The Naval Air Station at Pensacola is an active and well maintained historical site. It, therefore, isn't technically a "lost" one that this web is all about but, for a student of WWII and the Korean war, a trip to this area wouldn't be complete without seeing it.
The "Cradle of Naval Aviation" sprawls over 5,800 acres along Pensacola Bay. Naval Air Station Pensacola offers visitors a unique opportunity to see the United States Navy - its past and present. From a Spanish fort built in 1797 to the home of the Blue Angels.
Construction of a Navy Yard on Pensacola Bay began in April 1826. The primary mission of the Yard was to suppress slave trade and piracy throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
Some claim the first shots of the Civil War were fired here in 1861. During the war the fortifications at Fort Pickens, across the bay, were occupied by Union forces, while Fort Barrancas and Advanced Redoubt were occupied by Confederates. When New Orleans was captured by Union forces in 1862, Confederate troops, fearing attack from the West, retreated from the Navy Yard and reduced most of the facilities to rubble.
After the Civil War, the base was rebuilt for use as a Navy Yard, and many of the current structures were constructed during this period. By October 1911, the Yard had fallen into disuse and was decommissioned. In the fall of 1913, the old Pensacola Navy Yard was selected as the location for the first Aeronautic Center. In April of the following year, an enthusiastic group of nine Navy officers and twenty-three enlisted men disembarked from USS MISSISSIPPI and USS ORION to set up a flying school at the derelict Yard on the edge of the bay.
Naval Air Station Pensacola was on the road to becoming "The Cradle of Naval Aviation." Throughout the following years there were many changes and advances in aircraft design, as well as the way in which they were operated. During World War l there was a great increase in the number of men trained to be aviators at the base. World War l also saw the Navy beginning to use not only seaplanes, but land based aircraft as well.
The end of World War l brought the development of balloons, blimps and dirigibles at Chevalier field. By the start of World War II the base had truly become the hub of all naval airr training activities. During those dark days, the number of pilots trained by NAS Pensacola reached an all-time high in 1944, when 12,010 men completed training and flew a combined total of almost two million hours.
Today, Naval Air Station Pensacola is still the hub of naval aviation. The initial training of all naval aviators begins here, whether at Aviation Officer's Candidate School, or through aviation preflight indoctrination. Many famous astronauts received their flight training here at NAS Pensacola. For example, three naval pilots and one Marine were among the seven astronauts selected for Project Mercury. They were Wally Schirra, Alan Sheperd, Scott Carpenter, and John Glenn. Neil Armstrong, mission commander of Apollo 11 and the first man to walk on the moon, also was a naval aviator. More recently, naval aviators John Young and Robert Crippen were at the controls of the space shuttle Columbia during its first flight on April 12, 1981. Naval Air Station Pensacola continues the strong traditions begun in 1913, to train the best aviators in the world.
National Museum of Naval Aviation
This is, in my opinion the best aviation museum in
the world. Beautifully restored planes are out there where you are encouraged
to touch and experience. There are no "Do not Touch" signs.
All my favorite WWII planes as well as those I flew in the Korean War
era are there.
Blimp hangars at NAS Pensacola
The lighter-than-air period at NAS Pensacola began June 15, 1915. It ran through 1921, During this time period two Large Blimp hangars were constructed at Pensacola. These first Blimps were filled with Hydrogen, manufactured on the base. During the lighter-than-air period, 63 Dirigible Pilots and 15 Balloon Pilots were qualified. World War I buildup led to a Dirigible School being formed with Goodyear in Akron, Ohio. The large hangars were used for other missions. During WWII, Blimps were used at Pensacola NAS for patrolling the Gulf. The hangars were finally razed in 1954, leaving no trace of the lighter-than air period.
August 19, 2012
The two 1918 pictures on the left of this should have this noted added:
The rounded-top hangar at the left on picture one and the same structure at the top on picture two is the former floating hangar, designated Hangar Barge No. 1, built to house the Navy's first airship / dirigible-balloon, the DN-1. D for dirigible; N for non-rigid; 1 for the first Navy airship. In August 1918, the hangar had recently been moved ashore; it pontoons removed and the hangar set on a new foundation. It proved unsuitable for the newer B class dirigibles and also for use as an aeroplane hangar. Depending on the record source, it was either decommissioned in 1921 and sold, or sold as scrap in 1935. It was originally berthed in the Wet Basin, shown in the upper left on picture number one.
The photos were taken in August,1918. The hangars were located South East of Chevalier Field. If you look at the top left side of the lower picture, you have the entrance to Bayou Grande, and the Navy Yacht Club.
Tom Kercher, Florida
|Editor's note: This update is from Roy Mize an early aviation historian who is completing a two volume anthology of Forgotten Stories of Early Aviation. One of the chapters is about the floating hangar. A lot of his research has been done right here in the Naval Museum in Pensacola.|
June 6, 2000