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Naval Air Station Fallon

Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon is located in the Lahontan Valley of west-central Nevada, approximately 70 miles east of Reno and six miles southeast of the city of Fallon. The valley is a hydrologic basin of the lower Carson River, which includes the Lahontan Reservoir and extends to the Carson Sink. The area includes the city of Fallon (pop. 7,060), NAS Fallon, the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Indian Reservation and Colony (pop. 970), Carson Lake, Fallon National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), and Stillwater Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and NWR..

Aircraft currently stationed at NAS Fallon include the F/A-18, F-14, A-6, and F-5 jet aircraft, and the H-3 and HH-1 helicopters. The Naval Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School and a Construction Battalion Unit (CBU) have recently relocated here. Currently NAS Fallon is the only Naval Facility where advanced integrated Carrier Air Wing strike training can take place, combining realistic flight training in electronic warfare, air-to-ground, air-to-air weapons delivery, special weapons delivery, and enemy evasion tactics. Military aircraft from the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Nevada Air National Guard train at NAS Fallon.

The Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) was formed in July 1996 by the BRAC-driven consolidation of the Naval Strike Warfare Center (NSWC or "Strike University"), the Naval Fighter Weapons School (NFWS or "Top Gun") and the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School (CAEWWS or "Top Dome"). The Center is an "echelon two" command reporting directly to the Chief of Naval Operations, and is the primary authority for graduate level aviation tactical development and training. NSAWC assets include 40 aircraft and over 1,000 personnel including contract range and aircraft maintenance personnel.

NAS Fallon uses seven ranges that are from eight to thirty miles from the base and runways. Pilots flying to these training areas pass over the extensive wetlands surrounding the station and through air space that is also occupied by varying numbers of birds. Densities of these birds are largely associated with fluctuating water levels and feeding habitats, and will vary with time of day and weather conditions. The proximity of flight training and bird habitat presents an increased risk of bird-aircraft strikes.

NAS Fallon was established as an Army airfield during World War II. The airfield was deactivated for several years after the war, and was reactivated in 1951 as a Navy Auxiliary Air Station. During the 1950's the facility was used jointly by the Navy and Air Force, and the runway was extended to provide the station with the longest runway at a Naval Air Station. Construction of new airfield structures during the 1970's and 1980's added a parallel runway, a new air traffic control tower, and new avionics facilities.

Naval Air Station Fallon traces its origins to 1942, when the Civil Aviation Administration and the Army Air Corps began construction of four airfields in the Nevada desert. As part of the Western Defense Program, initiated to repel an expected Japanese attack on the west coast, runways and lighting systems were built in Winnemucca, Minden, Lovelock and Fallon.

As the war in the Pacific developed, the Navy recognized a need to train its pilots in a realistic environment using all the tactics and weapons currently being developed. Fallon was the Navy's choice and, in 1943, the Navy assumed control of the two 5,200 foot runways. Construction soon began on barracks, hangars, air traffic control facilities and target ranges. On June 10, 1944, Naval Auxiliary Air Station Fallon was commissioned.

The mission of the newly-commissioned NAAS was to provide training, servicing and support to air groups deploying here for combat training. This mission, although worded differently over the years, has remained basically unchanged. The station sported a torpedo bombing range at Sutcliffe near Pyramid Lake and operated three satellite fields. Soon after taking in its first customers, it was realized that two more free gunnery ranges were needed as well as rocket bombing and ground-strafing targets, including the Lone Rock range (Bravo 20), established in 1943.

Training operations at NAAS Fallon reached a peak in the summer of 1945 when an average of 21,000 take-offs and landings were recorded and more than 12,000 flight hours logged at the station. Ironically, just as construction of the initial airfield project was completed and the training program going full gear, the Japanese surrendered and brought an untimely end to NAAS Fallon. Eight months after the completion of a new 24-unit housing project, five months after a new gym was built and only three months following the opening of a new Commissary, NAAS Fallon was placed in a "reduced operation status." One month later, on February 1, 1946, the facility was further reduced to a "maintenance status" and on June 1, to a "caretaker status" and the official designation of Naval Auxiliary Air Station removed.

For the next five years, the facility was used by the Bureau of Indian Service. Buildings once used by pilots to prepare to meet the challenge from the deck of a pitching aircraft carrier disappeared. The swimming pool, once the scene of sailors attempting to escape the Nevada summer heat, became a home for pigs.

The Korean conflict brought new life to the small desert installation. Once again, the Navy found reason to train pilots in the new sophisticated jet aircraft. In 1951, Fallon became an Auxiliary Landing Field for NAS Alameda, Calif. On October 1, 1953, NAAS Fallon was reestablished by order of the Secretary of the Navy. The present day bombing ranges, Bravo 16, 17 and 19 were also created that year.

