Travel Log: Into the Wild Blue Yonder

(Niceville, Florida; June 12, 2021) – Visitors to Florida’s Fort Walton Beach area can soar high into the wild blue yonder by visiting one of our hometown area gems—the U.S. Air Force Armament Museum.

Located outside the main gate of Eglin Air Force Base, the museum is the only museum in the United States dedicated to the armaments employed by the Air Force in defense of our nation.  While the museum’s extensive collection of aircraft is the most visible aspect of the museum (especially for those zipping along Eglin Parkway), the facility houses examples of the weapons employed by those aircraft during the many battles faced by American airmen.

The outdoor static displays are extensive enough to keep any aviation buff enthralled for hours.  Dominating the view as you drive in is the hulking gray lines of an AC-130 gunship, B-17 G Flying Fortress, SR-71A Blackbird, and the mighty B-52 Stratofortress.  A second look will reveal other aerial luminaries such as the A-10 Warthog (officially the ‘Thunderbolt II,’ but commonly referred to as the Warthog), F-16A Fighting Falcon, and F-15A Eagle.  And that’s just in the front yard; stroll around to the aircraft on display behind the museum, and you’ll see everything from a giant B-47 Stratojet bomber to an F-86F Sabre.

An AC-130 Gunship on display at the Armament Museum. Founded in 1975, the Air Force Armament Museum is the only facility in the nation dedicated entirely to the armaments carried by the United States Air Force. Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. (Nathanael Miller, 12 June 2021)

The business of the Armament Museum is armament, and the facility does not skimp on the guns, missiles, bombs, drones, and guided missiles used by the Air Force.

The main entrance is marked by a sign sporting a massive 44,000 lbs. T-12 Cloudmaker earthquake bomb.  An earthquake bomb was designed to penetrate into the earth before detonation, thereby using its explosive power to create seismic waves that could collapse targets hardened against conventional aerial bombs such as bunkers and aqueducts.  Another heavy hitter sits directly in front of the museum building itself—the 21,600 lbs. GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or ‘MOAB’ bomb.  Known colloquially as the ‘Mother Of All Bombs,” the GBU-43/B is an air-burst weapon, designed to destroy targets (including personnel hiding in caves) through the generation of an incredibly powerful pressure wave propagating through the atmosphere.

The museum building is a large, hangar-like structure housing more historic aircraft and enough weapons to supply a few world wars.  These weapons range from the World War II-era munitions to the latest, sleekest laser-guided weapons capable of hitting a target so precisely they might have been delivered by a courier on the ground instead of an aircraft zipping through the wild blue yonder.

GBU-1 prototype laser-guided bomb. (Nathanael Miller, 12 June 2021)

A P-51 Mustang, painted in the colors of the historic Tuskegee Airmen, sits in one corner of the museum.  The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African-American pilots, aircrew, and ground maintenance personnel who fought heroic battles against the Axis Powers in World War II while also fighting racial discrimination here at home.  The P-51D they flew was the most widely produced model of the P-51 series.  Capable of flying 440 mph and reaching a ceiling of 42,000 feet, the P-51D sported six .50 in (12.7 mm) AN/M2 ‘light-barrel’ M2 Browning machine guns and could carry up to 1,000 lbs. of ordnance.  This was a sleek and steely aerial fighter that brought many a bad day to enemy forces.

Another of the aircraft housed inside the museum is the F-105 Thunderchief, a supersonic fighter-bomber that saw service from 1958 – 1984.  A high-speed delivery system for all manner of weapons, the F-105 could carry up to 14,000 lbs. of bombs and/or missiles.  This is a significantly higher weight threshold than what a B-17 or B-24 could lift off the ground during World War II.  The F-105 also sported an M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon capable of firing approximately 6,000 rounds per minute.  This was definitely one aerial weapons platform you did not want to honk off!

The word ‘armament’ denotes more than merely the aircraft which carried the weapons aloft; it means the weapons themselves, and the museum presents an incredibly packed educational experience in the Air Force’s munitions and test equipment.

Dominating the floor space next to the P-51D is a full-sized mock-up of the Fat Man atomic bomb.  A Fat Man bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, Japan, in August of 1945.  This was the second atomic strike of the war following the destruction of Hiroshima a few days earlier.  These two weapons finally ended the slaughter of World War II.

Are you curious about what our airmen shoot at for target practice?  Check out the brilliant orange BMQ-34A Firebee drone hanging from the ceiling, forever suspended in frozen flight.  First flown in 1951, the Firebee provided a high-speed, highly maneuverable target allowing our pilots to train against a realistic target.  Not content to simply be shot down, the Firebee also branched out into work as a drone carrying all manner of work such as flying as an unmanned drone conducting bombing runs and leaflet drops.

The BQM-34A Firebee drone. (Nathanael Miller; 12 June 2021)

All manner of laser-guided weapons are displayed around the facility.  Development on laser-guided weapons began in the 1960s, and has continued ever since, refining the weapons’ increase in both yield and precision.  Laser-guided weapons provide the U.S. military the capability to hit enemy targets with lethal accuracy, while significantly reducing the possibility of ‘collateral damage’ to noncombatants’ lives and property.

The Air Force Armament Museum will enthrall, entertain, and enlighten you for hours.  There is a wealth of aviation and military history to be mined here, if only you’re willing to pull in the parking lot and pay for your free admission.  Seriously, admission is free; the museum relies on grants, donations, and its gift shop for the funds to not only maintain its existing collection, but to continue growing that collection as the Air Force continues developing new aerial platforms and weapons to keep our friendly skies free of danger.

Whether you live in the Fort Walton Beach area or are passing through, the Air Force Armament Museum is a worthwhile stop to make!  Soar into the wild blue yonder with our aerial warriors, past and present, and learn about the remarkable tools and weapons they’ve used to keep our remarkable country free!

Check out my video about the museum at: https://youtu.be/Y9D-znolDWg

U.S. Air Force Armament Museum website: http://www.afarmamentmuseum.com/

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