American air power has always been impressive, from its earliest times to the precision and prowess of our military pilots and aerial equipment today. The National Naval Aviation Museum on the Pensacola Naval Air Station (NAS) in Pensacola, Florida, provides an up-close-and-personal look at many of the aircraft used in both war and peacetime by the Navy, Marines, and U.S. Coast Guard.
With a mission to preserve the history and heritage of naval aviation, it has grown since its founding in 1963 to become the world’s largest Naval Aviation museum and one of the most visited museums in the state of Florida. And it invites visitors to come “experience the thrill of flight” completely for free. Even if the museum charged admission, it would still be worth a trip off the Gulf Coast’s beautiful beaches, thanks to its many informative and entertaining exhibits.
On display are more than 150 aircraft in 350,000 square feet of space, including the rare NC-4 (first plane to cross the Atlantic by air), the last combat F-14D Tomcat, a Japanese Zero, and the sleek, beautiful A-4 Skyhawk jets once flown by the Navy’s famous aerial acrobatic team, the Blue Angels.
The Blue Angels are based at NAS, and their daily practices (March through November) are open to the public. While the Angels are a big draw, the museum has plenty more to offer. There are several “can’t-miss” aspects, like Hangar Bay One, a newer area displaying aircraft of the post-WWII era including the Presidential helicopter, Marine One.
Many of the planes in the museum are historic and true one-of-a-kind machines, but they are really only one piece of the puzzle. Be sure to check out the unique exhibits highlighting Women in Naval Aviation and the Apollo space program. And vintage uniforms and medals, plus cases full of historic documents, personal artifacts and moving letters tell dramatic stories of the people in the cockpits and behind the scenes of our country’s naval aviation legacy.
Other things to touch and see are thrilling 3D and HD flight simulators, the new Blue Angels 4D Experience, and the films chronicling the amazing achievements in flight shown on the museum’s 325-seat giant screen theater with the latest state-of-the-art motion picture projection.