Naval Air Station Jacksonville History
On October 15, 1940, Naval Air Station Jacksonville was officially commissioned, and became the first part of the Jacksonville Navy complex that would also include NAS Cecil Field and Naval Station Mayport. Captain Charles P. Mason raised his pennant as the station's first commanding officer. Prior to the commissioning, on September 7, Commander Jimmy Grant became the first pilot to land on the still unfinished runway in his N3N-3 biplane. More than 10,000 pilots and 11,000 aircrewmen followed their lead to earn the wings of gold at the station during World War II. Stepped up training and construction characterized Jacksonville's response to America's entry into World War II. Three runways over 6,000 feet long were operated, as were seaplane ramps. Overhaul and Repair facilities (what is the Naval Aviation Depot today) was built to rework the station's planes.
More than 700 buildings sprung to life on the base before V-J (Victory over Japan) Day, including an 80-acre hospital and a prisoner-of-war compound which housed more than 1,500 German prisoners of war. Archbishop (later Cardinal) Francis J. Spellman dedicated the Catholic Chapel (St. Edward's) at its Birmingham Avenue location on January 17, 1943. The chapel and other buildings constructed during the war years, intended for a life of only 20 years, are still in use.
During the late 1940's the jet age was dawning and in 1948 the Navy's first jet carrier air groups and squadrons came to Jacksonville. By April 1949, Jacksonville was the East Coast's plane capitol with more aircraft stationed here than at any other base from Nova Scotia to the Caribbean - 60 percent of the fleet air striking force in the Atlantic area from pole to pole.
NAS Jacksonville was growing. Fleet Air Wing Eleven had just made its move to the base, bringing with it VP-3 from Coco Solo, Panama and VP-5 from San Juan, Puerto Rico. The now famous Blue Angels, who had called NAS Jacksonville home but moved to NAS Corpus Christi in the late 1940's, performed a last air show at the station on April 29, 1950, before forming a nucleus of an operational squadron (Satan's Kittens) which was assigned to combat in Korea. The "Blues" would not return to the station for more than two years. The Naval Air Technical Training Center was reactivated and included nine different schools.
The Korean Armistice was signed in 1953 and NAS Jacksonville again converted to peacetime operations. The quiet of peace; however, did not diminish the beehive of activity on board the station. The following year, the last F4U Corsair, which had earned a superb reputation throughout World War II and Korea, departed the station. VF-44 was the last squadron to fly the famous fighter, and it was replaced by the state of the art FH-2 Banshee jet.
Long a front runner in Naval aviation, NAS Jacksonville's Overhaul and Repair Department was tasked in 1955 with the outfitting of the R4D transport airplane and H04S-3 helicopter to withstand the cold weather they would encounter on the Byrd expedition to the South Pole.
In the mid-fifties, an air traffic control center for joint use by the Navy, Air Force, and Civil Aeronautics Administration was approved and completed at a cost of $325,000. Major changes also occurred as parking ramps were added to the land plane hangars and a 1,231-foot-long taxiway was built.
By the mid-1950's, with the station's continuing growth, the Navy was having a tremendous impact on the economic growth in the Jacksonville area. The station had over 11,000 military assigned, along with 5,000 civilians, and a payroll of more than $35 million.
In February 1958, as America entered the space age and launched the first satellite, communication workers were tracking the satellite "Explorer." The station became involved once again when VP-18 was the first to spot and track the nose cone from the Army's test firing of the first Jupiter rocket. In May 1959, VP-18 continued its support of the space program, spotting and tracking the world's first astronauts, the space monkeys Alpha and Baker. After vectoring two destroyers and a Navy seagoing tug to the landing site, the mission was successfully completed as the monkeys were recovered.
On October 1, 1959, NAS Jacksonville glimpsed its first P-3 Orion, a plane that would, with certain updates, be the workhorse of VP community for the next 40-plus years.
In 1961 VP-7 was transferred here and assisted in the Project Mercury Space Program. Soon, the relative calm inherited from the 1950s gave way when the President Kennedy ordered a Naval blockade of Cuba in response to a massive Soviet missile build-up on the Caribbean island. The world, along with NAS Jacksonville, was poised for war until the Soviet Union backed down and agreed to remove and dismantle its missiles located just a scant 90 miles from the shores of America. NAS Jacksonville had sent an attack squadron to Guantanamo Bay; had patrol squadrons monitoring Soviet ship movements; and processed daily spy plane film was then immediately flown to Washington.
In 1965, NAS Jacksonville celebrated its 25th anniversary and, during the same year, the "Happy Days" of the 1950's and 1960's gasped their last breath of innocence when President Johnson ordered more than 100,000 troops into Vietnam, escalating the conflict. For the third decade in a row, America was sending its sons and daughters (nurses) into combat, and NAS Jacksonville continued its proud tradition of supporting our Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines.
