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  • Writer's pictureMike Bechtol

HOME OF THE BLUE ANGELS - Pensacola's Naval Aviation Museum

If you visit only one Pensacola area attraction beyond the beach... this is the one. Located within the Pensacola Naval Air Station, the National Naval Aviation Museum is among the world’s largest air and space museums. It is every bit as entertaining and educational as Washington’s Air And Space Museum or Dayton’s Air Force Museum. The Museum Of Naval Aviation boasts over 140 famous and historically important aircraft from all eras of aviation, including the Triad, Sopwith Camel, Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" and a Japanese "Zero". Visitors may take a guided tour or explore the museum independently. Conducted by uniformed retired military men, the guided tour is very informative from both historical and mechanical perspectives, and is presented chronologically. A large solarium is entirely dedicated to the Pensacola-based Blue Angels aerobatic team. Four of the aircraft are dramatically suspended in formation. There is a small art gallery featuring many beautiful aviation-

themed paintings. The kids especially enjoyed the collection of about 20 authentic cockpit trainers... front ends of actual airplanes and helicopters used for training purposes. Visitors may climb aboard and push buttons, turn knobs and pull sticks. The Blue Angels cockpit provides a splendid photo opportunity. Another section popular with the youngsters is a series of historical dioramas (complete with sound effects) depicting scenes like a South Pacific Encampment, a WWII carrier interior, a typical American 1943 kitchen and living room and an astronaut planting the stars and stripes on the moon. Most of the aircraft and exhibits are located indoors in air-conditioned comfort. About 40 of the craft are located outdoors and are accessible by a free 20-minute bus tour. The museum has a stomach-turning flight simulator. These things are very cool, but not for those who are subject to motion sickness (I learned the hard way a few days earlier in Mobile, Alabama). An IMAX theater shows flight-related movies.

Admission to the National Naval Aviation Museum is FREE, although you'll be met with a large donation box at the museum entrance. There is a charge for the flight simulator and IMAX theater. They have a small restaurant with aviation decor. And of course, there’s a large gift shop. The museum is handicap-friendly. They have three elevators, abundant wheelchairs and smooth floors. We spent about 3 hours at the museum, but one could easily make a whole day of it. The museum is open seven days a week from 9 to 5 and they’re closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Access to the museum is only available via the west entrance to NAS Pensacola. It’s not a tough drive, but it will add about ½ hour to your round trip if you are approaching from the east.

The majestic Pensacola Light is just across the road from the Museum Of Naval Aviation. Built in 1858, this black and white lighthouse is rich in history. The tall, slender structure rises nearly 200 feet above sea level, and provides a spectacular view of the Pensacola area for those who are able to climb the 177 steps.

If Pensacola's beaches are your primary destination, then National Naval Aviation Museum is certainly a great rainy day activity. But if you're just passing through the area, it is certainly worth a visit.

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