Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
There have always been military bases in Northwest Florida. The earliest coastal forts were built to protect Spanish settlements from naval invasions by the French and British. Later, during the Civil War, gulf coast forts served as protection and as strategic holdings for both the Union and Confederacy.
In the 20th Century, the region was the launching point for the fledgling U. S. space program after captured V-2 rockets were brought here along with their German inventors. From the beginning, Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast has been a strategic location for the military on land, sea and air.
Today seven military bases dot the coast from Pensacola to Panama City. Two of those bases, Pensacola Naval Air Station and Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, have history museums that feature vintage aircraft, military weapons and the history of modern air warfare.
Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, home of the 325th Fighter Wing, began as a Flexible Gunnery School in 1940. Today, the 325th Fighter Wing is assigned to the United States Air Force's Air Education and Training Command. Each year in March or April Tyndall hosts the Gulf Coast Salute Airshow featuring air demonstration squadrons such as the Navy’s Blue Angles and the US Army Golden Knights Parachute Team.
The Naval Surface Warfare Center is located on St. Andrew’s Bay in Panama City Beach. It is a small navy base devoted to research, development, and evaluation of mine warfare systems, diving and life support systems, amphibious/expeditionary maneuver warfare systems, and other missions that occur primarily in coastal regions.
Eglin Air Force Base is the largest in the free world and spans the two central Northwest Florida counties of Walton and Okaloosa. It is home to the 96th Air Base Wing and the 33rd Fighter Wing with the largest fleet of f-35 fighter jets in America. Eglin serves as the focal point for all Air Force armament, testing and evaluation of armament, navigation, guidance systems, and command and control systems.
Duke Field north of Niceville is home to the 919th Special Operations Wing. Their mission is to provide and maintain the MC-130E Combat Talon I special operations aircraft designed for covert operations.
Hurlburt Field in Mary Esther is home of the 1st Special Operations Wing and to Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command. Various support groups for these commands are also located here.
Pensacola Naval Air Station is just west of Pensacola and is the home of the Blue Angels, the U. S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron. Known as the "Cradle of Naval Aviation," Pensacola Naval Air Station serves as the launching point for the flight training of every U. S. Naval aviator, flight officer and enlisted air crewman.
Naval Air Station Whiting Field is located near Milton and is home to Training Air Wing FIVE. It is one of the Navy's top pilot training bases and produces over 1,200 pilots per year. The base encompasses over 12,00 acres and includes three separate and fully operational airfields.
Air Museums are located at Eglin Air Force Base and Pensacola Naval Air Station. Both museums are free and open to the public.
The Air Force Armament Museum is located on Highway 85 just outside the west gate at Eglin Air Force Base. It is the only museum in the world dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibition of artifacts and memorabilia associated with Air Force Armament and the airplanes and other launch platforms that deliver it. Outside the building, visitors can view airplanes and missiles from WWII and the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf Wars. Inside exhibits are devoted to Desert Storm and the history of air armament as well as bombs, missiles and rockets. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and admission is free. Call (850) 651-1808 for more information.
The National Naval Aviation Museum located on Pensacola Naval Air Station is the world’s largest naval air history museum and features vintage aircraft, interactive exhibits and an IMAX theater. The museum represents the history of flight of the U. S. Navy, Marines and Coast Guard and is also home to the Blue Angles. Museum visitors can watch the team practice from a designated viewing area outside. After practice, the team gathers in the museum to answer questions and sign autographs. The museum is open daily throughout the year from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and admission is free. Call (850) 452-3604 for more information.
Finally, as you drive through the region, be on the lookout for the many veterans memorial parks and monuments located in towns and on the roadsides. Northwest Florida military bases have always played a major part in America's defenses, from the Civil War through the present, and we take pride in honoring those who serve.
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