Once a sprawling military base with more than 200 buildings near what today is the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, one building housing the Naval Air Station Museum Fort Lauderdale is all that is left. The completely volunteer run facility now proudly displays hundreds of historic artifacts the Museum volunteers collect, maintain and display.
Commissioned October 1, 1942, the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale (NASFL), owned by Broward County, was a land-based facility used to train pilots and crewmen for torpedo-bomber airplanes. When World War II ended in 1945, the base that had served more than 2 million men and women was closed. However, through the course of the years, the barracks at the base housed junior high school students and later served as the first campus of what is now Broward College. Today, this is the only military museum in Broward County.
In 1979 local volunteers, namely Allan McElhiney, a former World War II sailor; Ben Langley MCB7; Army Col. Robert Rawls; Chief Stephen Sedillo, United States Coast Guard; and a handful of history enthusiasts and supporters established the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Historical Association. Their first mission was to convince the County to save at least one of the buildings from demolition. From the large naval base, one building was preserved – Link Trainer Building No. 8 – which is now on the U.S National Register of Historic Places.
Today, Link Trainer Building No. 8 is the Naval Air Station Museum and named for the Link Trainer, or flight simulator, produced in the early 1930s. The Link Trainer, one of which is on display, became famous during World War II when they were used by almost every nation to train pilots. More than 500,000 U.S. pilots received training on Link simulators, many of them at Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale.
Dr. John Bloom, museum volunteer, explains the mission of the Museum is to develop and maintain an internationally recognized Naval Aviation Museum that educates the young and old alike and to preserve the memory of the men and women who received training here during World War II. “We have had visitors from around the world, and I recall British veterans explaining how this building was set up when they were here,” Bloom said.
A significant display at the museum pays tribute to historic Flight 19, one of the greatest aviation mysteries of the world. Flight 19 flew out of NASFL on December 5, 1945, to vanish into what is known today as the Bermuda Triangle. The Museum also displays a replicated barrack room where 19-year-old future U.S. President George H.W. Bush lived while receiving training as a torpedo bomber pilot.
“These volunteers are totally dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable about the Museum and the significance this base played in Broward County and for the U.S. government,” said Greg Meyer, public information officer for the Airport. “This is a significant piece of history right here.”
Volunteers are usually at the Museum on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 954-359-4400 or 754-300-9259 to tour the Museum, located at 4000 W. Perimeter Road, Fort Lauderdale.