Pensacola Celebrates a Century of Naval Aviation

October 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

To mark a century of training the Navy’s top pilots, and more than 50 years since the opening of the National Museum of Naval Aviation, the Pensacola Naval Air Station held a gala on September 20, 2014, attended by a host of dignitaries, some of whom were once trainees at the legendary institution. The event featured a slide presentation paying tribute to the first naval aviators, as well as a speech by Jeb Bush Jr., grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, during which he read a letter from his grandfather. Also present was former US Navy Blue Angels pilot, now Aviation Museum director, retired Navy Captain Bob Rasmussen, who expressed his hope that the museum will continue to expand, as it has since it opened in 1962.

Located just southwest of the Pensacola city limits the Naval Air Station Pensacola is often referred to as “The Cradle of Naval Aviation”. It is the home base of the Blue Angels, and the initial training base for Navy, Marine and Coast Guard pilots, as well as Naval Flight Officers. It is also home to the National Naval Aviation Museum, offering visitors the opportunity to discover the history of naval aviation through exhibits, multimedia displays, an IMAX theater and more.

The entrance hall of the museum features a static display of an F14 Tomcat, with bronze statues of support personnel preparing the iconic aircraft for takeoff. Upon entering the museum itself, visitors will see superbly restored vintage aircraft suspended overhead. There are more than 150 aircraft at the museum, ranging from early World War I through to modern day. Large-scale models of aircraft carriers, complete with aircraft on their flat decks, give visitors an idea of the immense size of these craft.

On most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, between March and November, the Blue Angels can be seen practicing in the skies above the museum. Practice starts at 11:30 am and continues for about an hour. There is a viewing area with bleachers and visitors may bring lawn chairs, although it should be noted that for security reasons, no backpacks, daypacks etc. are permitted in the area during practice.

Entrance to the museum and to watch the Blue Angels practice sessions is free of charge. For a fee, visitors can watch an aviation themed movie in the IMAX theater, or experience what it’s like to be a jet plane pilot in the Flight Simulator. Visit the National Naval Aviation Museum website for more information and to plan your visit.

Explore the USS Hornet Apollo Recovery Ship

April 29, 2014 by  
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Moored at Alameda Point (former Naval Air Station Alameda) in San Francisco Bay, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet is a registered State and National Historic Landmark which has been open to the public since October 1998. This magnificent floating museum has the distinction of having participated in two defining historical events in the 20th century – World War II and the Apollo 11 space mission. It is fitting then, that at the official opening of the museum on October 17, 1998, the key speaker was Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

In addition to being the principal reason for visiting the museum, the USS Hornet (CVS-12) aircraft carrier, has a number of different types of aircraft on display, both on the Flight Deck and the Hangar Deck of the ship. These include the T-28B Trojan military trainer; the TBM-3E Avenger WWII torpedo bomber; the US-2B Tracker ASW utility aircraft; the TA-4J Skyhawk trainer aircraft; the F8U-1 Crusader supersonic fighter from the Vietnam War era; the S-3B Viking long-range aircraft; and the F14A Tomcat used in the Gulf War (and immortalized in the movie Top Gun).

One of the highlights of the USS Hornet Museum is its Apollo Splashdown Display. When the Apollo 11 moon mission took place in 1969, the USS Hornet CVS-12 was selected as the Prime Recovery Ship (PRS) to retrieve the astronauts when they splashed down. The operation was carried out flawlessly, and four months later the Hornet recovered the crew of Apollo 12 – the second manned mission to the moon. The display documenting these historic events, and other space exploration, includes memorabilia and photographs from the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 splashdowns; the Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King helicopter used in the filming of the movie Apollo 13; the Mobile Quarantine Facility used by Apollo 14 astronauts; and the Apollo Command Module CSM-011 used for the unmanned suborbital flight test AS-202 in August 1966.

Visitors to the USS Hornet Museum can watch a short video on the ship’s history and take a self-guided tour through the ship. Museum docents are always on hand to answer questions and provide additional information. Moreover, the museum runs a series of “Living Ship Days” where participants have the opportunity to experience an aircraft carrier in action by means of simulated flight operations, mission briefings and meeting former crew.

F14 Tomcat

February 9, 2009 by  
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The F-14 Tomcat represented the dawning of a new age of fighter aircraft. Its technology and capability vastly overpowered traditional military planes and the fighter’s impact remains apparent even today. The F-14A debuted on December 21, 1970 and after several years of modifications it became the foremost carrier-based fighter aircraft in the United States Navy. Though the F-14 had already gained recognition in its own right, the film Top Gun which starred Tom Cruise as an F-14 naval aviator, cemented the plane’s role in popular culture.

