Located in Pensacola, Florida, the National Naval Aviation Museum is the largest aviation museum in the world, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and display of aircraft and memorabilia of the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps, and the United States Coast Guard.
The museum’s roots date back to 1955, when Navy captains Magruder H. Tuttle and Bernard M. Strean conceived of a small museum collection to complement naval students’ training. After several unsuccessful proposal attempts, the idea received government funding approval in 1962. On June 8, 1963, the museum was opened inside the Naval Air Station Pensacola base, showcasing eight aircraft in a 8,500-square-foot display space.
The collection quickly outgrew its small quarters, leading to the establishment of a private funding corporation to construct a new museum facility at the base. Phase one of the new facility, a 68,000-square-foot display area, was dedicated on April 14, 1975, with second and third phases opened in 1980 and 1990. Today, the museum encompasses 300,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space, as well as an IMAX theater, cafe, and educational center. Additional aircraft are also displayed outside on the building’s 37-acre grounds.
Permanent Collections and Exhibits
The museum holds a collection of more than 150 restored aircraft, including several one-of-a-kind historic military planes such as the Curtiss NC-4, the first plane to cross the Atlantic by air, and the Que Sera Sera, the first to land at the South Pole. Many famous battle craft are on display, including the SBD Dauntless Bureau Number 2106, which fought in the Battle of Midway. Also featured are four Blue Angel A-4 Skyhawks, several US Coast Guard helicopters, and notable aircraft linked to the US Government, including an S-3 Viking used as transport for President George W. Bush.
Many pieces contained in the museum’s collection are also displayed at other locations throughout the world. In conjunction with the Naval Air Systems Command, the museum oversees all other retired Marine, Navy, and Coast Guard aircraft displayed at national and international US military installations and museums. All aircraft hosted at other locations remain property of Department of the Navy and are identified at their sites as loans from the museum’s collection.
Special exhibits throughout the museum’s wings document the birth of naval aviation, its involvement in the major military conflicts of the 20th century, and its continuing role in modern military activity and aerospace research. Many exhibits also provide a personal look at aviation history, chronicling stories of life in the military, including exhibits on various aspects of military culture and the achievements of women in naval aviation fields. Vintage uniforms, historic documents, and other memorabilia are shown in large mahogany cases, and the stories behind important military technological advancements are presented through dioramas and displays. Sculptures throughout the museum serve as war memorials, including Spirit of Naval Aviation, located in the entrance quarterdeck, which honors soldiers from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm.
The museum’s Cubi Bar Cafe also doubles as an exhibit, reconstructed to model the bar area of the Cubi Point Officers’ Club. Located at the Naval Air Station at Cubi Point in the Philippines, the famous officers’ club was notable for its vibrant nightlife and highly social atmosphere. After the closing of the base in 1992, much of the bar’s decor was presented to the museum for display, including thousands of plaques that adorned its walls.
The Giant Screen Theater, a 325-seat IMAX theater, offers daily showings of films related to aviation and military history. For an extra fee, two flight simulator rides are available, immersing visitors in the excitement of air-to-air combat.
Ongoing Programs and Education
The National Flight Academy is hosted inside the museum, a one-of-a-kind aviation-themed training camp for students in grades 7-12. Designed in partnership with local school districts, the program divides participants into squadrons to complete a series of tasks that reinforce STEM principles while strengthening communication and problem-solving skills. Students stay six days inside the Academy’s 102,000-square-foot facility, learning about military technology and working with flight simulators and virtual reality games that teach aviation concepts. Since the Academy’s inception in 2012, more than 2,600 national and international students have graduated from the program.
Tours of the Academy’s facilities and equipment are also offered to middle schoolers through the Flight Adventure Deck program, which allows students to explore more than 39 interactive devices, 11 educational kiosks, and four flight simulators that reinforce physics and general science principles. Participants also receive one-on-one discussion time with aviators stationed at the base, who answer their questions about military aviation and offer F-35 flight instruction via computer simulators. Fifth and sixth graders can also experience the Flight Adventure Deck through a summer camp program.
1750 Radford Blvd, Pensacola, FL 32508, website, Phone: 850-452-3604