This portion of our tour of the USS Alabama Park is for the aviation enthusiast. The Medal Of Honor Aircraft Pavilion houses some of the Navy’s most awarded aircraft with the Medal Of Honor for their actions in flight. There is no flying by the seat of your pants on this article. Sit back and enjoy the flight.
We entered the hanger through double glass doors and a whole new world suddenly appeared. There is over 65 years of aviation history in this metal constructed mausoleum. World War II, many controversial wars and countless conflicts brought some amazing advancements in aeronautical warfare.
The first plane that caught my eye was the P-51D Mustang. The Mustang took flight in 1941 at a cost of $51,000 dollars. A far cry from what a fighter plane is produced for today. This single engine – prop-driven plane was used specifically for WWII and the Korean war. The P-51D was used for escorting Bombers as they flew over Germany in the later part of WWII. The Mustang was finally retired in 1984 by the Dominican Air Force.
One of the last piston engine war planes used was the Grumman F8F Bearcat (pictured below – right). It’s predecessor, the F6F Hellcat was considered too large and heavy. In 1944 the Navy ordered the production of over 2,000 Grumman F8F Bearcat planes. However, production was cut back in 1945 after the Axis was defeated and ending WWII. Eventually, the Korean air force inherited the remaining Bearcats and then retired them in 1963.
There are two main aisles that intersect in the middle of the hanger. Each side displays various types of aircraft. After admiring the propeller driven planes, the helicopters came next. The Navy’s H-60 series – Helos or Whirlybirds – the nick names given to helicopters, are a multi-mission tool that the navy uses quite often. The one shown right is a SH-60B and has the capability to land on most seagoing vessels. This particular series of helicopters was based on the Army’s Black Hawk and can be equipped with plenty of firepower.
The United States Navy has some of the best air-to-air and air to ground fighter pilots the world has ever seen. The T-45 Goshawk (pictured directly below) is used for air strike training. The T-45A is a two seat advanced jet that has carrier landing capabilities. The training jet cruises at 645 miles per hour with a climb rate of 8,000 feet per-minute. It’s ceiling hovers around 42,000 feet and has a fuel capacity to take it 805 miles. This particular aircraft has trained many expert pilots who have victoriously defeated many of our foes.
From trainers to the real McCoy’s. The FA-18 Hornet (pictured left) came into service with the US Navy in November 1983. This Mach speed jet – 1,190 miles per hour fighter and attack aircraft was one of the Navy’s finest at that time. It saw plenty of action in 1991 with the Gulf War, and then again in the 2003 Iraq War. The Hornet has carrier capabilities and is an effective weapon in any war or conflict. The manufacturer McDonnell Douglas / Boeing created these raging war machines at a cost of 29 million dollars each.
Before the FA-18 came along, the F-8 Crusader was showing its dominating firepower in the warring skies. This supersonic, carrier-based fighter jet was the last to use conventional guns as its primary weaponry. It carried the nick name “The Last of the Gunfighters”. The plane made its first flight in 1955 and was primarily used during the Vietnam War. The US Navy retired it in 1976 and it was completely decommission in 2000.
The Grumman A-6 Intruder was introduced to action in 1963. It replaced the Douglas built A-1 Skyraider – piston engine plane. Grumman Aerospace manufactured and took orders from both the US Navy and Marine Corps, which added to their already superior airpower. The A-6 was a middle of the line attack jet that used a CRT (cathode) display for better accuracy in all types of weather conditions. The A-6 was eventually replaced by the Grumman F-14 Tomcat in 1974. The 43 million dollar EA-6 Intruder was completely retired by the USMC in 1993 and then by the USN in 1997.
There are so many aircraft to see and tell about that I couldn’t possibly put every single one of them in this adventurous article. However, there is one particular jet that can not be overlooked. As a small child, I remember having a model of the Lockheed A-12 Blackbird. The A-12 was built in 1962 and put into operation in 1963. It was used for reconnaissance flights for the Central Intelligence Agency. Only thirteen A-12’s and two M-21’s were manufactured. Up close It looks like an early prototype of the Stealth series of aircrafts. Its sleek smooth lines, narrow gauge image and dark features make it look very futuristic, especially for the 1960’s. The A-12 was designed and built with outer-areas that utilized non-metallic materials that would reduce radar detection. Sound familiar? Their existence was rather short lived with a retired date of 1968.
This part of our tour was very informative and would excite about every member of the family. Children like seeing planes and helicopters up close, dads also likes the planes and reading about their history on the attached signs and mom just loves being out of the sun. The park has something for everybody. The Medal of Honor Aircraft Pavilion is a must see attraction when in the Mobile area.
Author: Anthony Scopel
Photography: Anthony Scopel
Associate Editor: Maureen Scopel
Technical Mastering & Support: Matt Kemper
Stay tuned for the final sequel of this amazing park.