Have you ever fantasized about taking flight with the Blue Angels, soaring high above the clouds and performing aerial acrobatics?
That dream is easy to achieve at the National Naval Aviation Museum, in Pensacola, Fla., about a 15-minute drive from the Alabama Gulf Coast.
Replicas of Blue Angels aircraft hover over visitors’ heads as they enter the reception area of one of the largest aviation museums in the world.
More than 150 restored aircraft and 4,000 artifacts are displayed there, representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviation.
Hands-on exhibits educate and entertain in this free attraction, which also offers free tours of the museum. Visitors can also watch planes, including the Blue Angels, take off and land at the adjacent Sherman Air Field.
After hours, groups can have cocktails and dinner in the 10,000-square-foot Blue Angels Atrium and then use the adjacent Imax Theater for awards, speeches or other presentations.
A private coffee bar is among the features of the Radford Lounge, a meeting and event space for 21 with its own restroom and audio-visual equipment.
On weekdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the small 90-seat theater is available for private events.
For those who want to experience the thrill of flying, the museum offers two types of simulators: the Motion-Based Simulator and, for the extremely adventurous, the Top Gun Air Combat Simulator.
The Motion-Based Simulator is a ride in a Navy F/A-18 Hornet on a low-level mission with high-performance turns and maneuvers, as well as a Desert Storm simulation that takes passengers through battle in the Iraqi desert.
The Top Gun simulators have been used to train more than 1,400 F-14 pilots during the 30-year length of service of the Tomcat. After a preflight briefing, passengers climb in, close the canopy, take off from and land on an aircraft carrier, and engage in a dogfight. It doesn’t get any more real than that.