This is a really cool museum if you are interested in naval aviation history. I have been in South-Florida on and off for the last 5 years but never noticed this museum. This museum is a real hidden gem. It’s located next to I-95 and you can see it from the freeway, but it’s just not that obvious. I literally drove by here a thousand times and never noticed it.
How did I notice it? Well, I was planning on capturing photos of United’s Star Wars plane and was looking for good spots around the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. After some research, I was able to figure out the runway and location from where I want to take the pictures. That’s when I saw the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum on Google Maps. During my trip to the shooting location, I stopped by at the museum. Unfortunately, they just closed and I had to come back to check it out the next day. It’s also a great addition to the museum visit to come to the plane spotting spot next to runway 10L.
History of the Naval Air Station
What is now known as Fort Lauderdale International Airport was known for a long time as Merle Fogg Field. On October 1, 1942, the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale (NASFL) was constructed to aid in the war effort.
Back then, the resort town of Fort Lauderdale had a population of about 20,000 people. It was the ideal place to establish a land-based training facility for the Navy with close proximity to a deep water port.
Many factors made this location a great place for flight training. The overall good weather allowed many flying hours, the open sea was perfect for training and the Everglades provided a natural bombing range. Yes, that’s what the used the Everglades in the past. Did you know?
Pilots and aircrews got trained on the Grumman Avenger TBF/TBM torpedo bomber. This plane featured folding wings and was one of the largest single-engine planes used during the war.
Exactly four yours after its commissioning, the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale was decommissioned on October 1, 1946. It served as one of 257 air stations during WWII.
Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum
The museum is housed inside the historic Link Trainer Building #8. A link trainer was a very sophisticated flight simulated back in the days, which allowed future pilots to train like the would be in an actual plane.
This building is the last remaining one from a vast complex with more than 200 buildings which used to be the naval base. The museum building was moved to where it is now, as volunteers preserved the building from destruction and to become listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It is also the only military museum in Broward County.
Inside you can find memorabilia and photographs of what the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale used to look like during its peak. Check out their huge collection of aircraft and ship models as well as uniforms and other items.
Admission to the museum is free and you can join any of their volunteer-led guided tours. Which are amazing in every way. These guys are just packed with knowledge about every detail in the museum and what life used to be here. It’s just amazing to listen to the stories of these guys. You should definitely swing by and join the tour. Leave a small donation before you leave, so these guys can keep the lights on for you.
Flight 19 “The Lost Squadron”
The museum also plays a big role in remembering all the people who lost their lives here at NASFL. During the years of 1942 until 1945, 95 young Americans lost their lives at the NASFL. One of the biggest aviation mysteries in history was Flight 19. It was supposed to be a routine navigation exercise and mock bombing run of a concrete shipwreck just south of Bimini. On December 5, 1945, a squadron of 5 TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, carrying 14 men, left the Naval Station Fort Lauderdale to fly to the Hens and Chickens shoals in the Bahamas.
The squadron Commander Lt. Charles C. Taylor reported that he was lost just 90 minutes after takeoff from NASFL. Over the next three hours, he mistakenly led Flight 19 far out to sea where the planes apparently ran out of fuel and crashed.
A huge search operation was mounted, it was one of the biggest searches in history, involving hundreds of ships and planes. They searched for three days but nobody ever found a trace. During the rescue mission, a Martin PBM Mariner rescue plane with 13 souls aboard vanished as well. Is it the curse of the Bermuda Triangle?
Flight 19 & Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Memorial Ceremony
Every year on December 5, rain or shine, a memorial ceremony is held to honor Flight 19 and the service members who died while serving at NASF. The ceremony is held in the museum’s building and is open to the public.
There is also a Navy Park next to the FAA control tower of the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. The museum’s association was instrumental in erecting this park next to the FAA control tower.
Attention: There is lots of free parking available around the park. But be careful when you take pictures. I was out there by myself and got stopped by a CBP Officer because I took pictures there and the ATC tower was in the background. In the end, it was no issue and he let me keep my photos, but he said that it looks suspicious. I get it, this place is not very well known and probably nobody comes here. That’s why it looks weird when an individual is out there. But everything turned out ok. Just be careful and respect the surrounding area as you are next to an active airport and police are always patrolling. Don’t worry, it’s ok to go there and even take pictures.
Peter has a passion for Traveling, Photography, and Geocaching. These are the best ingredients for amazing adventures all over the globe. “Traveling is fun, no matter if you stay in a luxury hotel or travel like a backpacker.” Peter shares his experiences on his Blog www.gatetoadventures.com
Some of Peter’s photos are published on corporate websites, in-flight magazines, travel guides, and much more.