The site now occupied by Naval Air Station Pensacola has a colorful historical background dating back to the 16th century when Spanish explorer Don Tristan de Luna founded a colony here on the bluff where Fort Barrancas is now situated. In the ensuing years, the flags of Spain, France, Great Britain, the Confederacy and the United States flew over the strategic port of Pensacola.
The U.S. purchase of the Floridas from Spain in 1821 spawned government realization of strategic importance of Pensacola Bay as a site for a support facility for naval squadrons operating in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
Realizing the advantages of the Pensacola harbor and the large timber reserves nearby for shipbuilding, President John Quincy Adams and Secretary of the Navy Samuel Southard, in 1825, made arrangements to build a navy yard on the southern tip of Escambia County, where the air station is today. Navy Capts. William Bainbridge, Lewis Warrington and James Biddle selected the site on Pensacola Bay.
Construction began in April 1826, and the Pensacola Navy Yard became one of the best-equipped naval stations in the country. In its early years, the base dealt mainly with the suppression of slave trade and piracy in the Gulf and Caribbean.
With a large wet basin, a floating dry dock, and other facilities for building, docking and repairing the largest warships of the time, the yard turned out such masterpieces as the steam frigate USS Pensacola, which saw Civil War action at both the Battle of Mobile Bay and the Battle of New Orleans.
Eighty acres in the southeast corner of the yard, around which a brick wall was built, was set aside for use as an arsenal. Portions of the wall are still standing.
When the Union forces captured New Orleans in 1862, Confederate troops, fearing attack from the west, retreated from the navy yard and reduced most of the facilities to rubble. After the war, the ruins at the yard were cleared away and work was begun to rebuild the base. Many of the present structures on the air station were built during this period, including the stately two- and three-story houses on North Avenue.
In 1906, however, a great hurricane and tidal wave destroyed many of the newly rebuilt structures, and less than two years later, an epidemic of yellow fever brought reconstruction to a standstill. In October 1911, the yard was decommissioned.
Meanwhile, great strides were being made in aviation. The Wright brothers and especially Glenn Curtiss were trying to prove to the Navy that the airplane had a place in the fleet. He began construction of a seaplane design, and in January 1911, the civilian pilot Eugene Ely landed a frail Curtiss Pusher airplane on a makeshift wooden flight deck aboard the cruiser USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay, demonstrating the value of the airplane to the Navy.
The Navy Department, now awakened to the possibilities of naval aviation through the efforts of Capt. W.I. Chambers, urged Congress to include in the Naval Appropriation Act, enacted in 1911-1912, a provision for aeronautical development. Chambers was ordered to devote all of his time to naval aviation.
He contracted for three planes, one from the Wright brothers and two from Curtiss, with the provision that the builders train a pilot for each plane. Navy Lt. T.G. Ellyson was given instruction by Curtiss and became the first naval aviator. Lt. John Rodgers and Lt. John Towers, former chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, became the second and third naval aviators, respectively. A camp was established at Groonbury Point near Annapolis, Maryland, and the first naval flight organization began operations.
The first successful catapult launching made by Ellyson in 1912 suggested even broader applications, and in 1913, extensive experiments involving fleet and aerial scouting planes were conducted with astounding and gratifying results. The Navy was convinced.
In October 1913, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels appointed a board, with Chambers as chairman, to make a survey of aeronautical needs and to establish a policy to guide future development. One of the board’s most important recommendations was the establishment of an aviation training station in Pensacola. The recommendation was approved, and the first U.S. naval air station was created in 1914 on the site of the abandoned navy yard.
Commander H.C. Mustin became the first base commander, and all pilots and planes were ordered here for duty. A row of 10 tent hangars was set up along the sandy beach, with wooden ramps running from each tent to the water. Naval aviation consisted of nine officers, 23 mechanics and eight airplanes.
