NEWPORT, R.I. – For Naval War College (NWC) Museum
Curator Bob Cembrola, creating the “A Century of Naval Aviation, 1911-2011” exhibit was a three-month labor of love. The display marks the exciting and turbulent first one hundred years of Navy flight.
“I hope visitors take away a strong sense of pride and appreciation for what our Navy has accomplished to protect this country and maintain its naval superiority since the turn of the 20th Century,” Cembrola remarked. “It’s been an amazing journey to say the least.”
The museum created the exhibit to coincide with the centennial celebration of U.S. Navy aviation. On January 18, 1911, a civilian aviator, Eugene Ely, landed a biplane on a wooden platform built on the cruiser USS Pennsylvania
, which was anchored in San Francisco Bay. The Navy would experience innumerable military, political and technological challenges and successes through peacetime and war in the decades to follow.
The exhibit, which continues through June of this year, features unique and historical naval artifacts, many of which were loaned to the museum by NWC staff and faculty and the Quonset Air Museum in Kingstown, R.I.
“We’re fortunate to have so many employees and local contributors directly involved in this project,” Cembrola said. “In some cases people offered items from their entire military careers.”
Visitors will get a glimpse of the infancy of military aviation by viewing a uniform worn by World War I Navy pilots and a wooden propeller from a 1920 Curtis Model F Flying Boat. They’ll also learn what prisoners of war (POW) experienced during the Vietnam War.
“There’s a special tribute for Cmdr. (ret.) Porter Halyburton, USN, whose plane was shot down over Vietnam in 1965,” Cembrola explained. “He was originally listed as killed in action for approximately 18 months, but survived the crash and was a POW for more than seven years.”
Halyburton was eventually released with the first group of Vietnam of POW’s in February 1973. His awards and decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, three Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, and seven Air Medals. Halyburton was a member of NWC faculty from 1979-2004, and received the distinction of Professor Emeritus upon his retirement.
High-altitude leather flight suit, flight-deck helmets, vintage war photographs, and an authentic ejection seat from an F-4 Fantom jet are among other showcase items. The museum staff is particularly proud of contributions from War College personnel.
“The flight jackets from Chief of Staff Capt. Russell Knight and Professor Barney Rubel are treasured items,” Director of Museum Education John Kennedy said. “We’re also appreciative of Professor John Jackson’s articles included in the light-than-air blimp display. His pilot seat from a Navy ZPG-3W Airborne Early Warning Airship is a very unique piece.”
“The entire exhibition depicts the evolution and transformation of our Navy’s aviation heritage,” Cembrola added. “It also highlights the Navy’s courage, commitment and dedication to the country it serves.”
The museum is open to the public 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday throughout the year, and noon to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from June through September. It’s closed on holidays. Public access to the museum with personal vehicle is through Gate 1 of Naval Station Newport (NAVSTA). Tours and school buses enter through Gate 10 of NAVSTA.
For reservations please call (401) 841-4052 at least one working day in advance. Reservations and photo identification are necessary for entry onto the naval base. Visitors must stop at the Pass Office before proceeding to Gate 1.
By David Reese, Naval War College Public Affairs