Naval Air Facility El Centro
NAF El Centro provides realistic training to active and reserve aviation units and activities of the Navy's operating and training forces. Squadrons visit NAF El Centro to practice gunnery, bombing, carrier landings and air combat.
The facility has two operating runways. The 9,500-foot east/west runway handles 96 percent of the traffic. It is equipped with a Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System at each approach end as well as lighted carrier deck landing areas at both ends so pilots can simulate carrier landings.
Apart from "touch and go" landings and take-offs, aircrews use the many ranges at NAF El Centro to develop their skills. A remote-controlled target area allows naval aviators to practice ordinance delivery. The desert range is used for air-to-ground bombing, rocket firing, strafing, dummy drops and mobile land target training. The target complex uses the Weapons Impact Scoring System that microwaves target images to a range master control building for immediate verification of weapons delivery accuracy.
The addition of the Display and Debriefing Subsystem, known as DDS, expanded the role of NAF El Centro to include air combat training by utilizing remote television, acoustical and laser scoring systems. The DDS is linked with TACTS to provide a computerized record of the tactics employed by individual aircrews employ and to evaluate the effectiveness of each maneuver. Many believe the training at NAF El Centro is as close as pilots can get to actual air combat. Much of the movie "Top Gun" was shot at NAF El Centro.
Because of its unique location, NAF El Centro is known to every naval aviator and plays a key role in their initial and refresher training. What makes the NAF so special is its combination of unique climate, vast unobstructed desert terrain, limited non-military air traffic and its own dedicated gunnery and bomb ranges. These factors make NAF El Centro an ideal environment for aerial combat maneuvering, air-to-air gunnery, bombing practice and electronic warfare training. Variable climatic conditions and population are limiting factors at the Navy's only other facilities with similar missions - Fallon, Nevada, and Key West, Florida. The result is that NAF El Centro is very busy and in high demand. For example, the number of flight operations (landings and take-offs) exceeded 167,000 in 1999. Flight operations on a typical day reach over 450 between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The relatively isolated location of NAF El Centro continues to make this a valuable resource in supporting the aviation readiness of the Navy and Marine Corps. In addition to serving as a divert base for aircraft operating off air capable ships in W-291, the Command supports Field Carrier Landing Practice operations for Navy and Marine Corps users in the immediate area and, as the schedule allows, other units located in the southwestern United States.
NAF is the "winter home" of the world-famous Blue Angels, the Navy's Flight Demonstration Squadron. Starting every January, the 'Blues' conduct over two months of intense flight operations prior to the start of their air show season. Until mid-March, the officers and enlisted personnel, who are specialists in all the aviation roles required to support the squadron's maintenance, administration and public affairs requirements, hone their skills as a cohesive unit.
NAF El Centro and its personnel have a role of providing essential support to the squadrons and units training here. This includes flight operations, logistics, billeting, messing, hangars, ramps, aircraft parking space, administration and supply transport. Every month, seven to 12 squadrons and up to 1,600 personnel train here. Additionally, U.S. Air Force parachutists, U.S. Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and British, French, German and Italian aviators visit for various phases of their training.
Naval Air Facility El Centro was commissioned on May 1, 1946, as a Naval Air Station. Prior to that, the base was a Marine Corps Air Station. Through the years, Navy El Centro has had several names: Naval Air Facility, Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, Naval Air Station, and the National Parachute Test Range.
For the first 35 years, the mission of NAF El Centro was devoted to aeronautical escape system testing, evaluation, and design. In November 1947, the Parachute Experimental Division from Lakehurst, New Jersey moved to El Centro. In 1951, the Joint Parachute Facility was established and consisted of the Naval Parachute Unit and the Air Force 6511th Test Group (Parachute). The Air Force remained part of El Centro's test organization for the next 27 years.
In 1959, an ejection seat designed for pilot escape from a high-speed jet at altitudes less than 1,000 feet was successfully tested here. The Mercury Space Program parachute system, used for the first U.S. manned satellites and the Apollo re-entry system, was also tested here.
In 1964, the U.S. Naval Aerospace Recovery Facility was designated and on July 1, 1973, it was combined with the Naval Air Facility El Centro to form the National Parachute Test Range. Exactly six years later, the parachute test mission was transferred to Naval Weapons Center China Lake; and El Centro again became a Naval Air Facility.
Imperial, CA. is located 10 miles east of The Naval Air Facility, El Centro. The Imperial Valley is almost entirely below sea level. The Salton Sea, at the northern-most extremity of the valley, is the lowest point at 235 feet below sea level. The Salton Sea is 28 miles long. The Salton Sea is also an extremely salty body of water. The Imperial Valley is oriented in a northwest to southeast line, beginning near Palm Springs, California and extending into Mexico, to the Gulf of California and the Baja Peninsula. Another large lake Laguna Salada, lies in the southern section of the Imperial Valley. The valley itself consists of a relatively flat desert terrain. It is almost surrounded by mountains except to the east, where the sand hills and dunes are located at a distance of 45 miles; and to the southeast, where lies the Yuma Desert of Arizona and the Gran Desierto of Sonora, Mexico. There are basically two seasons for the Imperial Valley area; being summer and winter. The transition periods between the two are very short. Spring and Autumn show few, if any, of the seasonal characteristics normal to the other parts of the United States. Normally there is a little more than a week or two of a rapid transition to the dominant seasons of summer and winter.
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