Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point
Barbers Point Naval Air Station
The Navy's last naval air station in the Hawaiian Islands was disestablished during a 01 July 1999 ceremony, closing out 57 years of service. NAS Barbers Point--"Crossroads of the Pacific"--carved out of brush and coral on the leeward side of Oahu early in WW II, was turned over to the state of Hawaii.
Coast Guard Aviation first arrived in the Hawaiian archipelago in 1945 when Lieutenant G.W. Girdler received command of eighteen enlisted men and five officers at what was then Naval Air Station Kaneohe. With aviation assets consisting solely of two Consolidated PBY-5 "Catalina's" and one Grumman JRF "Goose" the air unit maintained a proctorship for the windward side of Oahu in addition to making periodic visits to the Philippines, China and Japan. In 1949 the Command moved to Naval Air Station Barbers point. In 1965 the unit received its current designation as Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point. In March on 1949, that facility was moved to its present location at the Naval Air Station Barbers Point.
The primary mission of Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point is Search and Rescue within the Pacific Maritime Region. As the sole Coast Guard Air unit within the Central Pacific SAR Sub-region, CGAS Barbers Point is responsible for a vast area including such island chains as the Marianas, Carolines, Marshalls, and of course, the entire Hawaiian Chain.
To accomplish its assigned missions the air station utilizes four Aerospatiale HH-65A "Dolphin" short range recovery helicopters and four Lockheed HC-130H "Hercules" long range search aircraft. In August 1987, the Sikorsky HH-52A "Sea Guard" helicopter was retired at the air station after 24 years of service. The Sea Guard was replaced by the highly capable and well-equipped HH-65, which is an excellent platform for hoisting survivors of maritime casualties and for medical evacuations from vessels at sea.
With more than 3,800 acres and up to 6,500 military, family members and civilian employees, Naval Air Station (NAS) Barbers Point served as the largest naval air station in the Pacific theater.
Barbers Point provided homeport services for numerous naval and defense organizations, including maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft squadrons, a US Coast Guard Air Station, Defense Investigative Service, Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO), a Hawaii Air National Guard (297th Air Traffic Control Squadron) air traffic control facility, Fleet Imaging Facility and Commander, Patrol Wings, US Pacific Fleet.
Barbers Point was named for Henry Barber, master of Arthur, a 100-foot British brigantine that ran aground on the point of Oahu during a storm in 1796. The Barbers Point tale first emerged from vintage Pacific lore, when a vicious tropical depression battered the southwest coastline of Oahu. Captain Henry Barber, determined to get underway despite the storm, hoisted anchor on his 100-foot brig Arthur on October 31, 1796. All other captains held their ships in port while Arthur was deluged by wind, rain and pounding surf. The ship went down taking with it all but six crewmembers and its captain. The seven survivors struggled ashore near a tract of land referred to by native Hawaiians as "Kalaeloa" (long cape or headland), a legendary birthplace of Hawaiian Kings. Kalaeloa later became known as Barbers Point.
In the early 1930's, the Navy leased a 3,000 square foot piece of land from the estate of James Campbell. This tract was to be used as a mooring location for the dirigible, Akron. During the 1930s the Navy leased a section of the James Campbell estate, building a 1,500-foot outlying field (OLF) near the mooring mast that had been erected for use by US Navy airships, none of which ever cruised to Hawaii.
Once the original lease expired, in September 1940 an additional 3,500 acres were acquired from the Campbell estate for the enlargement of the OLF, which became Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Ewa. The site, chosen for its ideal peacetime air training atmosphere, was completed in early 1941. Concurrently with the groundbreaking, plans were already being developed for an expansion of naval aviation facilities at Barbers Point. Construction of an airfield west of Ewa began in November 1941, but was temporarily suspended after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor so that construction crews could rapidly complete Ewa.
Base construction was well underway by Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked US forces in Hawaii, marking the United States' entrance into World War II. Although much of the attack was concentrated at Pearl Harbor, Wheeler Air Force Base and Hickam Field, the Ewa Marine Corps Air Station (and its supporting equipment) sustained a great deal of damage. Nine of 11 total Wildcats, 19 of 32 scout bombers and all six utility aircraft were rendered inoperable. The Pearl Harbor attack, along with the increasing need for additional facilities to train pilots, led to an extensive construction project.
