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.
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 Captains 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.
When New Orleans was captured by Union forces 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, many of these newly rebuilt structures were destroyed by a great hurricane and tidal wave.
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. The first aircraft carrier was built in January 1911, and a few weeks later, the seaplane made its first appearance. Then, civilian pilot Eugene Ely landed a frail craft aboard USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay, and the value of the airplane to the Navy had been demonstrated.
The Navy Dept., now awakened to the possibilities of Naval Aviation through the efforts of Capt. W. I. Chambers, prevailed upon congress to include in the Naval Appropriation Act enacted in 1911-12 a provision for aeronautical development. Chambers was ordered to devote all of his time to naval aviation.
In October 1913, Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, appointed a board, with Capt. 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.
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 5538 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. A few enlisted men also graduated. Thus, Naval Air Station Pensacola became known as the "Annapolis of the Air."
With the inauguration of 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 LT T.G. 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. NAS expanded again, training 1,100 cadets a month, 11 times the amount trained annually in the ‘20s. The growth of NAS from 10 tents to the world’s greatest naval aviation center was emphasized by then Senator Owen Brewster’s statement:: "The growth of naval aviation during World War II is one of the wonders of the modern world."
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 NETC, a new command which 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.
In 1992, pilot training at Training Air Wing Six was relocated to NAS Whiting Field and other Naval Air Stations and Training Air Wing Six assumed responsibility for training all Naval Flight Officers. The United States Air Force soon consolidated a portion of their Navigator/Weapons Systems Operator training with Navy operations at Training Air Wing SIX. Also in 1992, USS Forrestal, the Navy's last dedicated training aircraft carrier was retired and not replaced at NAS Pensacola.
In 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission directed the closure of the Naval Aviation Depot, Naval Supply Center, and the Defense Distribution Depot. In the place of these facilities, the Commission directed the relocation of the Naval Air Technical Training Center from NAS Memphis to NAS Pensacola, a move that further established NAS Pensacola as a major training center for the Navy.
In 2002, in a move to reduce the cost of managing and maintaining military installations, infrastructure management of Naval Air Station Pensacola, Corry Station and Saufley Field was consolidated under the command of the Commanding Officer, Naval Air Station.
In 2003, CNET was replaced by the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC).
Also located on board NAS Pensacola is Naval Aviation Schools Command (NAVAVSCOLSCOM). This command has the following subordinate schools:
- Aviation Enlisted Aircrew Training School (AEATS)
- AETAS was formerly known Naval Aircrewman Candidate School (NACCS)
- Aviation Training School
- Crew Resource Management
- U.S. Navy and Marine Corps School of Aviation Safety
In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan struck Naval Air Station with a massive blow. The storm resulted in over $500 million in damages to the base. Over 700 buildings required repair or renovation and 93 building were demolished, 37 historic. Most of the Historic Landmark District was destroyed.
In 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, directed all USAF Combat Systems Operator training be relocated to NAS Pensacola. The move of this training operation (479th Flying Training Group) added an additional 400 aviation students and approximately 500 staff members to the Air Station roles. The economic impact from this move to NAS Pensacola is approximately $60 Million annually
During the 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), it was feared that NAS Pensacola might be closed, despite its naval hub status, due to extensive damage by Hurricane Ivan in late 2004; nearly every building on the installation suffered heavy damage, with near total destruction of the air station's southeastern complex . The main barracks, Chevalier Hall, only opened in late January 2005, four months after the storm. When the list was released on May 2005, it was revealed that NAS Pensacola, as well as the other bases hit by Ivan in Northwest Florida, were not on the BRAC list.
In May 2006, Navy construction crews unearthed a Spanish ship from underneath the Pensacola Naval Air Station, possibly dating back to the mid-16th century. It was discovered during the rebuilding of the base's rescue swimmer school which was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan.
NAS Pensacola currently has a myriad of activities including the headquarters and staff of the Naval Education and Training Command; Training Air Wing Six and subordinate squadrons; USAF 479th Flying Training Group and subordinate squadrons; Naval Aviation Schools Command; Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training; Naval Air Technical Training Center; Marine Aviation Training Support Group-21; Center for Information Dominance; Navy Medicine Operations Training Center; Naval Recruiting Orientation Unit; Naval Education and Training Professional Development and Technology Center, Saufley Field; and the world-renowned Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron. A continuing attraction for visitors to the Southeast is the National Naval Aviation Museum and the Barrancas National Cemetery. NAS Pensacola is one of the largest training operations in the Navy with nearly 60,000 students graduating from training programs annually. NAS Pensacola trains students from every branch of military, the US Coast Guard, other agencies and foreign allies. It is one of only four installations in the continental United States with an active runway and a deep water port.
Click on the links to the left to learn more about the history of NAS Pensacola.