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Virginia Beach: Exploring America’s True Navy Town

Visiting the Military Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Oceana and more in this coastal city where jets are taking off every day

Benjamin Boshart for Rolling Stone

More than 60,000 military veterans live in Virginia Beach.

That’s a big number: Other similarly sized cities – Atlanta, Long Beach, Raleigh – have roughly a third that many former military members. Naval Air Station Oceana is the 74-year-old base that handles more than 60,000 takeoffs and landings a year. Add in the other bases in Virginia Beach – Dam Neck, Little Creek, and Fort Story – and you have the city’s biggest employer by far. Oceana alone requires the help of nearly 15,000 military personnel and 2,000 civilians. We visited this Navy Town to see what it was like in this oceanside destination.

Benjamin Boshart for Rolling Stone

A Runway Classic

The staff at the Military Aviation Museum pushes the Waco, a contemporary era classicly designed biplane, off the runway after a flight.

Benjamin Boshart for Rolling Stone

Flight Training

Preparing the Boeng Stearman PT-17 and the Waco for flight. The Stearman dates back to 1941 and was used mainly for flight training.

Benjamin Boshart for Rolling Stone

Chief Pilot

Mike Spalding with a Boeing Stearman PT-17 at the airstrip at the Military Aviation Museum. Mike has over four decades of flying experience and is a commercial jet pilot professionally.

Benjamin Boshart for Rolling Stone

Hangar Time

The hangars at the museum are filled with vintage aircraft from the early days of aviation and aerial combat. Aircraft from both sides of both world wars are on view. Most of the planes you see are still capable of flying as well.

Benjamin Boshart for Rolling Stone

Painting Pilots

Among the collection of aircraft at the Military Aviation Museum is also an array of paintings by Henri Farré. A student of Mattise, the French painter would sit in the cockpits with the pilots and sketch during dogfights and would later render the scenes in finished oil paintings.


The cockpit of a Dragon Rapide that was renovated by the technicians at the Aviation Museum’s Fighter Factory. The Aviation Museum is unique in that the planes in the collection are mostly in working order and exist outside of a typical static gallery setting.

Benjamin Boshart for Rolling Stone

Dog Days

The military working dog kennels at Dam Neck Fleet Training Center. Dam Deck is an installation that is primarily used for training purposes but offers some housing and a clinic as well.

Benjamin Boshart for Rolling Stone

Canine Cunning

Petty Officer David Fuller practices patrol techniques with his assigned canine Misa at Dam Neck Fleet Training Center. Fuller acts out a different scenario with his colleague in the protective suit every time to help give a sense of practical realism to the exercise.

Benjamin Boshart for Rolling Stone

Speed of Sound

A F/A-18 flies overhead and shortly thereafter a looming sonic boom follows. When an aircraft surpasses the speed of sound, the sound waves produced by the craft compress upon themselves and amplify to create a roar that helps remind you that you’re in Virginia Beach. The residents of the area have conditioned themselves to cope with the interruptions and will pause their conversations and patiently wait until the sound subsides to continue.

Benjamin Boshart for Rolling Stone

Staying Navy

A reenlistment ceremony at Dam Neck Fleet Training Center. The procedure is to honorably discharge the person in question, and then after they have had a few moments of civilian life, they are reenlisted back into service. The process is more casually known as “Staying Navy.”