Upon entry into World War I, Pensacola, still the only naval air station, had 38 naval aviators, 163 enlisted men trained in aviation and 54 airplanes. Two years later, by the signing of the armistice in November 1918, the air station, with 438 officers and 5,538 enlisted men, had trained 1,000 naval aviators. At war’s end, seaplanes, dirigibles and free kite balloons were housed in steel and wooden hangars stretching a mile down the air station beach.
In the years following World War I, aviation training slowed down. From the 12-month flight course, an average of 100 pilots were graduating yearly. This was before the day of aviation cadets, and the majority of the students included in the flight-training program were Annapolis graduates. Thus, Naval Air Station Pensacola became known as the “Annapolis of the air.”
In 1928, envisioning great expansion at Pensacola, the Navy Department ordered the construction of an auxiliary field 5 miles northwest of NAS in honor of Lt. Cmdr. W.M. Corry, Pensacola’s 23rd flight student, who served with distinction in World War I.
With the inauguration in 1935 of the cadet-training program, activity at Pensacola again expanded. When Pensacola’s training facilities could no longer accommodate the ever-increasing number of cadets accepted by the Navy, two more naval air stations were created, one in Jacksonville, Florida, and the other in Corpus Christi, Texas. In August 1940, a larger auxiliary base, Saufley Field, named for Lt. R.C. Saufley, Naval Aviator 14, was added to Pensacola’s activities. In October 1941, a third field, named after Ellyson, was commissioned.
As the nations of the world moved toward World War II, NAS Pensacola once again became the hub of air training activities. After the fall of France in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for 126,000 planes. Under the administration of its commandant, Capt. A.C. Read, Naval Aviator 24, NAS expanded again, training 1,100 cadets a month, 11 times the amount trained annually in the 1920s.
To help produce the quota of men for the emergency, NAS added three more auxiliary fields, Bronson, Barin and Whiting, all named for early naval aviators. During World War II, the number of pilots trained by NAS reached an all-time high in 1944, when 12,010 men completed training and flew a combined total of almost 2 million hours.
The growth of NAS from 10 tents to the world’s greatest naval aviation center was emphasized by then-Sen. Owen Brewster’s statement: “The growth of naval aviation during World War II is one of the wonders of the modern world.”
The record achieved by naval pilots during World War II pays tribute to the excellence of their training. Navy carrier planes shot down 6,444 Japanese planes, losing fewer than 450 of their own, a 14-to-1 superiority in aerial combat. The total number of enemy aircraft destroyed by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps was 15,401.
In 1948, the Naval Air Basic Training Command headquarters moved to Pensacola from Corpus Christi. Working with the Naval Air Training Command, which also was located here, NABTC was instrumental in expanding naval air training and coordinating all basic flight, ground and specialized training. New aircraft designed strictly for training appeared, and jets became part of the training syllabus. Helicopters, having proven their value in the Korean War, increased in importance.
War in Korea presented problems, as the military was caught in the midst of transition from propellers to jets, and the air station revised its courses and training techniques. Nonetheless, NAS produced 6,000 aviators from 1950 to 1953.
Pilot training requirements shifted upward to meet the demands for the Vietnam War, which occupied much of the 1960s and 1970s. Pilot production was as high as 2,552 (1968) and as low as 1,413 (1962).
In 1971, NAS was picked as the headquarters site for CNET, a new command that combined direction and control of all Navy education and training. The Naval Air Basic Training Command was absorbed by the Naval Air Training Command, which moved to Corpus Christi.
NAS Pensacola today has myriad activities, including the headquarters and staff of the Chief of Naval Education and Training; Training Air Wing 6 and subordinate squadrons; Naval Aviation Schools Command; Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory; Naval Air Technical Training Center; Naval Operational Medicine Institute; Naval Recruiting Orientation Unit; Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station; and the world-renowned Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron. A continuing attraction for visitors to the Southeast is the National Museum of Naval Aviation.
The Pensacola Naval Complex in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties employs more than 16,000 military and 9,400 civilian personnel and contributes approximately $1.2 billion to the local economy annually.