Barbers Point--originally intended as an OLF for NAS Ford Island in Pearl Harbor--was still not complete when it was established as a naval air station on 15 April 1942 with 14 officers and 242 enlisted personnel.
The new air station quickly became a hub of aviation activity as the Navy amassed forces in Hawaii to carry the war across the Pacific. Base operations centered on working up carrier air groups and squadrons for deployment to combat operations farther west. Carrier Air Service Unit 2 was assigned to the station to support the hosted squadrons.
As World War II raged in the Pacific theater, the troop and equipment capacity of the yet unfinished base more than doubled. Barbers Point's level of activity grew steadily during the war. By the end of WW II, the NAS was home to almost 13,000 personnel. The station hosted a combat aircrew training unit which instructed pilots in aerial gunnery and a repair department that overhauled thousands of aircraft engines.
After Armistice in 1945, NAS Barbers Point became a rapid demobilization center. More than 6,000 personnel transitioned through NAS Barbers Point en route to leaving the military.
By the end of 1947, the future of the station was uncertain in the face of post-war budget constraints. During the late 1940s, the station was the beneficiary of a consolidation of naval aviation facilities on the leeward side of the island. The role of NAS Barbers Point was solidified in 1949 when it began supporting all aviation operations on leeward Oahu. Barbers Point absorbed MCAS Ewa in 1952 as Marine Corps units were shifted to Kaneohe Bay, which had been closed as an NAS in 1949. NAS Honolulu was reduced to an OLF for seaplanes and operations at Ford Island were reduced. The Coast Guard aircraft at Kaneohe Bay were moved to Barbers Point.
When the war in Korea began in 1951, NAS Barbers Point again became a critical staging area for supplies, equipment and forward deploying squadrons. Eight hundred additional Sailors were assigned to the station. New construction included weapons and jet engine test sites, a survival equipment shop and more than 1,000 housing units. With state of the art equipment and facilities, NAS Barbers Point was one of the most modern VP homeports in the world.
The outbreak of hot war in Korea in 1950 and the chills of the cold war increased activity at Barbers Point. Since the 1950s Barbers Point was most famous for its "Rainbow Fleet"--the patrol squadrons under Fleet Air Wing (later Patrol Wing) 2, and later directly under Patrol Wings, Pacific--that routinely deployed with P-2 and later P-3 aircraft to the northern and western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf. Patrol Squadron Six (VP-6) transferred to NAS Barbers Point from NAS Whidbey Island, Wash. in 1950, bringing the first Neptune Aircraft to the islands. Patrol Squadron 6, which brought the first P2V Neptune patrol planes to Hawaii, deployed to Japan and engaged in combat. Operational tempo increased with VP-6's arrival, and other maritime patrol squadrons lined up to move to NAS Barbers Point, including VP-1, VP-9, VP-17, VP-22 and VP-47. These squadrons tracked Soviet submarines patrolling off the western coast of the United States and supported operations in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and most recently the NATO air campaign over Kosovo. Of the squadrons present during the 1960s and 1970s, VPs 6, 17, 22 and 28 were disestablished by the mid-1990s, leaving only VPs 1 and 4. During the mid-1990s, however, two squadrons, VPs 9 and 47, transferred to the Rainbow Fleet from NAS Moffett Field, Calif., when it was disestablished. VP-1 later moved to NAS Whidbey Island, Wash. The Rainbow Fleet also was the home of Special Projects Patrol Squadron (VPU) 2 since 1982.
From 1949 until 1977, Barbers Point was the home of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron (VR) 21, "Pineapple Airlines," which flew all over the Pacific in long-range transport aircraft and, until 1965, with carrier-onboard-delivery aircraft. VR-21 also began strategic communications missions in the Pacific with C-130G Hercules, the first Take Charge and Move Out (TACAMO) aircraft. In 1981 Barbers Point again became the center of Pacific Fleet TACAMO operations when Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron (VQ) 3 moved from NAS Agana, Guam, with its EC-130G/Q aircraft. In 1990 VQ-3 upgraded to the E-6A Mercury and two years later moved to Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.
