Prior to WW-II, the Navy organic airlift mission was performed by assorted Naval Air Station assigned utility transports and by Navy utility squadrons. Five days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) was created following a meeting between Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and Captain C. H. "Dutch" Schildhaeur. Over the next seven months three squadrons were established to meet the immediate needs of the Navy: VR-1 at Norfolk, VA, to serve the Atlantic area; VR-2 at Alameda, CA to service the Pacific; and VR-3 at Olathe, KS to connect the various continental naval stations, training centers and supply bases. The cadre personnel for these squadrons were mostly recalled to active duty reservists who were experienced airline personnel.
The unavailability of true long range transports and the scarcity of airline trained personnel caused the build-up of NATS to progress slowly but by the end of 1943 it had grown to include four wings made up of 10 transport and 3 ferry squadrons flying 173 aircraft. Interim use of modified seaplanes such as the PB2Y Coronados and converted bombers such as the B-24 Liberators supplied a modicum of Navy flag and organic airlift until R4Ds (C-47s) and long range R5D (C-54s) became available. The primary WW-II Navy transport squadrons were: VR-1, Norfolk flying R4D Skytrains, R5O Lockheed Loadstars, and later R5D (C-54) Loadmasters; VR-2, Alameda, a seaplane squadron, initially flying converted PBYs and PB2Ys, later a transport version of the PBM Mariner and in 1946 the 4 JRM Martin Mars transports; VR-3, Olathe flying primarily R4D Skytrains and later a few R5D Loadmasters; VR-5 the Alaska/Aleutian squadron based at NAS Sand Point, Seattle, WN Flying R4Ds and R5Ds; VR-7, NAS Miami serving the Caribbean and South America with R4Ds; VR-11 Honolulu, HI, the largest WW-II VR squadron, with over 1,000 pilots assigned flying R5D Loadmasters. VR-4, 6, 8, and 10 were initially maintenance and training squadrons. VRE-1 was a large Pacific R5D ambulance squadron formed in 1944 from VR-11 to evacuate the Navy/Marine wounded personnel from Pacific combat areas. VRF-1 at Floyd Bennett NAS, NY and VRF-2 at Terminal Island NAF, Long Beach, CA were the primary WW-II squadrons for the ferrying of Navy aircraft.
The end of WW-II brought an initial surge work-load continuing thru 1946 for Navy VR in the transportation of demobilized personnel and equipment from the extensive network of world wide Navy installations. During the 1948-49 Berlin airlift VR-6 (formerly based on Guam) and VR-8 (from Honolulu) participated with the Air Force flying the R5Ds on the Frankfurt-Berlin lift and VR-3 providing support for the Lift while based on the East Coast. It is interesting to note that either VR-6 or VR-8 was the top Air Force ranked Berlin Airlift squadron for every single month of the Berlin Airlift.
In mid-1948 following the establishment of the Department of Defense, the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) and the Air Force Air Transport Command (ATC) were consolidated to form the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). MATS was later to become the Military Airlift Command (MAC) and today the Air Mobility Command (AMC) under the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM). Several Navy VR transport squadrons deemed necessary for Navy unique organic airlift were excluded from MATS and were assigned to the administrative control of Commander Fleet Logistic Support Wings, Pacific and Atlantic. Former NATS squadrons VR-3, VR-6, VR-8 and later VR-22 and the reactivated VR-7 were assigned as a part of MATS under Air Force control. VR-1 Norfolk, VR-2 Alameda (seaplanes), VR-5 Seattle (in 1950 moved to Moffett Field, CA), VR-21 Barbers Point, HI, and VR-24 London, UK (Pt. Lyautey, Morocco; Rota, Spain; Naples, Italy) remained Navy VR squadrons assigned to the Fleet Logistic Support Wings.