One of the Tomcat’s strengths is its ability to accurately deliver ordnance against multiple targets simultaneously. The F-14’s six long-range Phoenix missiles can be automatically directed at separate targets using the onboard weapons control computer system. In addition to the Phoenix missiles, the F-14 can carry Sparrow medium-range missiles and close-up 20 mm cannon and Sidewinder missiles. The F-14 was versatile in the combination of missiles, guns, and bombs it could carry, which gave it the ability to customize its armament to suit a particular mission. The swept wing design of the Tomcat creates its trademark look, but the wings are versatile and can be extended or retracted for optimum performance.

Though originally expected to remain in service until at least 2009, the United States military retired the F-14 from service on September 22, 2006.

During the Shah of Iran’s reign, Grumman sold the country 80 F-14 Tomcats in addition to spare parts and armament for $2 billion. When the Shah was overthrown by Islamic militants, the United States placed an embargo on further sales of F-14s and parts to Iran. However, several of the original F-14 Tomcats sold to the Shah are still flying for the current Iranian Air Force.

Maximum speed: 1,544 mph
Cruise speed: 576 mph
Range: 576 mi
Ceiling: 56,000 feet
Length: 62 feet 7 inches
Wingspan: 64 feet unswept; 38 feet swept
Height: 16 feet
Maximum weight: 74,348 lb
Empty weight: 40,104 lb
Engine(s): Two Pratt and Whitney TF-30-P412A turbofan engines with afterburners
Rate of climb: 45,000 feet per minute
Crew: Two
Armament: Combination of missiles, Gatling gun, and bombs
Contractor: Grumman Aerospace

If you are a current or former military pilot and would like to submit an article about your experience or a story about the F-14 Tomcat or any other military aircraft then please contact us because we would like to share your stories with military and civilian pilots as well as other airplane enthusiasts.

FA-18 Hornet

February 9, 2009 by  
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The FA-18 Hornet is an all-weather fighter jet that can be deployed on land or on an aircraft carrier. The airplane completed its first flight on September 13, 1978 and it remains in production today, although the current model is vastly different from the original FA-18. In addition to serving in the United States Navy and Marine Corps, the FA-18 Hornet serves the military needs of other countries as well, though none employs it as a carrier-based aircraft. The FA-18 Hornet is flown by the Blue Angels aerobatic team.

The FA-18 Hornet is primarily used as a Navy escort fighter, reconnaissance aircraft, and for destroying ground-based air defenses. It was originally developed as a replacement for the A-7 Corsair, F-4 Phantom, and A-4 Skyhawk.

The Hornet often flies missions shared by the F-14 Tomcat and Super Hornet. The most current version is the FA-18E/F Super Hornet, which is not technically an upgrade of the FA-18 though it’s based on certain aspects of the Hornet’s design. Mostly, the Super Hornet employs a 25% larger airframe than the Hornet.

The FA-18 is extremely maneuverable because of its digital fly-by-wire control system, thrust to weight ratio, and the wings’ leading edge extensions. Unlike conventional aircraft, the Hornet is easily controllable even when at high angles of attack. Though this might normally result in a stall, the FA-18 can generate sufficient lift due to the plane’s configuration and design, in particular because of the wing extensions. Such stability is the primary reason why the FA-18 makes for a superior dogfighter. Even without its incredible speed, the FA-18’s maneuverability makes it difficult to shoot down from air or ground-based defensive systems.

Due to its superior performance and tactical weaponry, the FA-18 Hornet will doubtlessly remain in service for many years to come with deployment world-wide.

Here are some specifications:

Maximum speed: Mach 1.8
Range: 330 mi
Ceiling: 50,000 ft
Length: 56 ft
Wingspan: 40 ft
Height: 15 ft 4 in
Maximum weight: 51,550 lb
Empty weight: 24,700 lb
Engine(s): Two General Electric F404-GE-402 turbofans
Rate of climb: 50,000 feet per minute
Crew: one
Armament: Combination of missiles, rockets, and bombs
Contractor: Boeing

If you are a current or former military pilot and would like to submit an article about your experience or a story about the FA-18 Hornet or any other aircraft (whether military or civilian) then please contact us so we share your stories with other veterans, military pilots, and aircraft enthusiasts around the world.