Pensacola Has a Haunting History
An aura of mystery and splendor pervades “Admiral’s Row.” Significant on Johnson Street is Quarters A, a stately home where the air station’s most senior officer, the chief of naval education and training, and family reside. When this area was built in 1874, the commandant of the old navy yard lived here.
Now, for a haunting good yarn to spellbind you, and former Quarters A, residents say it is true!
As the story goes, Commodore Melanchton B. Woolsey was the first commandant to live here. He was terrified of contracting yellow fever, since an epidemic had already claimed thousands of lives and he didn’t want to be the disease’s next victim.
He erroneously believed, as others did also, that disease-carrying mosquitoes could only fly a few feet high. So, Woolsey moved into the third-story cupola. He got his meals, rum (which he claimed was a “tonic” against the fever) and tobacco for his pipe by lowering a basket on a rope from one of the cupola’s windows.
One day his servant forgot the rum! Woolsey died soon thereafter. Yet, as residents know, his spirit stayed on in the house. Perhaps to stay with a lovely lady, transparent and clad in white, who also resides in Quarters A, forever.
Building 16 is another certified haunted place. This octagonal-shaped building was the Officers’ Quarters during the 1920s, and today, some say the building is haunted by a patron of that decade.
In 1924, Marine Capt. Guy Hall, a flight instructor, enjoyed playing poker when he wasn’t flying. While playing, he had a habit of picking up his poker chips, then letting them fall to the table.
Hall died during a training mission in the 1920s, and on more than one occasion since that fateful day, people in Building 16 have heard what sounds like poker chips hitting the table. How about a friendly game of poker in Building 16?
This classic ghost story begins in 1857 with the construction of the Pensacola Lighthouse and two of its early keepers, a husband and wife.
For whatever reason, the wife murdered her husband while he slept in their quarters adjacent to the lighthouse. The violent stabbing left a large pool of blood on the floor.
Actually, as a psychologist who stayed there several years ago confirmed, there are three lighthouse ghosts. Two, he said, are probably keepers who died there of natural causes. The third is either the murdered keeper or his mistress.
Let’s walk up the lighthouse’s 178 steps, late at night, and be “greeted” by its “keeper!”
Corry Station is one of the Navy’s technical training showplaces. The base is located about 5 miles north of NAS Pensacola.
The original Corry Field had its beginnings in 1923, in a remote area north of Pensacola. By 1926, it became apparent that the meager facilities of this site would no longer suffice. The number of pilots being trained was on the increase, and a growing city of Pensacola began to encircle the flying field. In 1927, a 530-acre tract of land was acquired by the government, the gift of Escambia County, for relocation of the landing field. The present site was dedicated Corry Field on Nov. 1, 1928. Construction of permanent buildings began in 1933; and on Dec. 8, 1934, the field was commissioned as an auxiliary base field under the Naval Air Training Center.
The station’s name honors the memory of Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Cmdr. William M. Corry Jr., who died as a result of burns received while attempting to rescue a fellow officer from a crashed and burning aircraft. Corry was one of naval aviation’s pioneers, having been among the first aviators to receive the Navy’s “wings of gold.”
In early years, Corry Field was an active Navy aviation training command used for advanced fighter plane training. Redesignated as a naval auxiliary air station in 1943, the field continued to serve as a training center for naval aviators throughout World War II and the Korean hostilities until its decommissioning in 1958.
The site, once dedicated to flight training, shifted gears in 1960 with the arrival of the first class of communications technicians — later called cryptologic technicians. Hangars were converted to classrooms, and laboratories were stocked with sophisticated communications training equipment. Corry was commissioned the Naval Communications Training Center, Corry Station as the facility’s mission became more diversified with the addition of the Naval Schools of Photography and the Consolidated Navy Electronics Warfare School.
The command was among the first Navy technical schools to achieve accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Since 1975, this accreditation has assured that instruction is of the same quality as that offered in the best civilian vocational institutions and that students may receive college-level credit for completed courses.
In January 1990, the center’s training capability expanded even further as the first classes convened at the Optics, Instrumentation, Instructor and Information Systems School. From 1995 to 1999, Corry Station served as host of multiservice electronic warfare training with the addition of the Joint Aviation Electronic Warfare School.