During the Korean Conflict VR-5 moved from Seattle to Moffett Field, CA, and together with VR-21 Barbers Point, HI and the JRMs of VR-2 Alameda, CA on the San Francisco-Honolulu route, supplied the bulk of the trans-Pacific Navy/Marine combat air logistic support. These squadrons were augmented by the R5Ds of Marine squadrons VMR-352 El Toro, CA, VMR-152, Barbers Point, HI and TAD crews and aircraft from VR-1. VR-23 was formed in 1951 out of the VR-21 Detachment, Atsugi, Japan to provide local Japan-Korea fleet support. R5D (C-54) aircraft were initially utilized during this period and were replaced by R6D (C-118) Liftmasters starting with the initially delivery of R6D #128424 to VR-5, Moffett Field 7 September 1951. All the Fleet Logistic and Navy MATS squadron's R5Ds had been replaced by R6Ds or R7V Constellations by 1954. Incidentally, the initial R6D, #128424, was converted along with 6 other #128 series R6Ds to VC executive transport configuration with delivery of #424 to VR-21, NAS Barbers Point in February 1955 remaining in service 28 ½ more years until 1 October 1983 based at Barbers Point as flag transportation for CINCPACFLT. #424 is now located at the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, FL.
Following the Korean Conflict and during the '50s, VR-5 and VR-23 were disestablished, VR-22 was transferred to MATS, VR-24 moved from London and Port Lyautey to ROTA, Spain (later to Naples) and VR-30 (established 1 Oct 66) was formed at Alameda/San Diego replacing VR-21 detachments. In 1966, VRC-50 was also established from the VR-21 detachment located at NAS Atsugi, Japan. After the Navy withdrew its squadrons from the MATS organization in the mid-1960s, VR-21 remained until disestablished in 1977 as the sole surviving fleet C-118 squadron. Navy MATS squadrons VR-3, VR-6, VR-7, VR-8 and VR-22 were all disestablished by 1968 (most of these squadrons had transitioned from R6Ds and R7Vs to C-130s prior to disestablishment). The Air Force subsequently returned 36 C-118s, to the Navy with most going to the Naval Air Reserve and a few individually to Navy remote site support such as Iceland and Guantanamo.
COD operations remained in the control of the regular Navy. With the establishment of VRC-30 (1 Oct 66) , VRC-40 (1 Jul 60) , VRC-50 (1 Oct 66) , and VR-24 (3 Dec 46 as VRU-4, redesignated as VR-24, 1 Sept 48) , support to carrier battle groups was provided from locations on each CONUS coast as well as in both Westpac and Mediteranian areas. These units also maintained non-COD aircraft such as C-12, CT-39E and C-130F, providing complete airlift capability in their area of responsibility. In October of 1994, VRC-50 was disestablished leaving the Westpac area void of an in theatre Logistics Support Squadron. VRC-30, located at NAS North Island, CA, is tasked with this new responsibility and maintains a permanent detachment (Det 5) at NAF Atsugi providing COD support to 7th Fleet carriers. VR-24 was disestablished on 1 Oct 93. VRC-40, homeported at NAS Norfolk, VA, provides carrier detachments as well as a shore based det at NAS Siganella, Italy.
The post-WW-II Naval Air Reserve was organized 1 July 1946 with R4D VR mini-squadrons at some 25 of the over 50 initial Naval Air Reserve training sites. These VR aircraft were assigned to and maintained primarily by station active duty personnel with reservists training and flying some missions on the week-ends. With the transition of fleet VR squadrons to the R6Ds (C-118s) the Naval Air Reserve squadrons transitioned from R4Ds to R5Ds (C-54s) in the 1950s. With the termination of Navy MATS participation, C-118s became available and were assigned to the Naval Air Reserve starting in 1964.
The Naval Air Reserve force was reorganized into self sufficient Force Squadrons in 1970. The initial VR C-118 force squadrons were VR-50 NAS Jacksonville with a detachment at NAS Willow Grove, VR-51 NAS Alameda with detachments at NAS Whidbey Island and NAS Glenview, and VR-52 at NAS Dallas with a detachment at NAS Memphis. In 1972, VR-50 moved to NAS Atlanta becoming VR-54 with a detachment at NAS New Orleans, VR-52 at Dallas became VR-53 retaining the NAS Memphis detachment, the former VR-50 Willow Grove detachment became VR-52 with detachments at NAF Detroit and NAF Andrews, VR-51 moved to NAS Whidbey Island and later to NAS Glenview, the prior detachment sites. These squadrons essentially remained intact until the introduction of the C-9Bs into the Naval Air Reserve in 1978. Fleet Tactical Support Wing (now Fleet Logistic Support Wing) was established at NAS New Orleans in 1974 following the consolidation of the Navy Air and Surface Reserve headquarters organizations into the office of the Chief of Naval Reserve at the Naval Support Activity, New Orleans in 1973.
