Location: Pensacola, Florida
General Description: Featuring over 150 beautifully restored naval aircraft, the National Naval Aviation Museum is an awe-inspiring experience. Restored aircraft beginning with World War I American and German bi-planes and ending with modern jet aircraft and a lunar module from the modern era. There are fighters and bombers that launched from carriers and military airstrips during World War II and the full history of jet aircraft from its beginning to today. The many helicopters seeing military action and sea rescue as part of the Coast Guard Service are also featured. Side exhibits include the space program, several models and a small mock-up of an aircraft carrier including a tribute to the US Enterprise (Lucky E), the history of the Coast Guard, a tribute to Viet Nam POWs, a tribute to the Blue Angels, and even an art gallery of paintings and sculptures depicting war scenes, solders, and ships. One of a kind aircraft include the HUGE NC-4 (one of the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic), the SBD Dauntless Bureau Number 2106 (a veteran of the Battle of Midway), the Que Sera Sera (first aircraft to land at the South Pole), the last combat F-14D Tomcat, and many, many more. Admissions is free and with multiple guided tours available, it is a great way to learn the history of Naval Aviation and spend many hours browsing the exhibits.
1) The Naval Aviation Museum is located on the Pensacola Naval Air Station, so you do have to pass through an inspection post to enter the base. When we were there ID were needed to both enter the base and the museum itself.
2) The museum consists of two buildings jammed full of aircraft on the ground and hung from the ceiling. There is everything from the early bi-planes of World War I to modern jets. There is a large assortment of aircraft from World War II, most of which were launched from aircraft carriers. While the number of unique aircraft is not as impressive as the Smithsonian Air and Space Museums, it does include a complete history naval aviation.
3) The most impressive aircraft is the NC-4, which is one of 4 float planes manufactured by Curtiss, that attempted a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The NC-2 had been cannibalized for parts to repair NC-1 before leaving New York, so the remaining three planes departed New York for Europe on May 8, 1919. With stopovers in Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, the planes embarked on their trip across the Atlantic on May 15. Escorted by a string of US Navy warships to provide visual markers and rescue the planes struck out for the Azores. Both NC-1 and NC-3 were forced to land on the ocean due to limited visibility and NC-4 was the only plane to land in the Azores after nearly 16 hours. After several days making repairs the NC-4 continued their trip to Portugal and finally to England to complete the first trans-Atlantic flight. The NC-4 is on permanent loan from the Smithsonian and with a wingspan of over 38 meters and nearly 7.5 meters tall it easily dominates the main floor of the museum. Although this flight was soon eclipsed by other shorter and faster crossings of the Atlantic, it is part of the history of aviation that I was not aware of before visiting the museum.
4) The exhibit for the Viet Nam POWs was very well done providing memorabilia from survivors along with their stories, artwork, and poems written during captivity.
5) At the other extreme was the exhibit for the space program which included a full sized model of the lunar module and vehicle. There was also a brief history of each of the Apollo Missions that led to the moon landing, as well as, a small sliver of moon rock.
6) The exhibit for the Coast Guard was very interesting, but needs to be filled out. They do have restored helicopters that trace its history, but there is room for a lot more in the hangar. What they had was impressive, but in my opinion there is room for more information.
7) The mock-up of a very small part of an aircraft carrier was interesting, but if you are interested in this I would recommend visiting one of the air craft carrier museums instead. However, the tribute to the Enterprise is well worth the time.
8) The exhibit about the history and use of dirigibles during World War II is very well done and informative. While I was aware they were used to patrol the west coast for submarines, I was not aware of their use to ferry supplies to ships off the coast.
9) We ate lunch in their small cafe in the museum. Prices were reasonable and the soup and sandwiches were good. I would recommend waiting until after the lunch crowd hits around noon, although they do give you a buzzer so you can continue looking in the museum until they have a table.