I had read in several blogs about the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, and thought it looked like an interesting place to visit while we were in Gulf Shores. Tom only needed to hear that it was free, and he was on board.
We were going to visit on the weekend, but then I heard on the news that the Blue Angels practice on weekday mornings, and it was also open to the public, and free. Tuesday morning was their next scheduled practice, so we got up early to brave the frigid temperatures with hundreds of other spectators.
We should have gotten there a little earlier to get a prime viewing spot along the landing strip, but there really weren’t any bad spots – with the jets flying directly over our heads!
We missed the first part of the hour-long practice, but still saw plenty of fast flying and amazing formations.
After this move, each jet flew off in a different direction, then straight up, back down, and then they all gathered back together in a group. I wasn’t quick enough to catch a good picture of any of them, but did catch one as it flew past right in front of us!
As the practice session wrapped up, they all gathered in front of the crowd to wave and create a huge amount of smoke, before they taxied back to their hangars.
We really enjoyed the practice and were definitely glad we got up early to make the trip over here!
Along with much of the crowd, we made our way back to the museum.
It’s pretty amazing that a museum as nice as this does not charge an admission! There were a lot of people there, so the first thing we did was get our tickets to the 11am IMAX movie, “The Magic of Flight”. I had read in another blog that there was a homeschool discount available, so I made sure to ask for that. Instead of paying $8.75 each, it was just $5 each – that’s a pretty good deal!
We had about an hour to kill, so we started walking through the exhibits on the first floor. It started with early designs in aviation, and showed the progress made over the years.
There were so many planes, it was hard to decide which ones to take pictures of, and almost impossible to remember the significant facts about them!
I do remember reading about this plane, NC-4, on loan from the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, and seeing sketches of its early design stage in a notebook (I commented to Nick and Bryce how neat the handwriting was!!).
It was the first plane ever, and the only one of a fleet of 3, to successfully fly across the Atlantic, from New York to Portugal. It made the 3000 mile trip in 19 days. I can’t imagine being on a plane for 19 days!
It seemed HUGE in this room, but I’m sure would feel incredibly SMALL when flying over the vast ocean!
We tried following these guys around, thinking we might pick up some good tidbits of information!
One plane that we recognized was the Ford Tri-Motor. We’ve seen these in both the Smithsonian Museum and The Henry Ford.
In the WWII display area, we saw this “water plane” that was used to fly the Navy Admiral over the destruction in Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attacked.
We also saw this display of an atomic bomb that was very similar to the one used to bomb Japan in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
As we finished our tour of the main floor, the Alabama National Guard Band began playing in the Atrium, so we stopped to listen for a few minutes before we headed back to the Imax Theatre.
After the movie, we walked through the 2nd floor which included several interactive displays – engine cutaways to study
and cockpits to sit in,
as well as a gallery of original artwork showcasing planes and Naval aviation history.
Our last stop was the Atrium, where several retired Blue Angel planes were on display.
From there, we headed out to Hangar Bay One,
passing by the National Flight Academy on our way.
The Hangar contains additional displays of specialty aircraft, including several Presidential planes.
This “Marine One” helicopter was used by Presidents Nixon and Ford,
(and Gimmarro!), and this jet is the one that President Bush rode in to become the first sitting President to land on an Aircraft Carrier.
There was also another retired Blue Angel, this one available for photo ops . . .
That wrapped up our visit to the Naval Aviation Museum, and since we hadn’t stopped for lunch we decided to drive back to Gulf shores to meet our neighbors from the campground for an early dinner at the Oyster House.
On our way out of the base, we drove through the campground to take a look. It’s a good-sized campground, right on the water, with nice big paved sites . . . this wouldn’t be a bad place to stay!
If you are in the Pensacola area, this is definitely worth the visit, and check the Blue Angels’ website to see if they are practicing when you’re there!