A jet transport study group was formed in 1969 at Naval Air Reserve Training Headquarters, NAS Glenview, composed of senior reservist air line jet qualified personnel, VR squadron officers and active duty officers to explore jet transport aircraft acquisition alternatives. This group's recommendations resulted in a lease proposal for 12 707-320B American Air Lines aircraft, and created other interest in equipping Navy VR with modern jet transport. This attendant publicly facilitated the initial Congressional approval of Navy C-9B procurement after the Navy developed CLX operational requirements in 1970-1971. The Navy's 1971 CLX competition was won by Douglas Aircraft Co. for a convertible version of the DC-9-30. The 1972 Congressional approved procurement program called for a total of 37 C-9Bs with incremental delivery beginning in 1974 at an initial cost of less than $5M each. In 1974, the Secretary of Defense initiated airlift consolidation transferring the Navy's Tactical Air Support mission along with the Navy's C-118s, C9s, and CT-39s to the Air Force. After a Navy reclama, the Navy was allowed to keep the 20 CT-39s and the 12 C-9s already delivered or under construction as administrative/command support aircraft. All future C-9 procurement was canceled, the Navy's tactical airlift mission was transferred to the Air Force and the Naval Reserve C-118s were to cease operation by the end of Fiscal (FY) 1977. Largely due to the efforts of the Naval Reserve Association and Congressman Bill Chappell of Florida, Congress restored C-118 operating funds in the FY'78 and FY'79 budgets after two successive DoD budgets reiterated the airlift consolidation premise that the Navy did not require its own airline, and that MAC could perform the mission. In carefully scenerioed House Armed Services Committee airlift hearings, in which representatives of NRA fully participated, Congress reversed the consolidation order, validated the requirement for Navy organic airlift and ordered that C-9B procurement be reinstated not later than FY'79. Subsequently, 3 more new C-9Bs were procured in FY'79 and FY'81 for VR-59 at NAS Dallas, and 12 used DC-9s were later obtained to establish additional C-9 squadrons at NAS Whidbey Island, NAS Atlanta, NAS Glenview, NAS Memphis, NAS Willow Grove, and NAF Detroit. The first of 20 C-130Ts was delivered in 1993 to VR-54 at NAS New Orleans and the initial C-20G, of 4 aircraft procured, was delivered in 1994 to VR-48 at NAF Andrews.
The Chief of Naval Reserve was designated in early 1977 as the Navy Executive Agent for Navy Airlift by the Chief of Naval Operations. Subsequently, the 12 active Navy C-9B aircraft and the CONUS Navy airlift mission were transferred to the Naval Reserve from VR-1 and VR-30, and in 1978 the initial Naval Air Reserve squadrons were established with VR-55 at Alameda, CA; VR-56 at Norfolk, VA; VR-57 at NAS North Island, CA; and VR-58 at NAS Jacksonville, FL. As Executive Agent for Navy Airlift, the Chief of Naval Reserve established the Navy Air Logistics Office (NALO) at New Orleans in 1977, with Captain Philip W. Smith as establishing Director, to coordinate scheduling of Navy organic airlift. Today NALO and its recently developed Joint Air Logistics Information System (JALIS) have been recognized by DoD and others as an outstanding example of cost-effective military organic airlift operations and scheduling.
An Air Force proposal to take over all the Navy's OSA aircraft operations was made to the Commission on Roles and Missions in September 1994. The CORM in their final recommendation to DoD and Congress in May 1995, in fact, recommended that the Air Force take over all Navy VR operations except the VRC COD squadrons and the C-9 squadrons, but the C-9s would be scheduled by TRANSOM. The CORM Chairman, in his subsequent position as Deputy Secretary of Defense, continued his determined efforts to transfer the Navy's organic airlift to the Air Force. The Naval Reserve Association, other organizations and concerned individuals worked assiduously with influential members of Congress and others to prevent the execution of this misguided effort to destroy this top performing Navy unique essential program.
Last year, after much negotiations, the Navy reluctantly accepted transfer of the scheduling authority of the Navy OSA aircraft (including the C-9s, C-20s, C-12s and CT-39s, but excluding the C-130s) to the Transportation Command at Scott AFB. For the present, the Navy retains ownership of their current VR squadrons and aircraft but these assets are vulnerable in the future.
5 September 1996
Philip W. Smith
RADM, USNR (Ret)