The curious and the nostalgic need not look far to find pieces of naval aviation history.
Three local museums have preserved pieces of U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps heritage.
The San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park houses several milestones of naval aviation, as well as pieces of local industrial history. Visit SanDiegoAirAndSpace.org or call 619-234-8291.
The collection includes a full-size replica of a 1911 Curtiss biplane, similar to that used by the Navy.
It also houses a PBY Catalina flying boat, delivered to the Navy in 1943. San Diego-based Consolidated Aircraft produced nearly 4,000 copies of the model.
Outside the museum, a Convair YF2Y-1 Sea Dart represents the local company’s effort to build a supersonic seaplane after World War II.
Visitors can also see a Ryan Aeronautical Co. Firebee target drone, a forerunner to the unmanned craft that are assembled today in Rancho Bernardo and Poway.
Nearby at the Embarcadero, the USS Midway Museum houses significant Navy aircraft on a decommissioned aircraft carrier. Visit midway.org or call 619-544-9600.
The aircraft collection includes a Northrop Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighter, an everyday sight in San Diego before its retirement in the mid-2000s.
The Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation’s museum was relocated from Orange County in 1999 following the closure of the Marine Corps base at El Toro. Organizers have been expanding the collection since. The museum is on the grounds of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar — though it’s not accessible from the base. Enter off the 8600 block of Miramar Road. Visit FlyingLeathernecks.org or call 877-359-8762. (The number spells 877-FLY-USMC.)
The collection has several midcentury, propeller-driven aircraft, including a Vought F4U-5N Corsair with its distinctive bent wing design. Despite being used into the Korean War, the Corsair still used biplane-era materials, including wood and fabric in certain parts.
All three museums have examples of McDonnell-Douglas’ A-4 Skyhawk, a carrier-based jet from the Vietnam era. The model was dubbed Heinemann’s Hot Rod after the last name of the designer.
All three have Boeing’s F/A-18, similar to that currently flown by the Navy and Marines.