Fly Navy

The one upside to getting kicked out of Fort Pickens for a storm that never hit, was meeting the pilot.

The bus, wherever it goes, is conspicuous. It is especially conspicuous in the middle of an otherwise empty parking lot. Next to the parking lot was a collection of condos, and several people came over, curious about the bus. One, who was walking two dogs, stopped to let the kids pet them.

We got to talking and mentioned that we were headed to the recently re-opened Navy Air Museum, and he said, “oh, a couple of my old planes are in there.” Say what? It turned out that had he been a Navy pilot and flight instructor at NAS Pensacola for many years.

Elliott is currently fascinated by war, as I think most young boys are at some point, but he’s especially fascinated by planes, which is why we were headed back to the Navy Air Museum. Knowing that he was talking to someone who had actually flown the planes he has models of was almost too much for him.

Later the pilot brought out some of his old flight logs for Elliott to look at, and then, when we were leaving to go back to Fort Pickens, he gave Elliott a pair of his Navy wings. It will be some years I imagine before the significance of that sinks in, but I put them in a safe place in the mean time.

We went to the Navy Air Museum once before, but the kids were young enough that they don’t have many memories of it. We tried to go back last year, but the base has been closed to the public since the shooting in 2019. This winter the museum finally re-opened to the public. After a couple of days back at Fort Pickens we had to leave for 24 hours (you can’t stay on federal land for more than 14 consecutive nights), so we went over to Big Lagoon State Park, which is just down the road from the Navy Air Museum.

Like most men my age, I wanted to be a naval aviator. After Top Gun came out, who didn’t? I went so far as to apply to the Naval Academy. I even met with my congressman to get his endorsement (required as part of the application process). I was pretty sure I’d be accepted, but unfortunately, junior year in high school, when I was doing all this, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to hide my less than perfect vision.

I ended up with glasses and my dream of flying for the Navy went away as soon as I put them on. I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do in the Navy, so I dropped my application to the Naval Academy and moved on to other things. But I never lost my awe for flying, or my love of naval aviation history.

The Navy Air Museum has an immense collection of planes spread across three huge buildings, with a few outside as well. It’s the best collection of navy planes I’ve ever seen, and to have someone we knew tell use where his planes were made it that much more fun.

At this point I think I sound like a broken record, but what makes the Navy museum great is what makes any museum great: letting people actually touch things. The Navy Air Museum has plenty of cockpits to climb in, fuselages to crawl through, and even a presidential helicopter where you can sit down inside.

There’s some good historical information too, including a few of my favorite museum displays, the diorama.

A cruise in the navy, a liberal education photographed by luxagraf
I posted a picture of this last time we were here, I still love it.
navy shower photographed by luxagraf
We take Navy showers in the bus. I need to look into the water bucket brigade thing.

The dioramas, and more broadly, history according to the Navy, would lead you to think there was nothing so exciting as war. My first thought was that that’s ridiculous, but the more I walked around the museum, the more I wondered if maybe the Navy is right.

While some people would like to deny it, there is a part of human beings that seems genetically hardwired to enjoy fighting. Every culture I’m aware of has produced a warrior element dedicated to fighting. And yes, many people in those warrior elements like it. I understand that feeling. I feel it in JuiJitsu. It’s satisfying to submit someone, I imagine the satisfaction is even greater the higher the stakes get.

world war i flyers camp. photographed by luxagraf
Back when war was still civilized.

The kids were drawn to the dioramas because they gave a glimpse of life as it used to be, from wooden huts of the world wars, to a Vietnam era berth on an aircraft carrier. I’d be lying if I said those glimpses of life didn’t look appealing. I’m sure sitting around drinking wine in a wooden hut in France, circa 1917 was fun when nothing else was happening. The part where people came and dropped bombs on you, killed your friends, possibly killed you, that’s the part left out of the diorama. But what if that part only served to make those moments of peacefulness more valuable? What if you need struggle to appreciate the lack of struggle?

What if when we’re looking back at earlier times and finding them more appealing than our own, we aren’t looking at history through rose-colored glasses? What if what appeals to us isn’t the so-called simpler times, but the opposite, harder times? What if hard is good, struggle is good, and that’s why the past is so appealing?


Jack M June 06, 2024 at 1:32 p.m.

Loved the last paragraph! The ease and convenience of modern life (especially for those in urban areas) is seductive. But once you’re actually living that way, it feels so empty and boring. In my experience, the simpler (and often more physically and mentally strenuous way) is far more satisfying. Without any real problems or challenges, it seems like most people end up just creating their own.

Scott June 07, 2024 at 9:33 a.m.


Yeah, I think probably well over half the “problems” I’ve ever had I created for myself. Strenuous living keeps you out of trouble.


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