Getting out of your car you can smell jet fuel and see a crowd gathered near the back of the building. Suddenly, with a thunderous roar, four jets zoom overhead painted in the famous blue and yellow livery of The Blue Angels!
Pensacola, FL and Pensacola Naval Air Station are the home of the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron. Standing there you are not at an air show, you are at the Museum of Naval Aviation and you have stumbled onto a Blue Angels practice day.
The museum started in the late 1960’s to preserve the history of Naval Aviation and stand as a tribute to the men and women the Fly Navy. On display in the museum are planes and artifacts tracing the history of naval aviation from the first take off from the cruiser Birmingham to the Navy pilots that have flown in space or are on the Space Station today.
Several of the aircraft on display are the only remaining example left of its kind. The one that stood out the most to me is an SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber. The museum rescued the aircraft from the bottom of Lake Michigan. What makes this plane so special is that it survived the battle of Midway in June of 1942. This plane flying from one of three U.S. aircraft carriers turned the tide of the World War II in the Pacific.
Further into the museum is a display featuring a Marine VH-3 helicopter. This aircraft served as Marine One for Presidents Nixon and Ford in the 1970’s. this exhibit give you a look into the unique mission HMX-1, the Marine Corps Squadron task with flying the President of the United States. Another Presidential aircraft on display is the S3 Viking that President Bush flew to U.S.S Abraham Lincoln at the end of major combat operation in Iraq in 2003.
Along with these famous planes, you will see everything from Lockheed Electra like the one flown by Amelia Earhart to generations of combat aircraft and an Apollo Command Module. The Naval Aviation Museum may be the best done of any of the military museums I have toured.
If you are a fan of the Navy, airplanes or history this really must be a stop when you are in North Florida. The museum is open to the public and entrance is free. They do charge to see the Imax movies. One, thing to know is, they do search any bags you are bringing into the building.
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Being in Miami for a few days on business, I had to take the opportunity to get out and see this art deco landmark. After work on Friday afternoon the group of us decided since we were in Miami and had never been before we needed to mark off another of the 1000 places to see before we die. We headed to Ocean Boulevard and the Art Deco District, AKA South Beach. This might be one of the most interesting places I have been and one of the most disappointing. Having only a few hours I parked in a garage close to Ocean Drive and headed out to see what kind of adventure this would be.
There are two or three reasons to go to South Beach. The first is of course the beach. The beach is wide and a flat gentle slope of sugar sand that transitions to the deep blues and turquoise greens of the Atlantic Ocean. South Beach’s beach is a free public beach, beginning at Ocean Drive and 5th Street and stretching up to 21st Street and Collins. I September the water was still warm and even though school had started there was plenty of people on the beach for the life guards to look after. The beach part of South Beach completely lived up to my expectations. It is beautiful with palm trees in the background, the blue of the water and the gentle sounds of the ocean.
Right behind much of the beach is Lummus Park. This is a public beachfront park on Ocean Drive, between 5th and 15th Streets. When you see South Beach in the movies or on TV, the scenes with folks roller blading, biking and walking are in this area. This park fills the area between the beach and Ocean Drive. Again this is a great space for walking and people watching. This park is the best place to view the art deco architecture that South Beach and Ocean Drive are so famous for. Just strolling up the street it is easy to imagine yourself back in the 1920’s or 30’s headed out for an even on the town. The art deco district really comes alive after dark when the neon can shine. I say to view the buildings from the park, because if you cross Ocean drive and try to walk next to the buildings for an up close look you really cannot see anything. This was one reason I said I was disappointed. The second reason is walking down the side of the street with the buildings you are constantly bombarded with offers of “two for one beer”, or “the best food on Ocean Drive”. So much so it just is not enjoyable.
Our group finally bit on one of the “two for the price of one beer” offers, and that really turned out to be a stupid decision. We found out that the beer was 32oz and the price of one was $30.00. The
East West Side of Ocean Drive is pretty much a tourist trap. If you want souvenirs, check out the Official Art Deco Gift Shop – Miami Design Preservation League. They had some really cool stuff and it supports the preservation of the art deco district.
So go to South Beach for the beach and for the architecture. Hangout in the park and people watch. I would avoid the crowed and expensive East side Ocean Drive.