The conflict hit close to home when in 1967, a young pilot by the name of John McCain, attached to VA-76 at Cecil Field, was shot down over North Vietnam while flying a combat mission from the aircraft carrier, USS Oriskany. He would be a prisoner of war for the next five-and-a-half years. In 1968, NAS Jacksonville-based VA-176 became the last Navy squadron to retire the A-1 Skyraider. The piston-driven plane had shot down three of four attacking Soviet MIG jets in one air fight in the skies of Vietnam, the only such time a propeller driven aircraft shot down a jet.
The 1970's was a decade of growth for the air station. The first of four HH-1K helicopters arrived to replace the aging H-34's used for search and rescue. As the station grew, it was "out with the old" and in 1970, the last two seaplanes left NAS Jacksonville as they were flown to Arizona to join the mothball fleet.
As station personnel bid farewell to some fond memories, the boom continued. CBU-410 was organized and began station operations. VP-56 arrived from NAS Patuxent River, Md., and was soon followed by VP-49 and VP-24. In 1973, the first prisoner of war (POW) to be released from North Vietnam entered the naval hospital at NAS Jacksonville for a thorough examination and debriefing.
In 1973, with the assignment of Helicopter Antisubmarine Wing One, the station's primary mission became antisubmarine warfare. Accompanying the wing were five helicopter squadrons which are still based here today. With the new wings and squadrons, opportunities grew for sea and shore assignment to NAS Jacksonville. The station's popularity grew and it became the most requested duty station for Sailors throughout the Navy.
Fleet Air Jacksonville, established on board the air station in 1948, was decommissioned in June 1974. That same year, Fleet Air Wing Eleven, composed of six patrol squadrons with 2,100 personnel and 54 P-3 Orions, changed their name to Patrol Wing Eleven. NAS Jacksonville had now become an antisubmarine force with which to be reckoned. Also disestablished were the Hurricane Hunters. Their NC-121 Super Constellations had long been a familiar sight in the skies over Jacksonville, as well as playing a key role for the National Weather Service in tracking ravaging Atlantic storms.
In the late 1970's, the Jacksonville Operating Area Coordination Center was disestablished and the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility assumed the duties of controlling airspace for military aircraft. Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Two, the oldest helicopter squadron in the Navy was disestablished. The squadron had recorded more than 2,000 rescues. While old squadrons were committed to memory, new ones were established continuing the honorable traditions of naval aviation. Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 58, flying C-9 Skytrains, was established at NAS Jacksonville on November 1, 1977.
On June 27, 1978, the Jacksonville City Council passed an Air Installation Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ) ordinance that proved to be a landmark piece of legislation. The AICUZ ordinance ultimately limited building around the three Naval Air Stations (NAS Mayport, NAS Cecil Field, and NAS Jacksonville) and civilian airport. The last station-based jet squadron, Attack Squadron 203, transferred to NAS Cecil Field. From that point, jets had additional restrictions they followed when using NAS Jacksonville's runways for landings and takeoffs.
The NAS Supply Department reorganized into the Naval Supply Center on October 1, 1982. The new supply center was consolidated from three supply centers located on station. It would become the supply point for the Southeastern United States, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal Zone, and Puerto Rico. About the same time, a new helicopter training facility was dedicated and named the Paul Nelson Helicopter Training Facility after the former commanding officer of HS-3 who had died the year before while flying from the aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz.
The mid-eighties arrived and the station continued to grow, seeing the addition of a new Child Care center and a Navy Lodge, and HS-17 was established. The Civilian Personnel Office became the Consolidated Civilian Personnel Office and assumed control of civilian personnel actions for all of NAS Jacksonville and NAS Cecil Field (now closed). The Birmingham and Main gates underwent major changes, including the fly-in and placement of a PBY at the main gate in 1986.
A piece of history and Navy tradition was lost in 1986 when the last unit of Marines left the base. Marine Barracks Jacksonville had been one of the first groups to arrive at the base in 1940, but left due to mission realignments and a reduction in authorized troops in the Corps.
In October 1986, the evolution of the station's only flag command continued as Commander, Sea-Based Antisubmarine Warfare Wings was reorganized and became Commander Helicopter Wings Atlantic. In April 1988, the USS Bonefish caught fire while operating off the North Florida coast and made newspaper headlines as station search and rescue helicopters, along with HS-1 and HS-7, transported 67 injured crewmen to Naval Hospital Jacksonville.