The primary mission of the commands at Corry Station today is to provide technical and military training in information operations, cryptology, information technology, information warfare and instructor training to produce well-trained, motivated and disciplined personnel in support of U.S. and allied operational forces.
The Center for Information Dominance (CID) is the most senior staff on Corry Station. The CID headquarters offices and largest learning site are aboard Corry Station, with other detachments located throughout the continental United States, Hawaii and Japan. CID graduates approximately 16,000 students annually.
Corry Station also hosts the Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Pensacola and various other staffs.
Its role has changed over the years, but traditional pride still dwells within the Corry Station education complex as it continues to provide the finest and best-trained personnel in the military.
The field was named in honor of Lt. (junior grade) Richard Caswell Saufley, designated Naval Aviator No. 14. Saufley was instrumental in setting up the rudiments of naval flight training at its inception in Pensacola around 1914. He set an altitude record of 16,072 feet in early 1916, flying an open-air seaplane. Saufley also set an endurance record of eight hours, 43 minutes of continuous flight.
Saufley was killed in a crash off Santa Rosa Island in June 1916, while attempting to break his own endurance record. He had been flying for eight hours, 51 minutes at the time of his crash. Saufley is enshrined in the National Museum of Naval Aviation’s Hall of Honor.
One month after the base opened in August 1940, an instrument flying school was transferred to Saufley Field bringing with it 50 SNJ Texans and 35 “Link” trainers. Two months later, the first primary training squadron was based here.
The outbreak of war in December 1941 brought increased numbers of student naval aviators. Soon the base was swarming with Sailors and flying went on 24/7.
Saufley’s stature grew as the tempo of flying increased. On March 1, 1943, the base was commissioned Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Saufley Field and provided every phase of flight training except preflight.
Following World War II, the Navy began closing numerous NAASs, but Saufley remained open and full operations continued for tactical and carrier qualification training.
In 1959, flight instructors were assigned to and flying for VT-1 and VT-5. These aviation-training squadrons were then commissioned in May 1960 and designated tenant commands at Saufley Field. Saufley’s mission was revised to provide support for the training squadrons. VT-1 instructors, flying T-34Bs, provided flight indoctrination for NROTC and USNA midshipmen. VT-5 provided primary flight training for pilots, flight officers and flight surgeons.
During the height of the Vietnam War, Saufley Field became a full-fledged naval air station July 31, 1968. The training squadrons and NAS Saufley Field were decommissioned by late 1976. Saufley became an outlying landing field.
Saufley Field was reactivated in 1979 when Naval Education Training Program Development Center moved from Ellyson Field.
In 1990, Saufley Field celebrated its 50th anniversary. Currently, there are approximately 900 acres and 60 buildings and structures at Saufley Field. There are approximately 1,400 military and civilian personnel assigned to NETPDTC and tenant commands.
In July 2014, NAS Whiting Field celebrated its 71st year of continuous operation. What was once a field of weeds has become the “backbone of the Navy’s flight program.” During its history, Whiting Field has served as a prisoner-of-war camp for German soldiers, home of the famed Blue Angels flight demonstration team and home of the Navy’s first jet training unit. Before the field was officially commissioned, personnel were already beginning to train “the world’s best aviators.” Squadron 3-B of Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Saufley Field, Pensacola, Florida, began operations July 1, 1943. Squadron 3-B was later joined by Squadron 3-A of Chevalier Field to form Training Squadron 3. In only 14 weeks, Whiting Field came into being to fulfill the pilot training demands of World War II.
Commissioning ceremonies for Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Whiting Field were held July 16, 1943, in the South Field Hangar. The commissioning of Whiting Field took place at a crucial time in American history. Only six days before the commissioning, the invasion of Sicily had occurred. Throughout World War II, Whiting’s mission was to train aviators for the fleet.