Over the next 30 years, the Fallon air station grew to become one of the premier training sites for Navy and Marine Corps pilots and ground crews. New hangars, ramps, housing and other facilities sprung up to give the installation new and greater capabilities.

The Air Force came to Fallon in 1956 with the establishment of the 858th Air Defense Group, part of the country's early warning radar system. For the next 19 years, the Air Force command provided vital assistance in America's national security.

The airfield became known as Van Voorhis Field in 1958, after Lt. Cmdr. Bruce A. Van Voorhis, a Fallon native who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for service in the South Pacific during World War II.

The airfields most sophisticated range, the electronic warfare range, was established in 1967.

On January 1, 1972, the Navy recognized Fallon's importance to naval aviation by upgrading the base to a major command -- Naval Air Station Fallon was commissioned.

Today, NAS Fallon operates and maintains a complete airfield facility to provide visiting squadrons and air wings with ordnance, fuel, air traffic control, berthing and messing, and all other aspects which are necessary for accomplishing the vital training conducted here.

The 1980s saw the air station experiencing dramatic growth as a state-of-the-art air traffic control facility and new hangar were constructed. Naval Strike Warfare Center was established to be the primary authority for integrated strike warfare tactical development and training. In 1985, Fallon received a new tool to aid in its aircrew training: the Tactical Aircrew Combat Training System or TACTS. This system provides squadrons, carrier air wings and students from Naval Strike Warfare Center with visual, graphic displays of their missions eliminating the guess work. Strike Fighter Squadron 127, the "Desert Bogeys" aggressors moved to NAS Fallon in 1987, becoming the air station's only permanently based squadron.

It was the training accomplished by aircrews both at their home bases and NAS Fallon which accounted for the successful missions against Libyan jets in the Gulf of Sidra, the invasion of Grenada, the interception of an Egyptian airliner carrying terrorists in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf conflict.

A new hangar, ramp and academic building were built in 1995 to accommodate the move of Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School (Top Dome) to Fallon in early 1996. A Seabee construction unit and reserve adversary strike fighter squadron also relocated to Fallon in 1996.

Naval Air Station Fallon is located in western Nevada at 39 25' N, 118 42' W; fifty nautical miles east of Reno and six nautical miles southeast of the City of Fallon (Figure 1, 2, and 3). Field elevation is 3934 feet above mean sea level. The station is located in the southern portion of a basin composed of the Carson Sink, Lahontan Valley, Carson Lake, and the Stillwater Wildlife Management Area (Figure 2). The basin itself is quite flat, consisting of farmland (near Fallon), large marshy waterfowl areas (Carson Lake and Stillwater), and large expanses of alkali flats (especially in the Carson Sink). Most of this area ranges from 3900 to 4000 feet above mean sea level. Other than the irrigated farmland near Fallon, vegetation is sparse, consisting of plants that can withstand the harsh high desert climate. There is virtually no vegetation within the alkali flats. The basin itself is interrupted by dramatic mountain ranges, the highest reaching to about 8,800 feet above sea level. They, too, are vegetated sparsely (except in the down-slope canyons, where higher shrubs and cottonwood trees are typically found).

In addition to the extensive network of canals and irrigated fields near Fallon, there are several fairly large lakes in the region. The Lahontan Reservoir, located about 15 miles west of the station, was formed when the Carson River was dammed for irrigation in the early 1900's. Pyramid Lake (50 miles northwest) and Walker Lake (40 miles south) are the last large remnants of the ancient Lake Lahontan. Closer to NAS Fallon, the Stillwater marshes (10-25 miles northeast) and Carson Lake (5-15 miles south) constitute large areas of surface water.

Stillwater Wildlife Management Area [WMA] was established in 1948 and encompasses 90,650 ha, including over 16,187 ha of private inholdings. Within its boundaries are 31,363 acres designated in 1991 as Stillwater NWR. Historically, wetland acreage within Stillwater WMA totaled as much as 13,355 ha, but in recent drought years that number was reduced to several hundred ha. As of December 1995 the figure stood at around 4,452 ha. Carson Lake is a shallow marsh that once covered over 10,117 ha; in recent years it has varied in size from 769-3,035 ha. The approximately 7285-ha reserve of Fallon NWR was established in 1981. This site once boasted 10,522 ha of wetlands, but today exists as such only in extremely good water years and is normally a desolate salt flat. Only in 1991 did Stillwater begin to acquire any water rights. Until then, these traditional wetlands received only the scant precipitation, return flows from irrigated fields, excess runoffs in the wettest of years, and water purchased by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). As of May 1997, Stillwater had acquired 3,915,071 m of water rights in an ongoing process.

