Apr 6, 2009

Pensacola Naval Air Museum

Monday, April 06, 2009
Summerdale, AL

What happened to our warm Spring? About 4am this morning I was awakened by gale force winds blowing through my little open window right next to my sleeping head... and it was cold. A cold front was obviously making its entrance and letting everyone know winter isn't quite over yet. There are freeze watches up for the next two nights and it could get down to 30f or so. I checked the forecast for Beaver Dam, our hometown in Wisconsin, and the predicted low tomorrow morning is 25f. So the difference between the two is more than 1,000 miles and just 5 degrees. Hmmm.

We got a call from our daughter Andrea this afternoon making sure we knew the Northwest was having a breakout of summer weather. It was well into the 70's there, under bright skies, and she, Ryan, and Evan were having lunch out on the patio. I think she wanted us to know what we were missing. Thanks Andi.

After my usual coffee and internet time this morning we headed off to the Naval Air Museum at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Pensacola NAS is also the home of the Navy's Blue Angels, those precision flying aces that willingly perform death-defying stunts with very powerful airplanes at air shows all across the USA.

The hour drive went quickly and before you could say "Apalachicola" we were pulling into a very busy, nearly full very large parking lot. Ohh-oh -- Spring break for the little tikes. That s'plains all the kiddies and their Moms and Dads all over the place. Ah-haa! Not having to deal with crowds much anymore I started hyper-ventilating. Dar brought me around with logic -- imagine that?

She said, "Look, this is a big place and most of the displays, the planes, are bigger than kids and they're often hung from the ceiling... kid's aren't up on the ceiling... and you're taller than most kids anyway... so you'll see everything you want to see."

OK. How do I fight logic? Let's go.

From Naval Aviation Museum

Admission is free. The facility includes an IMAX Theater, the ubiquitous gift shop, and the Cubi Bar Cafe which are the only three places you can spend your money in the place by my count. All the exhibits and the guided flight line tour are absolutely free. And the exhibits are phenomenal! This is one of the best air museums I've seen... but remember that I'm a real sucker for old flying hardware.

From Naval Aviation Museum

There's a nice time period balance to the exhibits -- there's no over-emphasis on any particular time period over another. From the earliest attempts to use those newfangled aeroplanes for Naval purposes, through WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, on up and through the Gulf Wars -- there are educational exhibits and hardware examples of the key elements of each period. I could have spent a couple days there.

One thing I noticed during our guided flightline tour was the number of Blue Angel aircraft sitting here and there, oh, maybe 3 or 4 of them. Most of them were the latest version the group uses... the FA18, so why are they sitting on the museum grounds? Well, here's the story.

Those spit-polished, shining, bright blue airplanes we see at airshows all across the USA are NOT brand new airplanes right from the factory. No Sir! The new planes go to the people that need them the most... those in active service in defense of our country... those Naval aviators on an aircraft carrier someplace on the other side of the planet. Once an older plane in active service is deemed no longer combat ready, it's evaluated by the Blue Angels experts. When they can slip a better plane into the show -- one that's in better shape than the one they're currently using -- they make the switch and the old plane goes to the museum until final disposition can be determined. Often final disposition means it'll end up on a post in front of an airport somewhere. Better, I guess, than being cut up and recycled into beer cans.

From Naval Aviation Museum

Another plane of note is the exact plane George W. Bush used to land on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in 2003. It's an S-3B Viking that still had the President's name printed under the cockpit window. They refer to it as "Navy One" and it's the first and only plane to ever carry a sitting President aboard an aircraft carrier with a tail-hook landing. Mission Accomplished!

We also enjoyed the Cubi Bar Cafe which not only serves food but is an exhibit unto itself. From the 1950's until 1992 the NAS Cubi Point Officers Club in the Philippines was a famous hangout for Naval flight crews and support staff coming or going to service in the Western Pacific. When it was shut down in 1992 much of the decor and ambiance was transferred here and survives today as the Cubi Bar Cafe in the museum. There are hundreds of plaques, each celebrating a particular Naval unit that passed through NAS Cubi Point, hanging from every wall, post, and ceiling. It's impressive and provides an insight into the team spirit that these guys felt for each other. To read more visit the Cubi Bar Cafe website.

And here's a link to the Naval Museum's website if you'd like to learn more.


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