In 1989 improvements were made to the existing Child Development Center; a comprehensive recycling program that continues today was begun; a new park, called Manatee Point, was built; a new recreational vehicle park was started; and a new fitness center was established. Also opened in 1989 were new Navy Exchange and Commissary stores.
The decade of the 1990's started with a celebration of NAS Jacksonville 50th anniversary. The golden anniversary festivities included dedications of the Pelicans Perch Child Care Center (making NAS Jacksonville's child development center the largest in the Navy at that time), a flag memorial at the main gate, a veterans memorial in front of the administration building, and the placement of new static display aircraft near the front gate. During this anniversary year, the Naval Aviation Depot finished the last standard level depot maintenance on the A-7 Corsair, which the tenant activity had reworked continuously since 1967.
However, the joy of a golden anniversary was offset by a concern over the pending downsizing of the military and trouble brewing in the Middle East. As Base Closure and Realignment Commission meetings were being held, funding was being reduced, new ways of business were being formulated, and on the other side of the world, tensions mounted between Iraq and Kuwait. The station would eventually take part in another foreign conflict as NAS Jacksonville squadron aircraft flew off of Navy aircraft carriers in support of Operation Desert Storm.
HS 17 was disestablished on July 2, 1991, right before the Soviet Navy made a historic visit to the base. Also in 1991, the station received numerous awards for recycling, safety, and environmental programs. That year, the station won the Commander-in-Chief's Installation Excellence Award as the best base in the Navy in 1991.
Reorganizations continued in 1992 as the Public Works Center was established and Commander, Naval Aviation Activities Jacksonville, replaced Commander, Helicopter Wings Atlantic, as the installation's Flag command. A new bike patrol, formed in Security, was started near the end of the year. The Fleet Industrial Supply Center replaced the Naval Supply Center in 1993. HS-9 was disestablished on April 23. NAS Jacksonville entered the electronic age in May 1993, as e-mail was available throughout the station departments. In August, the Family Service Center dedicated a new building, and a P2V Neptune was added to the static display park. The Naval Oceanography Command changed their name to Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Jacksonville Facility Atlantic in November.
Major changes in workload began at the Naval Aviation Depot in 1994, as the first two F-14 Tomcats arrived for rework in January. This aircraft rework program, along with the EA-6 and 2,000 additional employees, came as a result of the closure of NADEP Norfolk. Just a few days after this, VP-49 was disestablished.
Changes in names and missions continued in June, as the station's flag command, Commander, Naval Aviation Activities Jacksonville, changed its name to Commander, Naval Base Jacksonville. Helicopter Antisubmarine Wing ONE also changed its name to Helicopter Wing Atlantic. Ground breaking ceremonies took place for a new five-story BOQ in July, followed by ground-breaking for a new hangar to house VP-30 in October. In April 1995, VP 24 was disestablished. The Chief's club closed in July, and relocated to a section of the enlisted club.
1996 saw a U-2 conducting special operations from the station, as construction was started on a new U.S. Customs hangar. Patriots Grove, honoring 80 U.S. Navy Medal of Honor recipients since from WWII to date, was dedicated in April. As the station received another Secretary of the Navy safety award, VP-30 moved into its new hangar in July. A new BOQ was dedicated along with a new Aircraft Acoustical Enclosure for testing the F-14 Tomcat at NADEP. HS-1 said farewell to the last SH-3 "Sea King" helicopter in October, as NAS Jacksonville was saying "Welcome" to the first Blue Angel, "Butch" Voris. Butch was the honored station guest for the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Blue Angels, which he formed at the NAS Jacksonville in 1946.
HS 1 was formally disestablished in June 1997. The new BEQ was dedicated, along with a newly renovated galley. Commander, Sea Control Wing Atlantic and the first of the VS squadrons arrived in October, as VS-24 flew in to their new home at Hangar 1000. This move would eventually encompass 48 aircraft and approximately 1,800 personnel who would call NAS Jacksonville home. With the closing of NAS Cecil Field, the Sea Control Wing and their compliment of S-3 Viking squadrons, VS-22, VS-24, VS-30; VS-31; VS-32 and VQ-6 (VQ-6 was decommissioned in 1999), relocated to NAS Jacksonville.
In February 1999, Commander, Naval Base Jacksonville changed its name to Commander, Navy Region Southeast, as part the Navy's regionalization program, assuming responsibility for the eight southeastern states and the Caribbean. In March, NAS Jacksonville hosted its first Area V Special Olympics Spring Games.
Even with all of the funding reductions, reorganizations, and Base Closure and Realignment actions taken during the 1990's, NAS Jacksonville was able to grow, increasing the number of commands/activities and personnel who worked on the base. The stability and continued growth illustrated NAS Jacksonville's importance to the Navy and the local community.
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