Guard aircraft, an area dedicated to POWs, and even more modern planes.

The most interesting exhibit (fur us) simulated the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. This included real footage of helicopters and various planes taking off and landing. The simulation provided the intense sound, vibrations, wind and the smell of burn aircraft fuel. It was very interesting and left you with an appreciation of the enormity and sophistication of our military. This is one experience at the museum that you should not miss and it’s free to boot, unlike the other simulators and IMAX theaters.
The museum is a must-see if you are in the Pensacola area. Plan on spending 2-3 hours at least

Two other areas at the base that are open to the public are the Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum and the Gulf Islands’ Fort Barrancas. We passed on the Fort (since we plan to go on a range talk of Fort Pickens where we’re camping, and one fort is more than enough for us), but we did check-out the lighthouse.
The Pensacola Lighthouse was established in 1859 and remains an active aid to navigation to this day. For $5, one can climb the 177-steps to the top, but we passed on this, as we’ve been to the top of many lighthouses (and Brad was getting hungry again).

One other thing the public can do on the base is watch the Blue Angels practice sessions, of which one will be happening while we’re here.  Since the Gulf Islands National Seashore campground is just across Pensacola Bay from the navy base, we’ll be able to see everything from our campsite, so we plan to grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and enjoy the show.
Easy and affordable - no matter where you are! 

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