Ancient Lake Lahontan reached its last high water mark (1,335 m elevation) around 13,000 years ago. Periodically, Lake Lahontan inundated most valleys of northwestern Nevada, including Lahontan Valley. As the climate became more arid, the lake alternately receded and advanced, finally leaving many smaller terminal lakes at the ends of the remaining river systems. A series of such shallow lakes, marshes and meadows formed at the terminus of the Carson River in Lahontan Valley. Waterfowl, marsh birds, shorebirds, and other wetland-dependent wildlife use the valley for migratory stopovers, and as wintering, foraging, and breeding grounds.

The area's wildlife populations are impressive, with peaks of 12,000 tundra swans (Cygnus columbanius), 10,000 geese (Branta spp.), 30,000 American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), 70 bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and over 350,000 ducks. In addition, thousands of shorebirds and wading birds use the wetlands, including black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus), American avocets (Recurvirostra americana), long-billed dowitchers (Limnodromus scolopaceus), long-billed curlews (Numenius americanus), Wilson's phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor), white-faced ibis (Plegadis chihi), herons, and egrets. The managers of the lands in the Lahontan Valley face challenges to conserve habitat for these birds and other natural resources.

Nevada offers extremes of weather and climate not normally found in other states. Cut off from the moisture of the Pacific by the Sierra Nevada and Cascades mountain ranges, and from the moisture of the Gulf of Mexico by the Rocky Mountains, it is the driest of the fifty states. Because it lies within the zone of interaction of tropical and polar airmasses, Nevada also has marked seasonal and day-to-day temperature contrasts typical of the mid-latitudes. With more mountain ranges than any other state, Nevada's weather is also strongly dependent on specific location, since elevation is a major factor in determining climatological norms.

Naval Air Station Fallon lies in a high desert basin that is the remnant of an ancient Pleistocene lake. The terrain is largely alkali flats and sand dunes with numerous dry lakes and marshes dotting the area. Characteristic vegetation includes greasewood, shadscale, and sagebrush. Much of the land in the immediate Fallon area is irrigated and farmed, with alfalfa being the primary crop.

In winter, moisture-laden air masses that move inland from the Pacific Ocean are rapidly modified as they lift orographically over the Sierra Nevada and Cascades mountain ranges. Significant precipitation events are recorded on the western slopes during these storm passages, often leaving the frontal passage in the Fallon area as primarily a wind shift and temperature fall, with little or no precipitation.


(as of March 2000)


  • Active duty military:  1,058
  • Contractors:  879
  • Morale, Welfare and Recreation:  165
  • Navy Exchange:  70
  • Civil Service:  299
  • Commissary:  28
  • Total:  2,499

 *** Visiting air wings bring about 1,500 personnel every visit.  Five or six air wings visit NAS Fallon each year to train for a month at a time.  An average of 40,000 total military personnel pass through the various training courses at Fallon every year.  The average length of stay for those 40,000 people is 14 days.

Major Tenant Commands:

Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center, Strike Fighter Wing Detachment, Fighter Squadron Composite 13, and Construction Battalion Unit 416.

Payroll (figures rounded off):

  • Military (including allotments):  $27 million
  • All Contractors:  33.4 million
  • Civil Service:  12 million
  • Non-appropriated fund employees:  3.2 million
  • Total:  $75.6 million

Purchasing:  Station purchases and contracts for 1999 were in excess of $45.6 million.  Additionally, federal school assistance programs pour $810,210 into the local school district.

Total economic impact for 1999 was $122,010,210.

Miscellaneous information (1999):

  • Jet fuel consumed:  34 million gallons
  • Ordnance expended:  10,689,041 pounds
  • Meals served at galley:  96,000
  • Aircraft based at NAS Fallon:  60  (7 helicopters, one C-12, 52 jets)

Base Housing:

On-base family units:

  • Officers:  39
  • Enlisted:  321
  • Total:  360

Bachelor Quarters/Barracks:

  • Permanent personnel capacity (officers and enlisted):  517
  • Transient personnel capacity (officers and enlisted):  1,817
  • Total:  2,334

Size (approximate acreage):

  • Main base (including outleased areas):  8,266
  • Ranges:  97,019
  • Navy-purchased Dixie Valley lands:  11,163
  • Lands withdrawn for military training and safety purposes:  124,344
  • Total:  240,792

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:47:25 ZULU