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Whidbey Island Naval Air Station

Whidbey Island Washington is situated 80 miles north of Seattle, at latitude 48 degrees 21 minutes north, and longitude 122 degrees 39 minutes west, at an elevation of 47 feet. At 45 miles in length, it is the second longest island in the contiguous United States. Whidbey Island is located about as far northwest (not counting Alaska) as you can go in the United States without ending up in Canada. It is located in the city of Oak Harbor, Washington (pop.19,000), about 1 1/2 hours north of Seattle and 2 hours south of Vancouver, British Columbia. Whidbey Island is the longest island in the continental US and the basin it is in is called the Puget Sound. It is surrounded by some of the most awesome scenery in the entire US To the east, are the Cascade Mountains and to the West are the Olympic Mountains. Some of the peaks stretch up to 14,000 feet. While it [almost] always rains in Seattle and Tacoma, this is not the case on Whidbey. The island is fortunately located in what is called the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. That means while it rains like crazy out on the coast of the Olympic Peninsula (avg. rain fall is 200 inches per year), it only rains a mere 22 inches per year in Oak Harbor. Compare that to Pensacola where they get 45 inches of rain per year. As for temperatures, the average daytime temperature is mid 70's and sunny in the summer, and 40-45 degrees in the winter.

The Commandant of the 13th Naval District had orders to find a site suitable for seaplane takeoffs and landings under instrument conditions, capable of expansion into a large airfield and seaplane operating station, in defense of Puget Sound. An area on North Whidbey Island along Saratoga Passage was selected for the seaplane base, and the acquisition of all of Crescent Harbor was recommended. Level, well drained and accessible from any approach, Clover Valley, located five miles north of the seaplane base was tailor-made for a landing field. On Sept. 21, 1942, Captain Cyril Thomas Simard read the orders and the watch was set. U. S. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was duly commissioned. A year later, on Sept. 25, 1943, the airfield was named Ault Field, in memory of Commander William B. Ault, missing in action in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Today the Air Station is home to 19 active duty squadrons, 2 reserve squadrons and numerous tenant commands.

The Pacific Northwest Navy is comprised of a wide variety of commands, staffs and platforms.

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island., rather than a single installation, is composed of three geographically separate facilities located on the northern third of Whidbey Island.

Naval Air Station (Ault Field) is the central operational facility and location of the primary airfield where virtually all military operations and support functions are performed. The airfield is composed of two intersecting runways, 07/25 and 13/31, each of which are 8000 feet long and 200 feet wide. NAS Operations Department maintains the station’s two UC-12B aircraft, and the three UH-3H helicopter. The UH-3H helicopter is utility configured for logistical support and search and rescue missions. Ault Field is dedicated to the memory of William Bowen Ault [1898-1942] Commander, United States Navy Air Group Commander - USS LEXINGTON, whose inspiring performance in the great Coral Sea air battle between United States and Japanese carrier forces on 7-8 May 1942 contributed immeasurably to the air and sea victories that made the subsequent recapture of the South Pacific possible. Commander Ault led his air group in the face of severe anti-aircraft barrage and heavy fighter opposition, which resulted in the complete destruction of one enemy carrier on 7 May and major damage to another on 8 May. His failure to return from the latter encounter and his courageous conduct throughout the duration of these actions were an inspiration to the entire air group.

Runways 7/25 and 13/31 are 200 feet wide and 8,000 feet in length. Runway 7 has a magnetic heading of 067.0 degrees and a 1,000-foot overrun of which the first 200 feet is concrete and the remaining 800 feet is grass. Runway 25 has a magnetic heading of 247.0 degrees and a 700-foot overrun of which the first 200 feet is concrete and the remaining 500 feet is grass. Runway 13 has a magnetic heading of 134.5 degrees and a 1,000-foot overrun of which the first 200 feet is concrete and the remaining 800 feet is grass. (Portion of Runway 13 between 6,000 feet and 5,000 feet remaining not visible from the control tower.) Runway 31 has a magnetic heading of 314.5 degrees and a 1,000-foot overrun of which the first 200 feet is concrete and the remaining 800 feet is grass. (Portion of Runway 31 between 3,000 feet and 2,000 feet remaining not visible from the control tower.)

