There is a short list of places and activities I recommend to people visiting Cape May County, and this is on top of that list. It meets my basic history requirement (it's authentic, not made up for tourists), and it is just plane (make that plain) interesting. It occurred to me recently while making such a recommendation that I hadn't been there for awhile. Yesterday I was happy to see that the museum takes up more of the space of its restored World War II hangar, and there are more planes and displays, including a tribute to the United States Coast Guard. By the way, I blogged about this museum back in 2011 for NJ.com and you can read that piece here.
|World War II-era Boeing-Stearman PT-17 Kaydet biplane|
First let me explain that the NASW Aviation Museum is not in Wildwood as its name would have you suspect. It is closer to Rio Grande, NJ, but that name makes people think of Texas, and that would REALLY be confusing. The next closest municipality with a distinctive name was Wildwood. I guess "Cape May" was already taken by the then-Navy, now-USCG base. Wildwood was an entertainment hotspot even then, so the name probably had happy memories associated with it for the pilots who trained here.
The many military vehicles are set up so that visitors (YOU if you take my recommendation) can walk up to them, touch them, inspect some of their motors, and possibly even go inside them. You might recognize this big-bubbled Korean-War-era helicopter from the opening of M*A*S*H:
|Bell 47 (H-13 Sioux in its military life)|
|Fred poses in front of the gigantic TBM-3E Avenger propeller to show you how enormous it is.|
|You get to check out the AH-1 Cobra's engine and look inside the cockpit.|
Not all of the vehicles here fly. This is a newer display (at least since I last visited): a Ford. This regular sedan was painted to represent NASW (the paint is original) and it was used to drive bigwigs around the base.
|1941 Ford Super Deluxe Fordor Sedan|
|The Ford's blackout headlight|
|Fred clowning around under the Ford's hood.|
|A bird's eye view of the front of the museum|
Another nice touch yesterday was that the back door of the hangar was open. We weren't allowed to go out on the tarmac, but we could stand behind barricades and look out at more planes, and even watch a modern plane or two take off.
|That's the Vultee BT-13 training plane poised by the back door, and the Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 with the red stars and '23' next to it.|
|And here's a small modern plane taking off.|
|HH-52A Seaguard, amphibious search-and-rescue helicopter|
|The only time you'll see me behind the wheel of a Hummer, in this case a USCG Hummer|