On July 12, 1945, Detachment 3 1470 SCU was established. Detachment 3, a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp for German soldiers, was operated through the efforts and cooperation of naval authorities at NAS Pensacola and Army authorities at Camp Rucker, Alabama. Certified documents indicate that the purpose of Whiting Field’s POW camp was “… to furnish manual labor details necessary for construction and soil erosion projects at the field.”
With the end of the war came celebrations for V-J Day. German POWs were returned to their homeland. Training flights for cadets and aviation pilots were suspended for several days so the men could decide whether to remain in the Navy or return to civilian life. The entire country breathed a sigh of relief.
After the war, Whiting converted to a naval air station. Milton residents became accustomed to the sight of heavy and medium bombers in the skies. By 1949, Whiting Field was known throughout the Naval Air Basic Training Command as the backbone of the Navy’s flight program.
Home of the Blue Angels
During 1949 and 1950, the famed Navy precision flying team, the Blue Angels, made their home at Whiting Field, and the Navy’s first jet training unit, JTU-1, was commissioned.
The outbreak of the Korean War, in 1950, ended the stay of the Blue Angels and JTU-1 at Whiting Field. The Blue Angels were ordered to disband and go into combat, and jet training was then transferred to Kingsville, Texas. Once again Whiting could concentrate on basic pilot training.
More Changes Developed
In 1955-1956, Whiting adopted a new aircraft, the Beechcraft T-34B Mentor, a trainer with tricycle landing gear. In 1956, the instruments tactics phase of basic flight training was moved from NAAS Saufley Field to Whiting. During this time, the T-28A Trojan was brought to Whiting Field to augment student training. By 1957, the fighter-attack syllabus of flight training was phased into Whiting’s flight programs and, in December 1959, multiengine training was moved to Whiting for a short period of time.
On May 1, 1960, Primary Training squadrons 2 (VT-2), 3 (VT-3) and 6 (VT-6) were established. VT-2 and VT-6 were located at North Field and VT-3 at South Field. Beginning in 1965, Whiting Field underwent a major facelift as an estimated $10 million was spent on construction projects.
Training Air Wing 5
In January 1972, as a result of a major reorganization of the Naval Air Training Command, Whiting Field became the home of Training Air Wing 5. Under the commander were his staff, three primary training squadrons and support personnel attached to NAS Whiting Field. Also in 1972, Helicopter Training Squadron 8 (HT-8) came under the command of TRAWING 5 and was later split to form Helicopter Training Squadron 18 (HT-18).
In 1973, helicopter training began. Helicopter Training squadrons 8 and 18 were assigned to South Whiting Field. Training Squadron 3 relocated to North Field, making North Field the home of three fixed-wing squadrons. Since then, all graduates of Navy helicopter training have received their “wings of gold” at Whiting Field.
Academic and simulated flight-trainer instruction is also provided. In April 1977, the T-34C procedure training cockpit was accepted into the syllabus and in the fall of that year, the station began its transition to the T-34C Turbo Mentor as the primary trainer.
In August 1980, the new simulator building was completed. The building housed the 2B24B simulators for the UH-1 Huey helicopter. The 2B37 radio-instrument trainers for self-paced instruction were also established. In the spring of 1983, the T-28 was phased out and a static display was presented to the station. In the fall of 1983, the UH-1 was phased out. It was the end of an era.
Today, Whiting Field uses 13 outlying fields bearing familiar names — Pace, Spencer, Silverhill, Wolf, Barin, Saufley, Site 8, Summerdale, Evergreen, Brewton, Holley, Harold and Santa Rosa — to conduct its helicopter and turboprop flight instructional activities.
Whiting Field’s South Tower revamped its air traffic control technology with STARS (Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System) on April 22, 2005. STARS is one component of the NASMOD (Navy National Airspace Modernization) program, which includes other updates such as VIDS (Visual Information Systems) and ETVS (Enhanced Terminal Voice Switch). The NASMOD program provides the controllers with centralized viewing consoles, multifunctional displays and touch-screen systems. The system also provides a self-contained simulator to train junior controllers and maintain proficiencies of senior operators, greatly benefiting the future of the Navy. More importantly, removing equipment installed in the mid-1970s reduced maintenance requirements. Continuing to enhance the South Tower, roughly two years later, construction began on the new tower. This tower replaced the previous structure from 1972 at a cost of $3.8 million. The freestanding structure is six stories and approximately 80 feet tall — nearly 20 feet taller than the old tower. It allows up to eight controllers to provide air traffic service with a 360-degree view. The tower also provides for a greater view of the traffic pattern, which improves the situational awareness of the controllers.
