For the first time in nearly 50 years, the Pensacola Naval Air Station has a new aircraft on display at the main gate. As part of a series of events to celebrate the base’s 100 year anniversary, a special ceremony was held Tuesday to unveil the new plane: partial coverings were removed, revealing special details on the plane, which was painted in the Blue Angels blue and gold.
During the ceremony, Captain Keith Hoskins, commanding officer at NAS Pensacola, and former Blue Angel, was one of the keynote speakers. In his remarks, he noted the base’s long history as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation.”
He said, “You know, this base officially opened in November of 1914 when our Naval Department then had a vision. A vision to bring naval aviation here to the panhandle of Pensacola so that we could train the world’s premier naval aviators.”
The elite pilots of the Blue Angels and other members of the flight demonstration team have been a big part of the base’s history. The squadron has called Pensacola home since 1954.
Hoskins continued, “For sixty years, the Blue Angels have been here at Naval Air Station Pensacola. As they serve, as the showcase the pride and professionalism of the naval service, as they provide air shows for millions and millions of people around the globe to show them exactly the pride and professionalism of the Navy and Marine Corps team."
Captain Hoskins served as a member of the team from 1999-2001. He was the narrator and Number 5 pilot.
He says it’s appropriate that the aircraft at the base’s main gate is painted in the Blue Angels theme. He adds it is high time the display plane was updated to the F/A-18 Hornet, a jet the Blues have been using for nearly 30 years.
As it turns out, the F/A-18 has actually been in possession of the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola, for the past 9 years.
Retired Navy Captain, Bob Rasmussen, also a former Blue Angel, is director of the museum. He shares, “Over the years, the plane had deteriorated to a point that we couldn’t find a borrower. Looking at it today you would never know that it was a real mess when we turned it over to Petty Officer Dodd and his crew to try to resurrect, to represent, not only the Naval Air Station, but the Navy, and certainly the Blue Angels, here at the front gate.”
Rasmussen brought up an interesting fact about the aircraft that had been welcoming motorists at the main entrance, up until now.
The F-11 Tiger, on display for nearly five decades, was painted in Blue Angels colors, leading most to believe that it was indeed a former Blue Angel jet.
However, this was proven not to be the case when an old article surfaced containing a photograph of the same airplane when it went on display at the site in 1965. In the photo, the plane was painted in fleet colors, revealing that it was actually a fleet aircraft, not a Blue Angels jet.
Colonel Denis “Deej” Kiely, a retired marine and current Senior Editor for the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, points out that though aircrafts may come and go from the display, as time goes on, one thing will stand true through it all.
“The constant is the striving for excellence required of all those who wear the wings of gold and this stands as an inspiration to the young people who will succeed us in the years to come,” Kiely said.
As the ceremony came to a close, Captain Hoskins gave awards to all who helped with the F/A-18 restoration project.
The F-11 that had been at the gate is also being restored and will be placed on display at a facility in Union City, Tennessee towards the end of this year.
Meantime, there will soon be an opportunity for locals to see the Blue Angels in action. The squadron performs their annual air show over Pensacola Beach next week.