Outlying Field Imperial Beach known as: "The Helicopter Capitol of the World" is situated on 1,204 acres approximately 14 miles south of San Diego and within the city limits of Imperial Beach.
The history of OLF Imperial Beach dates back to 1917 when the Army established "Aviation Field" on the current site. During the time "Aviation Field" was used for air gunnery practices, among other things, by the Army and was kept active throughout WWI.
During this period, in 1918, it was renamed in honor of Army Major William Roy Ream, the first flying surgeon of the American Army and the first flight surgeon killed in an aircraft accident.
In the early 1920’s the Navy began using Ream Field for practice carrier landing, but the field was not considered as advantageous for expansion as Brown Field, some 8 miles inland, and did not develop much further until later during WWII.
It was 1943 when the present runways were built and construction on the installation’s buildings began, and on 17 July 1943 Naval Auxiliary Air Station Ream Field was commissioned. By 12 April 1946 the station had 78 buildings and four airstrips consisting of runways, one oriented northwest by southeast and the other oriented northeast by southwest, both of which were 250o ft by 500 ft in addition to the four runways 82,730 square yards of aircraft parking area were built.
Shortly after WWII, Ream Field, as it was known decommissioned. In 1951, it was re-commissioned as an Auxiliary Landing Field, and in 1955 was re-designated a Naval Auxiliary Air Station.
It was in 1951 when Ream Field Imperial Beach became home for its first helicopter squadron when HU-1 moved on board and were to be followed by many others, HS-6 and HS-8 in 1956 andHS-10 was formed in 1960.
In 1967, oldest of the helicopter squadrons HC-1, commissioned in 1948 at NAS Lakehurst, was divided into five different squadrons, HC-3, HC-5, HC-7, HAL-3 and HC-1 and brought on board Imperial Beach.
On January 1, 1968 NAS Imperial Beach was offered the status of a full Naval Air Station. The mission of NAS Imperial Beach was to support operations of Naval aviation activities and units. In this capacity it was the home of seven helicopter squadrons, eventually to become the home of ten squadrons, constituting all of the Navy helicopter squadrons on the west coast. The station also supported a Naval Air Maintenance Training Detachment and a Fleet Airborne Electronics Training Unit. At that time NAS Imperial Beach had a total complement of approximately 3400 military personnel.
On August 1, 1974 Imperial Beach was once again re-designated to the start of Naval Auxiliary Landing Field and in October 1975 was designated an Outlying Field (OLF IB) and presently operates as a branch of the NAS North Island Naval station.
When Imperial Beach was designated on Outlying Field, this put a halt to a master plan developed on 1967 to determine the facilities required to support units assigned by the CNO. Under this plan, construction commenced on a new Enlisted Dining Hall and modern Bachelor Enlisted Quarters. In 1968 the control tower and operation building was completed, along with a new Enlisted Men’s Club and a $1.2 million hangar was opened. Other building constructed under the plan were, a new Bachelor Officer Quarters, a second new hangar, and a new Navy Retail Store with five times the floor space of the previous Exchange.
Along with the halt of construction on base, the helicopter squadrons all were moved to NAS North Island. This meant their no further was a need for barracks, meal facilities, aircraft hangars and clubs. These new buildings were closed and everyone associated with them was moved and expected to use the facilities at North Island. In 1977 the empty aircraft hangars were leased to Defense Property Disposal Office (DPDO) for storage of excess and salvageable material. In 1978, almost half of the buildings on base, those east of Lexington Street were leased to Job Corp Department of Labor.
Presently OLF Imperial Beach encompasses 1204 acres with 270 of those acres leased out for agricultural purposes and 284 acres leased to the State of California for a wild life refuge at the southeast corner by the base itself.
The mission of OLF Imperial Beach at the present time as described, is to handle the overflow of helicopter squadrons traffic both VFR and IFR, from North Island. As a result the helicopter squadrons at North Island do 95 percent of their operations at Imperial Beach.