Naval helicopter students fly missions at night toward the end of the training syllabus. They are introduced to flight with night vision goggles. The environment at night to an inexperienced pilot can be extremely menacing and often task saturates the student. Efforts were made in 2005 to add ground school to the syllabus to help the students adapt to the new surroundings. The NITE (Night Imaging and Threat Evaluation) lab was, therefore, integrated into student training. The lab is designed to introduce flight students to the use of NVDs (night vision devices). The terrain model trainer is used to teach students how varied illumination levels and different moon angles can change the appearance of terrain, both natural and man-made.
In early September 2004, a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico produced the 10th most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. Ivan wreaked havoc in the Pensacola area, causing major damage and destruction to Whiting Field. Whole buildings were demolished or rendered useless to major parts of the base. On June 23, 2006, the groundbreaking ceremony was held for a $16 million project to build a new community support facility to replace those buildings. The facility would include a gym with new equipment, rebuild the base chapel, and refurbish the atrium for ceremonies and gatherings. Not only was the new facility designed and built from the ground up, but others were destroyed that were rendered uninhabitable from Hurricane Ivan. The support center consolidated similar facilities into a core area, while providing a place for tenants to eat, sleep, study and pray.
Deemed the most efficient naval air training complex in the world, many helicopter students finish their training as student naval aviators every year at Whiting. To produce the amount of helicopter aviators needed for the Navy and to diversify the training environment, Whiting had to increase the number of helicopter training squadrons on base. Out of operational necessity, a third helicopter training squadron was formed in May 2007. The new squadron, HT-28, was formed alongside the two existing helicopter training squadrons. The Hellion’s first commanding officer was Cmdr. John McLain. The squadron took its name Hellions from a World War II Marine Corps Fighter Squadron, VMF-218. The increase in helicopter student aviators proves worthy as the 30,000th helicopter pilot was winged July 1, 2009.
In an attempt to strengthen the relationship between the Santa Rosa county community and the base, an agreement was made June 10, 2009, between the top officials at NASWF and Santa Rosa County to allow limited use of South Field’s runways for access to a new aviation commerce park. After six years of negotiations, the memorandums of agreement were signed. This venture was an outreach of the Joint Land Use Study, which promoted ways to develop and protect areas around the base and its Navy outlying fields.
August 2009 marked the beginning of a new era in naval aviation as the first T-6B operational flight trainer simulators were sent to Whiting Field. The simulators provided student naval aviators with a dome surrounding the cockpit for a complete aerial view of the Earth’s terrain and atmosphere. The multimillion-dollar machines used satellite technology to bring the newest visual aids and avionics to Whiting. Not only did the simulators provide an extremely accurate view of the surroundings, but they allowed for the entire mission to be recorded, so the instructors could debrief the entire flight in real time. After the arrival of the simulators, the first T-6Bs landed at Whiting Field on Sept. 2 to replace the aging Turbomentors. The T-6B is radically advanced when compared to the outdated T-34C, with enhanced avionics, a heads-up display and twice the amount of horsepower. Student training was initiated on the T-6B on April 28, 2010. The 14 students began a 26-week syllabus that is the first phase of student naval aviator training. TRAWING 5 had 18 T-6B aircraft at the beginning of its use in the student syllabus and anticipates a complete transition of 156 aircraft by 2013. The Texan’s improved capabilities and the glass cockpit make it relevant for the next 30 years. Student naval aviator Ensign Christopher D. Farkas was instructed by Capt. Michael Perkins to complete the Texan’s inaugural flight at NAS Whiting Field on May 26, 2010.