A few weeks ago my friend Nick and I had the opportunity to visit a good friend of ours from Villanova, who is currently an Ensign in the US Navy, at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. Johnny has been stationed down in Pensacola for about a year now training to serve as a NFO (Naval Flight Officer) and after several failed attempts to schedule this trip we finally found a weekend that worked for all of us. After grabbing Nick from the airport on Friday night (he flew down from Concord, New Hampshire) and grabbing a few short hours of sleep, we set out 5:30am EST from Atlanta to kick off our long weekend.
Tour of the Base
You might be asking yourself why I bothered to include “EST” in our departure time. Something I had not realized when we set out on this trip was the Pensacola is actually in CST, which means that our 5-hour drive actually got us there at 9:30am local time. Once we got over the shock of how quickly we got there (Google Maps told us it would take just over 6 hours) and realized we had the whole day ahead of us, we decided to take a tour of the station and grab lunch before deciding what we wanted to do with the rest of our day.
Unfortunately for Nick and I, the Blue Angels were out of town for the weekend so we didn’t get to see them in action but we did get to drive through their training facility.
It was a pretty crappy day out weather-wise, but we spent the next 45 minutes or so driving around the base learning about the different planes, the training regimen, and the process of how the students graduate from each aircraft to the next. Despite the pretty weather, I was able to snap some good shots of the different types of planes and jets as we trolled around.
This is a T-39 Sabreliner, the plane Johnny was training on during our visit:
This is one of the Blue Angels jets that has been retired from the fleet and serves as a display aircraft in front of the Officers Club (the “O Club”):
This is an F-18C Hornet in front of one of the academics buildings:
National Museum of Naval Aviation
The next thing we got to do was hit up the National Museum of Naval Aviation which was decidedly not what I expected to be doing on my vacation but was extremely glad we did. Johnny was basically our personal tour guide as we walked around the museum and gave us the technical and anecdotal history of almost every plane we saw.
Here’s me in front of an F-3 Demon, a 1960s era plane and the ancestor to the popular F-4 Phantom:
Nick, Johnny, and a trio of Blue Angels jets suspended from the vaulted ceiling inside the museum:
Marine 1, the Presidential helicopter that Nixon was exiting when the iconic photograph was taken:
Johnny giving me an overview of the instruments inside the cockpit of a F-4 Phantom:
By the time we finished our tour of the museum it was about time for lunch so we headed into the Cubi Bar Cafe, an awesome spot that serves as it’s own little piece of history within the museum. The Cubi Bar Cafe was designed to replicate the Officers’ Club at NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines, complete with authentic Navy and Marine memorabilia covering the walls. Our waitress, the wife of an active-duty Chief stationed overseas, gave us a great overview of the Cubi Bar Cafe and hooked us up with a really cool pamphlet that explains the history and influences that shaped it:
The Cubi Bar Cafe offers an upscale luncheon menu and a decor that chronicles the many deployments to the Western Pacific by Navy and Marine Corps units. Literally hundreds of palques, once covering the walls of the Officers’ Club at NAS Cubi Point in the Philipines, now adorn the restaurant’s walls. Return to the United States following America’s departure from the Subic area, the furnishings of the club were carefully stored as historic memorabilia. The Cubi Bar Cafe was designed and built to duplicate part of that famous club.
For 40 years of deployments, squadrons and other units customarily presented a plaque or emblem to the Officers’ Club as gestures of thanks and remembrance. The custom generated a local industry among Filipino woodcarvers, whose imaginations and expertise brought the endeavor to the level of fine art. The many plaques not only capture Naval Aviation history, but also the artistry and creativeness of Philippine culture.
Enjoy a meal and take a trip down Memory Lane.
Hittin’ the Beach
On Sunday we finally got the opportunity to see the sun come out and made our way across the border into Alabama to hit the beach. Now, I must admit that when I heard we were going to Alabama my mind immediately skipped to every stereotype about the South from the 23 years I spent living in the Northeast. In fact, when I updated Facebook with our exploits I’m not the only Northerner with certain preconceptions about what an Alabama beach would be like…
That said, I’ve never been more happy to have been proven wrong. The beach, just over the border into Alabama along the Gulf Coast, was beautiful and we got to spend a relaxing afternoon lounging around and enjoying some my own home-brewed beer.
A Gulf Coast Lunch
For lunch on Sunday we hit up a spot right off the beach that we spent the afternoon. And when I mean right off the beach, I mean right off the beach. Check out the view from our table…
Since this was really the only time we were eating out during the whole trip, we decided to go all out with the Gulf Coast oysters and specialty Shaka shrimp appetizers.
After inhaling these apps I devoured some of the greatest fish tacos I’ve ever had…and fish tacos are a regular favorite of mine at seafood joints.
The Tale of the Mustache
Anyone who has checked out my Facebook recently would have noticed that I’m currently rocking a sweet new mustache in my profile pic. And not just any mustache…a handlebar mustache!
In my defense, this mustache actually made sense in the context of the weekend. The Ensigns of Training Squadron 10 (Johnny’s squadron) were in the midst of a Mustache April competition (the winner of which got the commanding officer’s parking space for a week), and I decided that when in Rome…shave a handlebar mustache!
Full disclosure: Out of respect for Anne’s sanity I did shave it off before returning home, but this photo represents the short-lived experience rockin’ the handlebar.
Our Last Day
On our last day we drove back out to the base to grab lunch at this food truck right on the tarmac and took one last stop to climb the lighthouse. The lighthouse has been on the grounds since 1824 and has been maintained by the US Coast Guard since then.
Our climb up the 177 steps of the historic lighthouse was interesting to say the least, as there was only one railing on the outside and the steps themselves were maybe 10-inches at the widest point. I had to go back to the car to get my sneakers because you are actually forbidden from climbing the staircase in flip-flops for safety reasons. Although the climb was a little precarious, definitely worth it one we reached the top.
At the top, I received some good-natured ribbing from the the lighthouse attendant/Mets fan for my Phillies hoodie and got to see some pretty killer panoramic views of the Pensacola coastline and the entire base and airfield.
(this is my favorite photo from the entire trip)
Not a bad way to cap off a pretty epic weekend down in Pensacola!
Welcome! My name is Brett Snyder and I am the Director of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at an interactive marketing agency based in West Midtown Atlanta.
When I'm not studying and practicing SEO, you can find me hanging out with Braveheart, catching up with new and old friends, or finding a new way to stay busy.
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