Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pensacola Naval Air Museum -- The Early Years

We enjoyed our quick visit to the Pensacola Forts, but were eager to get to the Naval Air Museum just down the road. We had visited this museum about 10 years ago, but had heard that the museum was expanded and enhanced, so were curious to see it. The Naval Air museum is free to visit and spectacular. This plane greats you as you arrive and is a very early Curtis (1911) seaplane and was one of the first in naval service. The pilot sits out on the front edge of the wing and is completely exposed to the elements (and bugs!). At least he had a wonderful view.

When you entering the first gallery, you realize that there are aircraft everywhere! In fact, there are two collections -- one at floor level and the other suspended from the ceiling in flight mode. This picture shows some of the upper collection which you can see up close from the second floor balcony which runs all the way around the two main galleries. This yellow aircraft was called the "Yellow Peril" since as a basic trainer, it was a peril for the new flyer and all those around him.

Naval aviation started just after the Wright Brothers learned to fly in the early 1900's and there are many excellent early aircraft on display. One very interesting one is this JN4, Jenny made by Curtiss for training pilots during WWI. The really interesting facet of this plane is that it is in cut-away form so you can see how the plane is built. Constructed of wood and fabric, which was typical of the era, this plane is very much like the radio controlled models that Rick builds!

Here, Orinda checks out a French Nieuport 28, which was a front line fighter in WWI. It is interesting to compare this plane with the Curtiss seaplane above and then recall that only 6 years separate them. Aviation technology really moved forward at a rapid pace in the early days.

Speaking of hi-tech, this is a Liberty 12 cylinder engine which may have been America's biggest aviation contribution in WWI. Capable of generating an unheard of 400hp, it was designed and engineered in only 5 days. Over 20,000 of these were produced by the end of the war and they powered aircraft for many years into the future.

This amazing plane used the Liberty engine and was the first plane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean way back in 1919. Due to engine problems, weather, and other issues, it took 19 days for the crew to cross to Portugal from their base in Long Island. This Curtiss plane was built only 7 years after the frail original seaplane seen above -- this plane is huge in comparison and is powered by 4 - 400hp Liberty engines.

Here is an early seaplane that is a converted Camel fighter. This aircraft was used in WWI as well.

The Navy experimented with Dirigibles after WWI and one such ship was called the USS Akron. This huge lighter than air ship would have been very vulnerable to fighter attack, so this plane, the N2Y was developed to be carried inside the Akron and released to protect it. After flight, the N2Y would come back to the dirigible and connect to a trapeze device in flight and then be winched up into the airship. Akron carried 4 or 5 of these -- WOW -- think of an aircraft carrier in the sky. It was interested to read that "landing" one of these by hooking to the trapeze was very difficult --click here to see how this was done!


squawmama said...

It is one of the best Air Museums I think I have ever been to... And the price is just right! We spent hours there!
Have fun & Travel safe

Chuck and Anneke's RV travels said...

Nice tour!