Written for the 2022 Perdido Area Guide By Dayre Lias
“The Lost Key” is one of the unique, historical places in the Florida Panhandle. From the end of the ice age, 12,000 years ago, Paleoindian hunters roamed the area and evolved into the powerful chiefdoms encountered by Spanish explorers. Ultimately, the Perdido Key area was found in 1693 by the Spanish, who named it Perdido— “The Lost Key.”
The military history of Pensacola began with a Spanish settlement and fort in 1698 and involved defending the community against constant attacks from Indians. In 1821 Spain ceded Florida to the United States. Construction of the Pensacola Navy Yard began in April 1826, and it soon became one of the best-equipped naval stations in the country. In its early years, the base dealt mainly with suppressing the slave trade and piracy in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.
Between 1829 and 1859, the Army Corps of Engineers built fortifications around Pensacola Bay to protect the Navy Yard. Fort Barrancas and the Advanced Redoubt on the mainland, and Ft McRee and Ft Pickens on the barrier islands at the entrance to the bay. Fort McRee was located on the Eastern end of Perdido Key.
During the Civil War, Ft Barrancas and McRee were controlled by the Confederate Forces, while Ft Pickens was owned by the Union. Ft McRee was heavily damaged during the Civil War in 1861 and was not rebuilt. As a result, all that remains today of Fort McRee is the foundation of the coastal batteries. The other three installations continued to be used until mid-way through World War II and have been restored and preserved for present-day tours.
NAS Pensacola succeeded the Navy Yard in January 1914. Upon entry into World War I, Pensacola was the only naval air station with 38 naval aviators and 54 fixed-wing aircraft. By the signing of the armistice in November 1918, the air station had trained 1,000 naval aviators.
As WWII loomed on the horizon, NAS Pensacola expanded again, training 1,100 cadets a month. The Korean War presented problems as the military was caught amid a transition from propellers to jets, and the air station revised its courses and training techniques. Nonetheless, NAS produced 6,000 aviators from 1950 to 1953.
Popular Attractions on NAS Pensacola
Today NAS Pensacola is home to the Navy Blue Angels, the Naval Education and Training Command, and USAF flight officer training. In addition, the National Naval Aviation Museum and the Pensacola Lighthouse Museum are also located aboard NAS.
The lighthouse and Museum are located onboard the active naval base. If you are planning a visit, be sure to check the museum website for current base entry requirements.
Visit the National Naval Aviation Museum
The National Naval Aviation Museum displays more than 4,000 artifacts and over 150 beautifully restored aircraft representing Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard aviation. Enjoy the thrill of flight in the Flight Simulators, and catch all the drama and power of the thrilling narratives on the Giant Digital Screen Theater.
Climb the Pensacola Lighthouse
The Pensacola Lighthouse is the oldest and tallest lighthouse in the Panhandle. Climb 177 steps up the historic Pensacola Lighthouse for one of the most beautiful views on the Gulf Coast. The tower is 150 feet tall and sits on a 40-foot bluff located on the Pensacola Naval Air Station, placing the light 190 feet above sea level.
The 1869 keeper’s quarters, adjacent to the lighthouse tower, houses a museum and gift shop administered by the Pensacola Lighthouse Association.
Watch an Air Show by the US Navy Blue Angels
NAS Pensacola is home to the world-famous US Navy Blue Angels Aerial Demonstration Team. Visitors and locals can often catch the sight of the Blue Angels practicing the air show above their home base.