National Naval Aviation Museum: Aircraft Through the Ages

Lisa Fritscher March 3, 2011 1 Comment

National Naval Aviation Museum Pensacola Florida

The National Naval Aviation Museum is impressive

Located at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, the National Naval Aviation Museum is impressive in every way. Packed to overflowing with military aircraft from the early years through today, the museum offers two floors of displays in the main building, a second hanger out back and a trolley tour of the flight line. Dad and I spent the better part of a day there last month. 

Getting to the Naval Aviation Museum 

National Naval Aviation Museum Pensacola

The museum is on the grounds of the Pensacola Naval Air Station

As the Pensacola Naval Air Station is a working military base, security is tight. All adults will need to show ID. Weapons of any type are not permitted on base, and your car may be searched. Visitors are issued a pass valid for travel to specific attractions including the Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola Lighthouse and Fort Barrancas. You are not permitted in any other sections of the base.

Touring the Museum

National Naval Aviation Museum Guided Tour

A guided tour is highly recommended

Dad and I had several things on the day’s agenda, so we were eager to tour as efficiently as possible. Museum admission is free, but optional activities such as the IMAX theater and motion simulators charge a small fee. Since we were pressed for time, we opted not to participate in any separately-priced activities. 

National Naval Aviation Museum Space Exhibit

Voyages to the Stars is an elaborate space flight exhibit

Free guided tours of the ground floor depart every hour throughout the day, so we selected the 11:00 tour. We had just enough time to see the second floor on our own before our walking tour. If you or your kids are into space history, don’t miss the Voyages to the Stars exhibit. We walked through all the exhibits and got a few photos, but definitely did not see the second floor in depth. 

National Naval Aviation Museum Guide

Our guide was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic

The walking tour is highly recommended for all ages. Our guide was exceptionally knowledgeable, quite friendly and very good at keeping everyone engaged. Each plane has a small plaque describing its importance, allowing you to see the museum on your own, but a written description is no substitute for an enthusiastic guide. You will learn more about naval aviation than you ever imagined, and will have a fantastic time in the process. 

Flight Line Tour 

Flight Line Tour Trolley

The flight line is only accessible by trolley tour

The flight line is accessible only by timed trolley tour. If you are interested in the flight line, pick up free tickets as soon as you arrive. We got there around 10:15 and the first available trolley tour was at 1:00. The indoor tour ended shortly before 12:30, leaving us just enough time to grab a bite to eat. The on-site café was both efficient and reasonably priced, and the food was excellent. Portions are huge, so plan to split if your family has smaller appetites. 

Flight Line Tour Guide

Our tour guide was a retired combat pilot

We had a really cool connection with the trolley tour guide. He was a combat pilot during Operation Eagle Claw in 1980, when our Navy attempted to rescue hostages from Iran. Our guide flew one of the planes off the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. My dad also participated in Operation Eagle Claw on board the USS California, a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser that accompanied the Nimitz. 

The flight line tour was a lot of fun. Approximately 50 aircraft are stored along the flight line, and the tour guide told us stories that really brought the planes and their importance to life. My only complaint is that the trolley was extremely hot. I’m hoping that the air conditioning was just broken that day. Otherwise I feel really sorry for the guides! 

Aircraft Restoration Tours 

When aircraft arrive at the museum, they generally need a great deal of work. A dedicated group of volunteers perform all the labor, getting the planes and helicopters into pristine museum-ready (though not flight-ready) condition. Tours of the restoration facility are offered Monday through Friday on a very limited basis. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get tickets, but I understand that the tour is incredibly interesting. 

Blue Angels 

Blue Angeles Planes

The Blue Angels planes were fun!

The Pensacola Naval Air Station is home to the Blue Angels demonstration squadron. During the season, which lasts from March through November, the Blue Angels hold practice sessions behind the museum. Admission is free to the public, although arriving extremely early is recommended. Practices are generally held Tuesday and Wednesday mornings with an autograph session inside the museum following Wednesday sessions. However, the schedule is subject to change, so it is always best to call before showing up. 

Unfortunately, Dad and I were there in February, so we missed the Blue Angels. Instead, we had to content ourselves with taking silly pictures inside one of the Blue Angels planes on display inside. I always wanted to be a Blue Angel, but they don’t take women on the squadron. So it was particularly exciting for me to get into the plane! 

Tips for Parents 

F-14 Top Gun Air Craft

What kid can resist the F-14 Tomcat, aka Top Gun?

The museum is huge, and could be overwhelming for smaller kids. The tours are a great way to keep kids interested, as the guides truly make their stories come alive. If you want to see things in more depth, allow plenty of time for rest breaks. The grounds are fairly expansive, providing a wonderful place to run around and burn off some energy. 

Decide in advance whether you will participate in the fee-based optional activities. We had a fantastic time without adding those activities, but they did look rather exciting. If we visit again, we want to do the Top Gun Air Combat Simulator. These are legitimate trainers that were actually used to train pilots throughout the era of the F-14 Tomcat, the plane made famous by the Tom Cruise movie Top Gun. At $25 per person, it isn’t cheap, but I have a feeling it’s worth the money. Kids must be at least 10 years old for the Top Gun simulator, but only 3 years old for the milder motion simulators.

avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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One Comments to “National Naval Aviation Museum: Aircraft Through the Ages”
  1. avatar USS Alabama: World War II Hero Turned Museum Battleship says:

    [...] the aircraft pavilion, offering an efficient way to tour both. Since we had just been to the National Naval Aviation Museum a few days prior, we did not take a lot of time to explore the pavilion. It appeared very well [...]