While staying in Northern Florida I was drawn to the Pensacola area since my family has some history here. In the 1950’s my father was stationed at the Naval Air Station where he trained to be a helicopter pilot. I was born at the military hospital but when I was six months old we moved away, so I really never “saw” or came to know Pensacola. Mark and I visited this part of the Florida Panhandle on two different days. The first was in late January when we drove along the scenic Gulf coast to visit Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens, completed in 1834 to defend Pensacola Harbor. While exploring near the Fort, we watched jets from the Air Station practicing and Mark was able to get the picture above. We were both pleased that he caught one plane flying straight and one turning.
On our second trip in early February, we visited the Naval Air Station that houses the National Museum of Naval Aviation. Besides having beautiful, white sandy beaches, Pensacola is also well known for the Naval Air Station and museum. It would have been fun to drive around the Air Station and see more of the place where I began, but these days you can’t drive around a military installation without a specific purpose and poking around doesn’t qualify. When we first arrived for our museum visit, our GPS took us to the wrong entrance gate at the Station and the sentry had us quickly go out the exit and back through town to the right entrance.
This museum is a first class facility with more than 150 aircraft in two main buildings. One building has two levels so it takes awhile to see everything. When I visit aircraft museums I usually find it a bit daunting to try and take it all in and remember what I have seen and read. So I try to take a different approach these days and not read and focus on each plane I come across but just catch the highlights. In the picture above is a collection of Blue Angel jets. The famous Blue Angels are based here at the Air Station and can be seen practicing over the museum for their air shows a few times each week beginning the end of March. It would have been great to see them in action, but we were over a month too early.
Exhibits at the museum cover from the early days of flight to the present. One of the more interesting to me was the NC-4 plane which was the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. On May 1919, the Commander and a crew of five men flew from New York State to Portugal. The trip took 19 days with several stops along the way. It was neat to read the information and see the plane (above) that first made this remarkable journey.
One of my favorite planes to learn about here was this Hellcat which was used for take off and landing practice from a training aircraft carrier on Lake Michigan during 1944. The plane crashed into the lake and was at the bottom for 65 years before being hauled up in 2009 and restored. They actually left a patch of the plane’s side as it was before restoring for the public to see before and after. In the panoramic picture above, you can see this plane in the right foreground with #21. Below, Mark stands next to the Hawkeye, introduced during the Vietnam War as a radar plane for the Navy.
The museum has other exhibits besides aircraft including recreated military camp scenes from the Pacific during WWII. There was also a “Pensacola During Wartime” section with homes and buildings set up along a street to show everyday life for citizens during WWII. Jake’s Garage put a smile on my face.
I found this “Raft” exhibit fascinating as it was the actual raft that three Navy men were adrift on after their plane made an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean during WWII. They ended up on the raft with no food or water and only a pistol and knife. During their 34 days at sea they lived on birds, fish and coconuts until they drifted to some islands. I was amazed that the raft looked as good as it did after so many days at sea and so many years since the incident. A book was written about this ordeal and it reminded me of the excellent book I have read called “Unbroken” where Louis Zamperini also survives a plane crash in the Pacific during WWII and lives on a raft for 47 days before rescue.
It was a worthwhile trip to visit this very interesting museum – lots to learn and think about. Thanks for following along with us!