Kingsville becomes a full-fledged Naval Air Station
The 1970s may forever be remembered as the decade in which the U.S. military was the most challenged, and the world was the most changed. Naval Aviation began its seventh decade with the United States heavily embroiled in the Vietnam War; and the decade ended with U.S. carriers in the Indian Ocean responding to a hostage crisis. In between, there were confrontations in the Pacific, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic.
In the early 1970s, the U.S. military stepped up aerial attacks in Vietnam in hopes of inflicting damage to enemy supply lines and hidden base camps. Despite the earnest efforts of American aviators, Fleet Sailors and Marines, the approach did not achieve its objective. Moreover, the campaign resulted in the death or capture of 881 Navy pilots and other aircrew, and the loss of 900 aircraft. But, the aerial bombardments inflicted substantially higher losses on the enemy and weakened Communist ground offensives.
Carrier-based planes also provided essential close-air-support to U.S. and allied ground forces fighting the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam. Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft operating from Seventh Fleet destroyers and carriers executed search and rescue missions that saved hundreds of U.S. aviators whose aircraft went down in North Vietnam, Laos or at sea.
The Middle East remained a troubled region during the 1970s. In the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War of October 1973, the Sixth Fleet protected U.S. transport planes that flew emergency supplies of weapons and ammunition from the United States to Israel. The Soviet Union reacted by moving strong naval forces into the Eastern Mediterranean to prevent the Israeli military from crushing the Egyptians. The Nixon administration put U.S. forces on alert worldwide and ordered the reinforced Sixth Fleet into waters off Egypt to signal U.S. opposition.
By the mid-1970s, a muscle-flexing Soviet Union began to cause serious concern in Washington. The USSR spent enormous resources on its war-making establishment, hoping to take advantage of America's post-Vietnam retrenchment. The Soviets deployed thousands of mobile, intercontinental ballistic missiles and other nuclear-armed weapons, built up large ground and air forces in Eastern Europe and the Far East, and aided Communist guerrilla movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America . Of greatest concern to the U.S. Navy, Soviet naval forces increased their presence around the world, challenging America's overseas interests and control of the sea. A 1975 Soviet naval exercise, Okean 75, involved 220 ships and new, long-range bombers in mock strikes against the continental United States. Soviet warships steamed brazenly in all the world's oceans, and even in the Gulf of Mexico.
For nearly 10 years, the burden of the Navy’s air action fell upon the aircraft carriers and aircraft of the Seventh Fleet. To meet this responsibility, Naval Air relied on established weapons and material, and introduced new ones. The Walleye, a television-guided glide bomb designed to home automatically on target, was tested successfully in combat. Helicopters flexed their muscle in combat roles and also served as aerial tanks and flying freight trains. Land-based patrol aircraft, in Operation Market Time, scoured the coastline of South Vietnam to search out enemy infiltrating vessels and locate surface forces for interception. In 1972, Operations Linebacker I and II waged heavy interdiction and bombing campaigns against North Vietnam. Aircraft of the Seventh Fleet performed the most extensive aerial mining operation in history, blockading the enemy’s main avenues of supply. An uneasy truce finally resulted in the United States disengaging itself from Vietnam in 1973.
There was an unrelenting need for vigilance in the 1970s, which was pitted against a declining material inventory and difficulty in retaining experienced personnel. As the surplus of equipment left over from Vietnam eroded through constant use, money for replenishment was not abundant. Nevertheless, Naval Aviation continued to make headway in the areas of research and development.
Early in the 1970s, the Navy introduced the F-14 Tomcat, and the Marine Corps accepted the AV-8V/STOL Harrier. At the end of the decade, a new fighter/attack aircraft, the F/A-18 Hornet, was undergoing flight trials. The submarine threat was confronted by the addition to the fleet of the light airborne multipurpose system (LAMPS) which combined shipboard electronics with the SH-2D helicopter. Additionally, carrier battle groups could count on airborne early warning and command and control functions from the E-2 Hawkeye and carrier onboard delivery from the C-2 Greyhound. The EA-6B Prowler, designed for carrier and advanced base operations, provided a fully-integrated electronic warfare system combining long-range all-weather capabilities with advanced electronic countermeasures.
