NAS North Island, California



The second homeport of VRC-50




Naval Air Station, North Island

North Island was established a naval air station in 1917. On August 15, 1963, the station, which was originally called the Naval Air Station, San Diego until 1955, was granted official recognition as the "Birthplace of Naval Aviation" by resolution of the House Armed Services Committee.
The Navy's first aviator, Lieutenant Gene Ellyson, and many of his colleagues were trained at North Island starting as early as 1911. This was just eight years after Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first manned aircraft at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. At that time, North Island was an uninhabited sand flat. It had been used in the late 19th century for horseback riding and hunting by guests of J. D. Spreckles' resort hotel the now famous Del Coronado.

North Island derived its name from the original geography. In the nineteenth century, it was referred to as North Coronado Island. In 1886, North and South Coronado Island were purchased by a developer for development as a residential resort. South Coronado became famous as the city of Coronado, but fortunately for the Navy, North Coronado was never developed. Instead, Glen Curtiss opened a flying school and held a lease to the property until the beginning of World War I. In 1917, Congress appropriated the land and two airfields were commissioned on its sandy flats. The Navy started with a tent covered city known as "Camp Trouble". As you can tell by its name, things did not always go well in the early days. The Navy shared the island with the Army Signal Corps' Rockwell Field until 1937, when the Army left and the Navy expanded its operations to cover the whole island. In 1914, then unknown aircraft builder, Glenn Martin, took off and demonstrated his pusher aircraft over the island with a flight that included the first parachute jump in the San Diego area. The jump was made by a ninety pound civilian woman named Tiny Broadwick. Other aviation milestones originating at North Island included the first seaplane flight in 1911, the first mid-air refueling and the first non-stop transcontinental flight, both in 1923. One of history's most famous aviation feats was the flight of Charles A. Lindbergh from New York to Paris in May, 1927. That flight originated at North Island on May 9, 1927, when Lindbergh began the first leg of his journey. Forefathers of today's "Blue Angels", the three plane "Sea Hawks" from VF-6B, the "Felix the Cat" squadron, were thrilling audiences with flight demonstrations as early as 1928. They demonstrated the training skills of Navy fighter and bomber pilots and on many occasions, flew their aircraft in formation with the wings tethered together.

The list of American military pilots trained at North Island reads like the Who’s Who of aviation; however, America was not the only country interested in aviation early in the twentieth century. Six years before the Naval Air Station was commissioned, Glenn Curtiss, the famed aviation pioneer and later aircraft manufacturer, trained the first group of Japanese aviators at his flying school on the Island. Among them was a LT C. Yamada would later become infamous as the head of Japan’s Naval aviation in World War II.

Even the base's first commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Earl W. Spencer Jr., USN, added a degree of celebrity to North Island. His wife was Wallis Warfield, a prominent socialite who was to remarry twice and finally become Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson Windsor, the late Duchess of Windsor, for whom King Edward of England gave up his throne in 1936.

During the Second World War, the land between North and South Coronado, called the Spanish Bight, was filled a part of the base where most of the administrative and recreational buildings now stand. When approaching Flag Circle from the front gate, the last tiled roof building on the left was the original gate guard building as evidenced by the Army Air Corps insignia, a pair of flight wings bisected by a single blade propeller, carved in the window shutters. During World War II North Island was the major continental U.S. base supporting the operating forces in the Pacific. Those forces included over a dozen aircraft carriers, the Coast Guard, Army, Marines and Seabees. The city of Coronado became home to most of the aircraft factory workers and dependents of the mammoth base which was operating around the clock.

NAS North Island also operates two other airfields in the Southern California region. One is Naval Auxiliary Landing Facility (NALF) San Clemente Island, located 70 miles northwest of San Diego in the California Channel Islands. The other is Outlying Field (OLF) Imperial Beach, located 10 miles south of the base on the U.S.-Mexican border.

The air station resembles a small city in its operations. It has its own police and fire departments. It has large factories such as the Naval Aviation Depot, employing 3,800 civilians and its own parks, beaches, housing and recreation areas.

Its airfield has over 235 aircraft and its quay wall is home port to two major aircraft carriers, USS Constellation (CV 64) and USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), America’s newest nuclear powered carrier. Additionally, the base is home to the Navy's only Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles, Mystic (DSRV 1) and Avalon (DSRV 2). The DSRV motor vessel support ships is also homeported here.

North Island is headquarters for six major military flag staffs including: Commander ««« Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, responsible for maintenance and training of all naval aircraft and aircraft carriers in the Pacific Fleet, H H H Commander Third Fleet, responsible for the defense of the western approaches to the U.S. and the direction of joint, combined, intertype and fleet exercises in the eastern Pacific««Commanders Carrier Group One and Seven and Commanders ««Cruiser Destroyer Group One and Five. With all the ships in port, the population of the base is over 30,000 active duty, selected reserve military and civilian personnel.

Fleet Tactical Support Squadron FIFTY (VRC-50) was homeported at NAS North Island from February 1971 until July 1972.


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