A weekly column by Catherine Dugan. This week: Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum
Looking for something to do on a rainy day in Cape May? The Naval Air Station Aviation Museum, located at the Cape May County airport, is a great suggestion. Many, many people think it’s a great suggestion, so if you go on a rainy day, you will have LOTS of company. If you really want to soak up the World War II history, make the trip in the sunshine.
The museum was created to honor the 42 airmen who died while serving at the Naval Air Station Wildwood during World War II. NAS Wildwood served as a training facility for pilots from 1943 to 1945. It was originally called the Naval Air Station Rio Grande, but the name was changed to avoid confusion. Hangar #1 is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it houses airplanes with great names like Avenger, Helldiver, and Dauntless. On some, you can climb right into the pilot’s seat.
This is a hands-on museum with something for everyone. In addition to the aircraft exhibits, there are glimpses into life on the home front with period music, pop culture and furniture. You can test your eyes with a series of optical illusions, pretend to signal your fellow airmen on World War II-era radio equipment, and learn the science behind flight. Measure yourself against a giant engine, sit in a coast guard rescue helicopter and even try out an ejection seat. Visitors are also encouraged to compare different aviation technologies – Allison’s favorites were the “Allison” engines, of course. This is the kind of museum that invites you to linger, so it’s worth sacrificing some beach time to have the place to yourself on a sunny day.
The dive bombers who trained at NAS Wildwood had a national focus, but the museum gives a nod to its local impact. “Trenton Makes, The Navy Takes” shows the contributions New Jersey’s capital made to the World War II effort. Maps on the museum’s website show training locations, so you can see whether your favorite fishing spot was once a target.
The museum also features a gift shop, which is a delight to explore. Across the parking lot, the Flight Deck Diner is open for a simple lunch. The facility remains a working airport, and the Flight Deck offers a great view of the planes taking off and landing – unless they are grounded due to the rain.
Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for kids, and the museum opens at 9am daily in October and November. Dive into World War II history with a trip to this museum.
Next week: Treasure Hunting at the West End Garage