Milton, FL Feb. 4
We spent the entire day at one museum, the National Naval Aviation Museum located on the base of the Naval Air Station, Pensacola FL. This air base is the home for the Blue Angels, the Navy’s precision demonstration air squadron. As expected, it rained all day so being inside was a good choice logistically. Tomorrow we will learn if the rain has increased the creek level too high for safe canoeing.
The museum has 55,000 square feet of exhibits in two buildings. It shows IMAX movies, docent tours of the inside displays, a bus tour of aircraft outdoors, simulator rides, over 150 planes, videos and static exhibit displays. We managed one inside tour, an IMAX film, and a guided walk-through of an educational exhibit about flight that is devoted to educating school children. From 9 a.m. until 2 pm the walk-through is exclusively for school kids. We caught this one towards the end of the day and all of the adults on the walk-through wished we had this kind of experience when we were in school. The museum offers intensive summer learning classes for teachers who can then take prepared science lesson plans back to use in their classrooms. During the school year, the students come to the museum and see first hand how the class lessons work in real life. The exhibit would make any science museum proud.
This is a naval aviation museum, you won’t see B-52 bombers, etc. The focus is on planes that support naval operations, so aircraft carriers are also an important part of the exhibit. One display discussed how the USS Forrestal had a tragic fire and series of explosions in 1967 during the Vietnam War that killed 134 personnel. Even though an aircraft carrier covers over four acres of ground, a fire on one leaves no place to hide.
A few of the unusual or interesting exhibits were:
1. A plane that was basically a boat hung from a huge plane dating back to the end of WWI. The “plane” was built too late to participate in the war but was (depending on your criteria) one of the first planes to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It was then used by the Navy as a recruiting tool.
2. The Sopwith Camel, a British built plane made famous in the U.S. through the Peanuts cartoon series created by Charles Schultz. Snoopy dreams of flying the Camel and shooting down the Red Baron. (Although a Google search now has more references to a PS2 video game and a song by a group from Florida than to Charles Schultz.)
3. The training plane ( a Stearman Kaydet) used by President George H.W. Bush as a pilot trainee during WWII flown out of the practice field at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, MN. This was an open cockpit biplane that he flew in winter which gave him strong memories of Minnesota.
4. Four Blue Angels jets hanging from the ceiling, 60 inches separating one plane’s wings from another’s wings. This display has caused complaints about inaccuracy; usually the Blue Angels aim for no more than 18″ separating the wings of one plane from another plane.
Obviously with 150 planes and numerous videos and exhibits, we could not see everything. The web site does offer a virtual tour; I have not experimented with it yet but the website is listed below. Enjoy!
Ed and Chris Milton FL 9:45 PM