Opened more than a half century ago, the National Naval Aviation Museum offers a unique blend of past and present in telling the story of aviation in the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Located on board historic Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, the Navy’s first air station, the museum sits in close proximity to the white sand beach and blue water from which pioneer aviators first took flight in 1914. It also adjoins Forrest Sherman Field, home of the Blue Angels and active training squadrons, a glance skyward allowing visitors to appreciate modern naval aviation.
With two structures encompassing 350,000 feet of exhibit space situated on an expansive campus, the museum displays some 150 vintage aircraft including veterans of combat actions, record-setters, and conquerors of outer space. They include a replica of the A-1 Triad, the Navy’s first aircraft, which the sea service ordered from aircraft manufacturer Glenn Curtiss in 1911, and the NC-4 flying boat on loan from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Designed in concert by Curtiss and the Navy, the latter became the first airplane to bridge the Atlantic in 1919. An SBD-2 Dauntless dive bomber, one of a number of aircraft recovered from the depths of Lake Michigan, the scene of carrier qualification by fledgling naval aviators during World War II, is the sole surviving aircraft to have participated in the Battle of Midway. Its fuselage still shows patches covering battle damage sustained in combat over the Japanese fleet. In Hangar Bay One, the museum’s newest structure completed in 2010, the expansive wings of the last operational Navy flying boat, an SP-5B Marlin, and the R4D-5L Skytrain that in 1956 became the first airplane to land at the South Pole frame notable modern warbirds. Among them are the last F-14 Tomcat to fly a combat mission and an A-7 Corsair II that was part of the first strikes against Baghdad that launched Operation Desert Storm. An S-3 Viking that logged combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and flew President George W. Bush on a carrier landing on board the carrier Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) is one of three airplanes with ties to White House. The others are an N2S trainer flown by President George H.W. Bush during his World War II training as a naval aviator and a VH-3A Sea King that flew as Marine One during the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford.
It is not only aircraft that the museum “selects, collects, preserves, and displays” as outlined in its mission statement. A range of artifacts spanning generations of service provide an added dimension. The helicopter rescue basket in which the Apollo 11 astronauts were recovered following splashdown on their return from their moon landing and a coat worn by polar explorer Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd during one of his landmark expeditions are among the items on public display. For those seeking to delve further into naval aviation history, the museum’s Emil Buehler Naval Aviation Library contains personal letters and diaries from the front lines, technical manuals, and an extensive photograph collection portraying more than a century of naval aviation history.
Complementing the historical exhibits are an array of attractions that include motion-based flight simulators, a 4D experience that puts you in the cockpit of a Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet, and a newly remodeled digital theater that brings stories to life in vivid color on an expansive screen. Even grabbing a bite to eat immerses visitors in naval aviation’s storied past, the Cubi Bar Café an exact recreation of the Officers Club Bar at Naval Air Station Cubi Point in the Philippines incorporating plaques, tables, and the actual bar shipped to the museum when the base closed in the early 1990s.
Open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Central Standard Time 362 days a year, the National Naval Aviation Museum is the largest of the nine official Navy museums operated by the Naval History and Heritage Command. We look forward to welcoming you!