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Testing, testing...
Author: Paul Tiller
Photography: Author
Patuxent River NAVAIR Museum

Located at the intersection of Maryland Route 235 and Pegg Road in Lexington Park, Maryland, adjacent to Gate 1 of NAS Patuxent River, Naval Air Warfare Center is Patuxent River Naval Air Museum (PRNAM). It is approximately 70 miles south of Washington D.C. and it is a museum dedicated to preserving the long history of research, development, testing and evaluation of naval aircraft.

In 1911 the United States Navy’s first aircraft, a Curtiss A-1 Triad hydroplane, piloted by Lt. Taylor USN and Lt. Ellison USN departed from Annapolis, Maryland to conduct a series of early sea trials. As the pilots flew the plane south along the western shoreline of Chesapeake Bay, the aircraft developed technical problems resulting in the plane being landed near the Cedar Point lighthouse. After the pilots successfully got the aircraft on the beach they effected repairs to the carburettor and then continued their journey south to Smith Point, Virginia. Such was the significance of the landing at Cedar Point that, in 1943, Cedar Point became known as Patuxent River Air Station, and was to be the home for all US naval aircraft evaluation and testing. The first pilots began training at the school in 1945 and thirteen years later, in 1958, the school was officially named the United States Naval Test Pilot School.
E-2 Hawkeye
S-3 Viking
To commemorate and remember the achievements, history and technological breakthroughs made by the pilots and personnel at the school in Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E), it was proposed that a museum be built. In late 1974 the decision to go ahead with the museum plans was given and in July 1978 the museum opened its doors to the public. In the same year it was also recognised by the Secretary of the Navy as one of the ten official Navy museums.

In 1997, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) re-located their headquarters to NAS Patuxent River which effectively made the base the centre for all of the Navy’s aviation development, testing, research and evaluation. The museum also underwent changes to incorporate and encompass the role and achievements of NAVAIR and was re-named as the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum (PRNAM).

F-4 Phantom
F-4 Phantom
As the Patuxent River base complex continued to grow in size it was evident that space limitations meant the museum had to find a new location and with the help of the Navy the current site located in a northeast corner near Gate 1 was procured in 2000 enabling the outside exhibits to be placed in an air park. The exhibits inside the museum are currently housed in temporary buildings (two converted warehouses) which provide 10,000 sq.ft of space, sufficient for the museums purposes. Inside the buildings are a variety of exhibits which include original wind tunnel models, various examples of aero engines and propulsion systems, a look at the development of the flying helmet, various cockpit flight trainers which the public can sit in, and a selection of UAV’s – unmanned air vehicles . A recent addition are the flight simulators where for a small charge you can have the opportunity to “fly” an aircraft of your choice for the available list and go through flight basics up to and including air-to-air combat. Outside the museum, the air park currently has a total of twenty different aircraft on display which have either tested at Patuxent River or are representative of those types that have, and include examples from the 1950’s right up to present day with examples of the Boeing X-32B JSF STOVL Demonstrator and Lockheed Martin X-35C JSF Carrier Demonstrator.
As for the future of the museum itself, there are plans to build a new modern design building and the project is budgeted at a cost of £3 million. So far over half of the funds needed have been raised through various donations and sponsors so the future is looking good.

If you’re ever in the state of Maryland and have the opportunity to visit this interesting museum then do so, you will not be disappointed.

F/A-18A Hornet
A-7 Corsair II
A-5 Vigilante S-3 Viking
For further information please visit the museums website at http://www.paxmuseum.com/index.htm