Outlying Landing Field (OLF), Coupeville, WA. is a 5400-foot landing strip located 9.8 miles south-southwest of the Ault Field control tower, and 3 miles south of Coupeville, at an elevation of 199 feet. OLF Coupeville is used primarily for Fleet Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP).

Located on the eastern shore of Whidbey Island, at the edge of the town of Oak Harbor, the seaplane base houses; the Family Service Center, Housing Office, Personal Property, Commissary, Exchange, Navy Lodge, and some of the family housing units.

Commander Pacific ASW Patrol Wing Ten/Tactical Support Center. [COMPATWING 10] trains and supports maritime patrol (VP), and reconnaissance squadrons (VQ) assigned.

Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron (VQ) 2 relocated from Rota, Spain, to Whidbey Island, Wash., effective 01 September 2005. The relocation of VQ-2's six aircraft and 450 Sailors to the United States was in keeping with the Navy's ongoing transformation of forces in Europe, and helped reduce costs and eliminate redundancies throughout its force structure worldwide.

Commander Electronic Attack Wing Pacific, US Pacific Fleet (COMVAQWINGPAC). [ COMVAQWINGPAC] is responsible for administrative, training, material and operational readiness of Electronic Attack Squadrons assigned (VAQ).

The mission of Naval Ocean Processing Facility (NOPF) Whidbey Island is to support, strategically and tactically, National Defense and other vital interests of the United States by detecting, localizing, tracking, and reporting submarine activity and exploiting all acoustic data.

Commander Naval Region Pacific Northwest. [COMNAVREG PNW] is the regional coordinator for the Navy in the three-state area of Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Additionally, COMNAVBASE Seattle is the reporting senior in the CINCPACFLT Chain of Command for NAS Whidbey Island, NAVSTA Everett and SUBASE Bangor.

Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station (NCTS), Puget Sound located on Submarine Base, Bangor operates and maintains communications supporting military activities in the Pacific Northwest for the command and control of their forces. NCTS, Puget Sound, consists of a headquarters element and two component activities. Tactical Support Center Support Communications (TSCOMM) Detachment, Whidbey Island located on Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island provides telecommunication services as well as broadcast support to surface ships and aircraft squadrons. Naval Radio Station (T), Jim Creek located in Arlington, Washington, provides transmitter support to submarines in the Pacific Fleet. NAVCOMTELSTA Puget Sound provides telecommunications, information technology, frequency coordination, communications security administration, and specialized technical services to meet the needs of the U.S. Naval and Allied Forces and government agencies in the Pacific Northwest region. To accomplish this, it establishes, operates, and maintains circuits, deliver messages electronically, integrates network, manages base communications and trains customers.

The Naval Air Station (NAS), Whidbey Island Seaplane Base Pier is located at 4817'05"N 12237'20"W. It is situated on the west side of Crescent Harbor near the north end of Saratoga Passage. The facility was initially constructed to accommodate the many seaplanes that were stationed at NAS Whidbey Island in the 1950's. This base is the only World War II seaplane base on the west coast in Alaska or Hawaii that has not been extensively altered since the war. The entire base, especially the Victory Homes housing area, appears nearly as it did in the mid-1940's. The pier was used as a mooring for a seaplane tender that was stationed on Crescent Harbor to service the seaplanes. With the phasing out of seaplanes, the pier is now used primarily as a mooring facility for visiting US Coast Guard cutters and buoy tenders, and minesweepers of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The Seaplane Base Pier is approximately 550 ft (168 m) long. The west end of the pier extends approximately 50 ft (15 m) over the shore line, so the usable, mooring portion of the pier is less than it's total length. The pier extends into Crescent Harbor on an orientation of roughly 080T. Charted water depths on the north side of the pier are 25 to 26 ft (7.6 to 7.9 m). Depths on the south side are 18 to 24 ft (5.5 to 7.3 m), with the shallower depths near the west end of the pier. Deck height of the pier is 17 ft above mean lower low water. The decking on the pier is in poor condition due to weathering and general deterioration. As of May 1996, funding has been allocated for replacement of the decking, but the completion date for the project had not been established. There are no specified anchorage areas in Crescent Harbor or northern Saratoga Passage. NAS Whidbey Island does not have a tug boat complement.

