Suburban Parks: NAS Jacksonville Heritage Park

March 29, 2010 9 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Located just east of the NAS Jacksonville main gate, Heritage Park is home to several static displays of decommissioned aircraft.

Got a friend in the Navy? Have a photo ID? Either of these will allow you access to the NAS JAX Heritage Park, with its collection of rare aircraft, in care of the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, and a dedicated team of Jacksonville officers and men. When the new inductee's for Chief Petty Officer were assigned their initiation activity it was with soap, water, brush and sponge, in the airplane park.  

The amazing thing is that we can visit this park at all in a time of tight national security. Remember to be polite, sometimes the base is closed off to civilian sightseers. All of the aircraft are marked as to their type, dates, builder, abilities, etc.  


Role                  Torpedo bomber
Manufacturer      Grumman-General Motors
Designed by        Leroy Grumman
First flight          7 August 1941
Introduced         1942
Retired              1960s
Status               Retired
Primary users      United States Navy
                        Royal Navy
                        Royal Canadian Navy
                        Royal New Zealand Air Force
Number built       9,837

The Avenger was the type of torpedo bomber used during the sinking of the two Japanese "super battleships": the Musashi and the Yamato, largest ever built.  A famous Avenger pilot was future American President George H. W. Bush, flying a TBM Avenger off the light aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) in 1944.

The first Kamikazes? Six TBF-1s were present on Midway Island, as part of VT-8 (Torpedo Squadron 8), while the rest of the squadron flew Devastators from the Hornet. Unfortunately, both types of torpedo bombers suffered heavy casualties, with only one Avenger surviving, although they were credited with drawing away the Japanese combat air patrols so the American dive bombers could successfully hit the Japanese carriers. Devastators might have been the most misnamed aircraft of WWII. These planes used a glide attack at the sides of ships, while just over the wave tops at less then 200 mph. From Torpedo 8, the only survivor of the squadron was Ensign George Gay who ended up in the Pacific Ocean watching the battle of Midway from the middle of the Japanese Fleet. He was picked up 30 hours later by American forces after the Japanese retreat. While a newer Avenger survived making it back to Midway, all 30 other crew members of Torpedo 8's Devastators were slaughtered. At least one pilot managed to crash his plane into the bridge of a Japanese Ship, killing it's command abilities. It was quite clear to the survivors of Midway that the old Devastators would have to yield to newer faster aircraft.  

In June 1943, future-President George H.W. Bush became the youngest naval aviator at the time. While flying a TBM with VT-51 (from the USS San Jacinto (CVL-30)), his TBM was shot down on 2 September 1944 over the Pacific island of Chichi Jima. Both of his crewmates died. However, he released his payload and hit the target before being forced to bail out; he received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Five Avengers are airborne at 1400 on a bright sunny day. The mission is a routine two-hour patrol from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. due east for 150 miles [241 km], north for 40 miles [64 km] and then return to base. All five pilots are highly experienced aviators and all of the aircraft have been carefully checked prior to takeoff. The weather over the route is reported to be excellent, a typical sunny Florida day. The flight proceeds.

At 1545 Fort Lauderdale tower receives a call from the flight but, instead of requesting landing instructions, the flight leader sounds confused and worried. "Cannot see land," he blurts. "We seem to be off course." "What is your position?" the tower asks.There are a few moments of silence. The tower personnel squint into the sunlight of the clear Florida afternoon. No sign of the flight.
"We cannot be sure where we are," the flight leader announces. "Repeat: Cannot see land."

Contact is lost with the flight for about 10 minutes and then it is resumed. But it is not the voice of the flight leader. Instead, voices of the crews are heard, sounding confused and disoriented, "more like a bunch of boy scouts lost in the woods than experienced airmen flying in clear weather." "We can't find west. Everything is wrong. We can't be sure of any direction. Everything looks strange, even the ocean." Another delay and then the tower operator learns to his surprise that the leader has handed over his command to another pilot for no apparent reason.

Twenty minutes later, the new leader calls the tower, his voice trembling and bordering on hysteria. "We can't tell where we are ... everything is ... can't make out anything. We think we may be about 225 miles [362 km] northeast of base ..." For a few moments the pilot rambles incoherently before uttering the last words ever heard from Flight 19: "It looks like we are entering white water ... We're completely lost."

Within minutes a Mariner flying boat, carrying rescue equipment, is on its way to Flight 19's last estimated position. Ten minutes after takeoff, the PBM checks in with the tower ... and is never heard from again. Coast Guard and Navy ships and aircraft comb the area for the six aircraft. They find a calm sea, clear skies, middling winds of up to 40 miles per hour [64 km/h] and nothing else. For five days almost 250,000 square miles [647,000 kmē] of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf are searched. Yet, not a flare is seen, not an oil slick, life raft or telltale piece of wreckage is ever found.

Finally, after an extensive Navy Board of Inquiry investigation is completed, the riddle remains intact. The Board's report is summed up in one terse statement: "We are not able to even make a good guess as to what happened."

Ocklawaha's Brother-in-Law, Dalton Edwards was one of the crew members of the ill fated flight. Edwards was from Riverside, where his mother, "Grandma Georgia" lived out her life ever wondering what had become of son.


