NAS Pensacola: A Century in Photographs
When she was in her nineties, Anna Lamar Switzer still remembered walking along the shore of Pensacola Bay in 1914, a crab net slung over her shoulder, and seeing the gray hull of the battleship Mississippi. The ship had arrived on January 20, 1914, along with the collier Orion, the vessels’ arrival signaling a transformation of the old Pensacola Navy Yard that came of age in the days of sail to a veritable laboratory for the newfound science of aeronautics. In the skies over brick forts from which some of the first shots of the Civil War had been fired, the buzzing of primitive wood and fabric biplanes drew the attention of the local citizenry, the intrepid men who took to the air becoming part of the social fabric of the town, including a young ensign who would propose to and marry young Anna in 1924. Over time, there grew an indelible link between naval aviation and the panhandle town that came to be known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.” It is a bond that this year celebrates a momentous birthday, 100 years since naval aviation came to Pensacola.
Throughout 2014 the National Naval Aviation Museum will commemorate the base that has been our home since we opened in 1963 and whose history forms an important chapter in the story we tell. This includes the creation of an NAS Pensacola scrapbook drawn from photographs in our collection and acquired from other sources to capture the history of U.S. Navy’s first and oldest naval air station.
NC-4 at NAS Pensacola, 1919
Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola has many ties to the Navy-Curtiss NC-4 flying boat, which since 1975 has been on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. The aircraft commander, pilot, and co-pilot (Lieutenant Commander A.C. Read, Lieutenant Elmer Stone, USCG, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Walter Hinton) of the airplane during its epic transatlantic flight in May 1919, all received their wings at Pensacola, with Read later returning to command the station during 1941-1942. Lesser known is the fact that the NC-4 actually made a pair of visits to the Pensacola during a recruiting tour in which she participated during the latter half of 1919, following her return from overseas. The tour took her down the eastern seaboard, around the tip of Florida, along the Gulf Coast, and up the Mississippi and other interior rivers, exposing naval aviation to sections of the American population unfamiliar with the U.S. Navy. The first stop at the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” was the outbound leg of the tour, the second stop coming in December 1919. This latter visit was more momentous as it marked the conclusion of the recruiting tour. While in Pensacola, the aircraft spent some time in the Assembly and Repair facility where this photograph was taken showing military and civilian workers posing with the mammoth flying boat. At least one of those who worked on the airplane at that time, mechanic Arthur Forster, was still alive and living in Pensacola when the NC-4 returned for display at the museum.