From 1951 until 1992, Utility Squadron (later Fleet Composite Squadron) 1 operated out of Barbers Point in support of fleet exercises in the Hawaiian area, providing threat simulation, target tug, photographic and radar calibration services to the fleet.
In 1956, Airborne Early Warning Squadron Two transferred to the station to extend the continental air defense DEW (distant early warning) line across the Pacific Ocean. The WV-2 (later EC-121K) Warning Stars were operated by Airborne Early Warning Squadrons 12 and 14, which were merged in 1960 to form Airborne Early Warning Barrier Squadron, Pacific. These aircraft maintained a continuous distant early warning barrier patrol over the Pacific until June 1965. Other early tenant commands included Airborne Early Warning Wing Pacific, Commander, Barrier Force Pacific, Commander, Fleet Air Hawaii, and Fleet Wing Two.
In the 1960's, NAS Barbers Point provided support to operations in Vietnam while concurrently supporting the patrol community's training and operational readiness.
While NAS Barbers Point was primarily a patrol squadron support community, it also hosted an ever-changing mix of squadrons and activities. Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) 37 (HSL-37), the Navy's only helicopter squadron in Hawaii, reinforced the antisubmarine and anti-ship missile defense of the naval surface forces. In 1975 a helicopter squadron took up residence at Barbers Point to provide Light Airborne Multipurpose System detachments to surface warships based at Pearl Harbor. Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron Light (HSL) 37 operated the SH-2F Seasprite until 1992, when it upgraded to the SH-60B Seahawk. The squadron's SH-60B Seahawks also provide vertical replenishment, medical evacuation and personnel transfer to ships throughout the Pacific. Detachments from the squadron are regularly assigned to destroyers deploying throughout the Pacific theater.
Fleet Wing Two, redesignated as Commander, Patrol Wing Two, assumed operational control of the Barbers Point-based patrol squadrons when Fleet Air Hawaii decommissioned in 1973. Today, Commander Patrol and Reconaissance Forces, US Pacific Fleet (formerly Commander, Patrol Wings, Pacific) provides operational development and maintenance of patrol squadron combat readiness. Other tenant squadrons included Fleet Tactical Support Squadron 21, Fleet Utility Squadron One (later redesignated Fleet Composite Squadron One), Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron Three, and Patrol Squadron Special Projects Unit Two (VPU-2).
The end of the cold war, in which Barbers Point figured so heavily, eventually brought about its closure. Congress accepted the recommendation of the 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Commission that Barbers Point be closed. Commander Patrol and Reconnaissance Force, Pacific; VPs 4, 9 and 47; VPU-2; and HSL-37 were moved to Marine Corps Air Facility (MCAF) Kaneohe Bay, part of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, located on the lush windward side of Oahu. The return to Kaneohe is a homecoming of sorts for the patrol squadrons, as Kaneohe was a prominent patrol aviation base before and during WW II.
In addition to Naval aviation squadrons, NAS Barbers Point hosts the Coast Guard, which has been part of the station as a Coast Guard Air Facility since 1949. The facility was designated Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point in 1965 and is the only Coast Guard aviation unit located in the 14th Coast Guard District. Their C-130 Hercules aircraft and H-65 Dolphin helicopters perform search and rescue missions within the central Pacific maritime region. Aircraft also conduct water pollution patrols in the Hawaiian Islands.
The Coast Guard Air Station, a tenant of the NAS, remained at Barbers Point, which now serves general aviation on Oahu and hosts units of the Hawaii National Guard. The Navy has retained 1,100 acres for military housing and family support facilities. The 2,150 acres ceded to Hawaii is now the Kalaeloa Community Development District.
Transient aircraft from all branches of the Armed Forces flew to NAS Barbers Point for military exercises, including Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), a biennial multi-nation combined arms exercise. Aircraft also used the station as a refueling stop en route to Pacific and Indian Oceans.
For more than half a century, NAS Barbers Point has been the pride of the Pacific, and home of the "Rainbow Fleet." The closure of NAS Barbers Point writes the final chapter in a distinguished history, and closes the book on the finest air station in the western hemisphere.
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