At NAS Kingsville, the mission of training Naval Aviators continued to be tweaked and fine-tuned throughout the 1970s. Training Air Wing TWO was established on Aug. 1, 1971, and NAS Kingsville Commanding Officer CAPT T. M. Smyer was dual-hatted to command both the Wing and the Air Station.
In July 1972, the Naval Air Advanced Training Command was disestablished and the Chief of Naval Air Training was relocated from Pensacola, Fla., to Corpus Christi. This action was part of the Navy's effort to consolidate training under a concept called "single base training." In Kingsville, VT-23’s training mission changed to provide basic flight training in Transition, Precision Acrobatics, Basic Instruments, Radio Instruments, Night Flying, Formation Flying, Air-to-Air Gunnery, and Carrier Qualification in the T-2C Buckeye. VT-22 and VT-23 provided advanced training in the F9F-8 Cougar. By the end of the decade, all three squadrons were flying the TA-4 Skyhawk.
NAS Kingsville 1970s Timeline
Aug. 12, 1970: An A-4 War Memorial to all aviators killed in action was dedicated on board NAS Kingsville by Kingsville Navy League president and local radio station manager Andy Cook. The A-4 Skyhawk was placed on a post in front of the NAS Kingsville command Administrative Building to greet personnel upon arriving on board.
Sept. 22, 1970: $403,830 construction project completed on station. Work included two $40,000 sound suppressor units at the engine testing facility.
Dec. 22, 1970: A retired U.S. Navy F9F Cougar donated to the City of Bishop to be displayed at Bishop City Park.
Aug. 1, 1971: Training Air Wing TWO established at NAS Kingsville. NAS Kingsville Commanding Officer CAPT T. M. Smyer assigned dual-hatted responsibility as Wing Commander.
July 4, 1974: Blue Lakes Golf Course opens on station. The course featured 9 holes and included a pro shop, driving range, family picnic pavilions, rest rooms, and playground area. Weekday green fees were $1 for nine holes, $1.50 for 18, and weekend fees were $1.50 for 9-holes and $2 for 18.
Aug. 27, 1974: Astronaut and Marine COL Gerald Carr visited the air station to serve as guest speaker at the monthly aviator’s luncheon at the base Officers’ Club. Carr logged more than 84 days in Space as commander of Skylab-4.
Nov. 20, 1974: Former Prisoner of War CDR John McCain was the featured speaker at the November Aviator’s Luncheon at the Officers' Club.
Jan. 6, 1975: Construction begins on new Enlisted Men’s Club.
Nov. 23, 1975: A-4 Skyhawk Memorial display near the command Administrative Building receives a face lift and paint job. Paint scheme included a salute to the Nation’s bicentennial, and was painted by enlisted personnel from VT-21 and VT-22. The aircraft was dedicated to all Naval Aviators who had lost their lives in the service of their country. The Skyhawk also carried the name of pilot LT Edward Andrew Dickson, the first Naval Aviator to be killed in combat over North Vietnam (Feb. 7, 1965).
Nov. 25, 1975: CAPT Eugene Cernan, one of America’s senior Astronauts, was the guest speaker at the monthly Aviator’s Luncheon at the Officers’ Club.
Nov. 16, 1976: New 27,000 square-foot Branch Health Clinic opens after $1.5 million, 16-month construction project. Facility held a full range of clinic services including pharmacy, laboratory, medical and dental clinics, a five-bed hospital war, emergency treatment center, and a large open-area waiting room. The old clinic, which was located behind the command Administrative Building, had served base personnel for 34 years.
Dec. 18, 1978: The Commander, Naval Air Systems Command, formally established the undergraduate Jet Pilot Training System Project (VTXTS). This project was designed to provide Naval Aviation with an integrated training program consisting of aircraft, simulators, academics, and training management. VTXTS was aimed at the intermediate and advanced jet training levels.