Role: Flying boat
Manufacturer  Consolidated Aircraft
Designed by  Isaac M. Laddon
First flight   March 28, 1935
Introduced   October 1936, United States Navy
Retired          January 1957, United States Navy Reserve
Primary users United States Navy
                   United States Army Air Forces
                   Royal Air Force
                   Royal Canadian Air Force
Produced      1936-1945
Number built  4,051 (estimated)

During World War II, PBYs were used in anti-submarine warfare, patrol bombing, convoy escorts, search and rescue missions (especially air-sea rescue), and cargo transport. The PBY was the most successful aircraft of its kind; no other flying boat was produced in greater numbers. The last active military PBYs were not retired from service until the 1980s. Even today, over seventy years after its first flight, the aircraft continues to fly as an airtanker in aerial firefighting operations all over the world.

The initialism of "PBY" was determined in accordance with the U.S. Navy aircraft designation system of 1922; PB representing "Patrol Bomber" and Y being the code used for the aircraft's manufacturer, Consolidated Aircraft. (From WIKI) NAS JAX with it's anti-submarine mission was a major center of the Navy's PBY fleet.

"Flying Gas Can," was one of many nicknames for the odd looking amphibious aircraft known for it's strong gas fumes and fuel leaks. While never an epidemic, occasions of these planes self destructing were never-the-less unnerving.

Meanwhile on Midway Island, in the Pacific, there lives one of the strangest creatures of all time. The Black Footed Albatros a bird which brings us another favorite nickname of this ungainly flying machine, "The Gooney Bird".

But the most memorable thing after the battle of Midway was no doubt the gooney birds. They were a constant source of surprise and laughter. Watching them take off and land was a constant source of amusement and you could watch them all day and still be laughing. In the air they were a sight to behold and beautiful in flight.

When they went to land they would run as they slowed down and then might just fold up their wings and stop running. Then they would just tumble until they stopped. It was like watching waves. They all look alike but each is different and so was each takeoff and each landing.  (from The gooney birds of Midway Island)


Role               Ground-attack aircraft
National origin  United States
Manufacturer   Douglas Aircraft Company - McDonnell Douglas
Designed by    Ed Heinemann
First flight      22 June 1954
Introduced     October 1956
Retired          2003, USN
                   1998, USMC
Status           Active with non-U.S. users
Primary users  United States Navy
                    United States Marine Corps
Number built  2,960

The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is a carrier-capable ground-attack aircraft designed for the United States Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.  The Skyhawk was designed by Douglas Aircraft's Ed Heinemann in response to a U.S. Navy call for a jet-powered attack aircraft to replace the older AD Skyraider. Heinemann opted for a design that would minimize its size, weight, and complexity. The result was an aircraft that weighed only half of the Navy's weight specification. It had a wing so compact that it did not need to be folded for carrier stowage. The diminutive Skyhawk soon received the nicknames "Scooter", "Kiddiecar", "Bantam Bomber", "Tinker Toy Bomber", and, on account of its nimble performance, "Heinemann's Hot-Rod." (From Wiki)

Brian, a Navy Lieutenant and pilot of an A-4 Skyhawk, was over the skies of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. They were looking for any changes among the enemy, in order to assist our own troops on the ground just over the border.

Brian said, "I saw these white huts far below and signaled to my wing man that I would circle around and get a better look. As soon as I banked off the entire jungle erupted in flame. I got knocked around a bit as something took the greater part of a wing off. Hitting eject, the canopy didn't completely clear as I was shot through the sky and it left me with a nasty gash on my head. On the way down in my chute I could see the enemy soldiers running toward me, I remember praying and hearing an audible voice telling me everything would be okay.  When I hit the ground I stashed the chute and dove into some nearby bushes. By then my wing man had come racing in to strafe the enemy that was moving toward my location. Still some of them got through and I watched them fire machine gun bursts into the bushes all around me. With my wing man making it very hot for them, they finally began to fall back. Within minutes of their leaving my position several helicopter gun ships came flying in, one of which picked me up. My wife, Ocklawaha's sister, about went insane when the department of defense sent her a telegram that said simply, E. B. S. Shot down - Picked up. It took a good deal of time to get a message to the family that I was a bit bruised but well.  They actually first heard the news from a neighbor who, rather then trying to get a oversea phone connection, was watching my rescue on TV."


Role              Attack aircraft
Manufacturer  Ling-Temco-Vought
First flight      26 September 1965
Introduced     February 1967
Retired          1991 (USAF, USN); 1993 (ANG)
1999             (Portuguese Air Force)
Primary users  United States Navy
                    United States Air Force
                    Portuguese Air Force
                    Greek Air Force
Number built   1,569

A-7Ds from Korat flew combat operations over Vietnam until mid-January 1973, in Laos until 22 February 1973, and in Cambodia until 15 August 1973. The last shot fired in anger by United States military forces in Southeast Asia was fired by an A-7D of the deployed 345th TFW / 353 TFS assigned to Korat RTAFB on 15 August 1973. (From Wiki)

Heritage Park is located just east of the NAS Jacksonville Main Gate at Yorktown Avenue & Allegheny Road.

Article by Robert Mann