NAS Pensacola (Days 96-98)


The momentum of The Great Loop seems to be always forward. On to the next destination! People always ask “where are you headed next?” It’s like a good story or series. It needs a new chapter!

But sometimes, “the story” is right where you are. If doing The Loop is meant to see America, as many say, then you need to take time to look around rather than just pass through. At least that’s how I see it.

National Naval Aviation Museum.

We’re staying for several days at the Navy Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. It’s a somewhat odd place to “see America,” given that military bases are literal “gated communities,” with armed guards at those gates, and most Americans have probably never visited one. But we are looking around. It’s also been, for me, a chance to look in and reflect on my 30-year Navy career. Being surrounded by Navy people, terminology and history has mentally jerked me back by decades. What a huge part of my life the Navy was, and how the meaning of it changed over time!

The best part of staying here has been the chance to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. We’ve gone twice already, and may go again. Yes, it’s that good — plus, it’s hard to absorb everything in one visit. You don’t have to be an aviation buff, or even a Navy buff, to enjoy it. Sadly, the museum has been closed to anyone without a DoD ID since the shooting on base almost two years ago. That’s because the museum is on the base, which is seeking a better way to balance security and accessibility. (A new gate that allows museum access is under construction.)

The biggest surprise, for me, was the connection to Antarctica. My work there was a highlight of my civilian (not Navy) career, and I’m ashamed that I forgot about the early Navy connection.

PS: I got out on a Sunfish today — in a cold 15-knot north wind. The sailing instructor invited me along as “ballast,” to help keep the small boat from capsizing. I hope to sail myself if the winds ease up.

PSS: It’s not that odd to take a stop on The Loop, even a long one. Many Loopers take a break of a month or so to return home. Several boats that we chased for weeks are far behind us now after stopping in a port. For most, family events or needs at home pull them away. Some just want to take a break. And everyone keeps an eye on seasonal weather patterns to help determine the right time to move on.

This sculpture at the museum entrance reminded me a bit of Looper docktails after a challenging day, when everyone shares their “war stories” about difficult locks or lost anchors or strong current or fog….
A surprise connection to home! This WWII Navy aircraft was salvaged from Lake Michigan, where 17,000 military pilots learned to land on aircraft carriers. A former pleasure cruiser was reconstituted as a training carrier and named USS Wolverine.
Future pilots sitting in the cockpit of a Blue Angels plane in the museum. The first female Blue Angel was assigned to the team this year. The Navy has nearly 800 female pilots, but a small percentage of them fly jets.
This Navy plane landed at the South Pole in 1956. I landed at the South Pole 40 years later — in a much newer plane. 😉
We went back a 2nd day to do the virtual reality trip on Apollo 11. The “ride” has just reopened after more than a year. I loved seeing our beautiful blue earth from space. (Neil Armstrong was a Navy pilot before he was an astronaut, as were many other astronauts.)
During the VR “trip,” the seats jerk and move to add realism to the experience.
A highlight of the museum, to me, was the working cafe which was once the officer’s club at NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines. It was reconstituted here, piece by piece, including hundreds of squadron plaques and signs. I knew many of the squadrons represented here. (I’ve done duty in the Philippines but never saw this club. The base, and club, was covered by ash from Mt. Pinatubo and then returned to the local government.)
You’ve probably heard of the German zeppelin Hindenburg, which tragically crashed. Did you know that the U.S. Navy had airships, too? This ladder was used to climb up into one.
Jeff climbs the wrought-iron steps to the top of the Pensacola lighthouse.
The view of the Gulf from the Pensacola Lighthouse. We watched the Blue Angels practice a few days ago while at anchor on the right side of this photo.
The view from the other side of the lighthouse. This is home base for the Blue Angels, and you can see their jets in the center of the picture.
Barrancas National Cemetery is on NAS Pensacola, reminding us that national cemeteries exist all over the U.S. — 155 of them. (I’ve applied for burial in Arlington National Cemetery but will most likely end up in one like this.)
These brave souls bundled up to take their pontoon out into the Gulf for the Blue Angels airshow. The water looks quite calm here, but it changed. We heard the waves were 5′. They probably turned around.

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