The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida is one of the top aircraft museums in the United States, it ranks right up there with the Air Force Museum in Ohio and the two Smithsonian Air and Space museums (DC and VA). It's been on my bucket list for years and after my visit, it is back on my next bucket list and probably several more after that (sorry Marti).
Even on the way into the museum, there are reminders of who is behind this collection of aircraft.
Walking in, you're blown away with the size of the collection of aircraft. You don't know where to start.
Because there are so many planes contained in two huge buildings, I'll show just a couple to pique your interest instead of showing each and every one (so Marti will not make me sleep on the couch).
Here is a World War II TBM torpedo/bomber plane. It is the type of aircraft that former president George H.W. Bush flew as an 18 year old Navy pilot. He was the youngest pilot in the Navy at that time and was shot down on a bombing mission and was rescued by a Navy submarine.
Another plane that has special meaning to me, the Grumman Wildcat fighter. My dad worked for Grumman on the Wildcat assembly line before he was drafted in World War II. When I see these planes, I wonder if it is one my dad helped build.
One plane in the collection is what the museum considers its most historically important aircraft, a Dauntless SBD-2 dive bomber.
It was found laying on the bottom of one of the Great Lakes.
It was one of over 300 aircraft that crashed in the Great Lakes during World War II. The Navy had purchased two Great Lakes coal carriers and converted them into mini aircraft carriers (The USS Wolverine and the USS Sable) to train new pilots. Pilots had to make eight landings and takeoffs to qualify for duty on an aircraft carrier. They had a very high accident rate and rather than use brand new aircraft, war weary aircraft taken from the front lines were pressed into this training role so a crash was not a great loss. Often, the pilot who crashed a plane was fished out of the water and put right back into another worn out warbird to try again, without a second thought.
This particular Dauntless was raised relatively intact and sent for a restoration. Upon finding the plane's serial number, a check of its history record in Navy files revealed some amazing facts.
The Dauntless was on the ground at Pearl Harbor when the Navy base there was attacked on December 7, 1941 plunging the United States into World War II. It survived that attack and went operational to a U.S. aircraft carrier. During the Battle of Midway in June 1942, it flew missions against Japanese forces and survived that intense battle, returning to its carrier base with over 200 bullet holes in it.
Sometime after the battle, it was retired from front line service and relegated to a training role, where it ultimately was "lost" in a crash into the Great Lakes.
The Dauntless was lovingly returned to pristine condition, there are very few examples of this plane left in existence today. Two parts of the plane were left in the original unrestored condition where the plane's serial number, 2106 can still be seen.
My next post on the museum will have some more presidential aircraft and a helicopter that nearly sent me flying, about 100 feet in the air and without a parachute.
Thanks for visiting and feel free to leave a comment.