Whidbey Island's location at the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca routinely exposes it to relatively cool, marine air that passes eastward through the Strait. Whidbey Island is surrounded by cool water that acts as a moderating influence on temperatures. Because of these two factors, NAS Whidbey Island experiences afternoon summer temperatures that can be five to ten degrees cooler than those in most areas around Puget Sound. The temperature differences can also occur between locations on the island. Due to westerly flow from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on summer afternoons it is not uncommon for the east side of the island to have temperatures that are several degrees warmer than those on the west side. The moderating influence of the surrounding water also make Whidbey Island less likely to experience the colder winter temperatures that are observed by stations only a few miles inland.

Prevailing wind directions at Whidbey Island vary with the season. During late autumn, winter, and early spring, prevailing winds are southeasterly. Due to the influence of the surrounding topography, winds that are southwesterly in southern Puget Sound and southerly in mid-Puget Sound reach Whidbey Island as southeasterly. Pre-frontal southeasterly winds can be quite strong, often reaching gale force (34-47 kt). Storm force (48 kt) winds are only rarely observed. If a low pressure system moves onshore into southwestern British Columbia or western Washington north or east of Whidbey Island, strong westerly winds are common in the pressure gradient behind the system. Such winds may quickly reach gale force (34-47 kt) following the passage of the low. The strong winds are usually not long lasting as they abate rapidly when the pressure gradient eases as the transient low pressure center moves away from the Puget Sound region. Southeasterly flow usually returns to the area within 24 hours. The prevailing wind at NAS Whidbey Island (Ault Field) is southeasterly 10 to 12 kt from October through March. Because of the exposure of the Seaplane Base, southeasterly wind speeds can be as much as 5 to 10 kt greater than those recorded at Ault Field.

Waves are not a problem at the Seaplane Base Pier for vessels moored to its north side. Vessels moored to the south side are fully exposed to waves that move northward through Saratoga Passage. The highest waves would likely occur only during autumn, winter, and spring months. Currents in Crescent Harbor are mostly weak and variable. Currents in Saratoga Passage south of the Seaplane Base are normally in the one-half to one kt range, with a maximum flow of less than two kt. The direction of the current is mostly tide dependent, but occasionally may be wind driven during periods of minimal tidal change and strong winds.

The primary hazard at the Seaplane Base is strong southeasterly winds. The south side of the pier is exposed to winds and waves as they move northward through Saratoga Passage. According to NPMOF Whidbey Island, a 2.5 to 3.0 mb north-south pressure gradient between Seattle and Bellingham (higher pressure at Seattle) will produce small craft velocities (20-33 kt sustained wind) at Whidbey Island. The same document states that reported wind speed at NAS Whidbey Island (Ault Field) is not representative of wind at the Seaplane Base during intervals with east or southeasterly wind. When sustained speed is 15 kt or above at Ault Field, the Seaplane Base wind will be of small craft force (20-33 kt).

While not common (most northerly winds are blocked by terrain), strong northerly winds may follow the passage of an intense cold front as the cold continental polar air flows southward through the Fraser River Valley into the northern part of Puget Sound. Ships moored at the NAS Whidbey Island Seaplane Base should ensure that mooring lines are secure and tended during periods of strong winds. All loose gear and debris should be stowed in a secure location. During late autumn, winter, and early spring, strong winds can cause equivalent wind chill temperatures that are hazardous to exposed flesh. Personnel working on weather decks should be aware of the equivalent wind chill factor and take appropriate precautions when indicated. Because of a difference in exposure, southeasterly winds at the Seaplane Base Pier are higher than those reported by NAS Whidbey Island (Ault Field). In some situations, the difference can be as much as 10 to 15 kt.

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