Today marks the kickoff of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla. The “Cradle of Naval Aviation”is where most Navy and Marine Corps aviators, past and present,began their flight training. Tens of thousands of naval aviators have been trained there, including astronauts Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong. It is the home of the world renowned Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron.
In October of 1913, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels appointed a board that recommended the establishment of an aviation training station in Pensacola, making NAS Pensacola the first naval air station commissioned by the Navy.
When America entered WWI, NAS Pensacola, still the only naval air station in the country, had 38 aviators, 163 enlisted men trained in aviation support, and approximately 50-55 fixed-wing aircraft. Two years later, NAS had grown exponentially with 438 officers and 5,538 enlisted men, and had trained 1,000 naval aviators.
At the end of the war,aviation training slowed almost to a crawl, largely as a result of the Great Depression and post WWI military cutbacks. It was so slow in fact, that only 100 pilots on average were graduating each year.
In the mid-1930s, the establishment of the aviation cadet program caused rapid growth. 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.
During WWII, training at NAS Pensacola increased dramatically, reaching its peak in 1944, with 12,000 men completing almost 2 million hours of flight school in that year alone. Those numbers dropped significantly after the war, but experienced a bump during the Korean conflict.
During the early 1950s, the Navy was in transition. The old propeller type aircraft were being replaced by the much faster and technologically advanced jets which required NAS Pensacola to revise training techniques and courses.
Training intensified during the 1960s and 1970s to meet the demands of the Vietnam War, with pilot production increasing to nearly 3,000 aviators in 1968.
One of the country’s most visited attractions is the National Museum of Naval Aviation located on board NAS. The museum opened for business in 1963 and has had millions of visitors walk through its doors.
Today, the museum houses some of the most famous aircraft in the world, including the first airplane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, the only surviving aircraft from the Battle of Midway, and a trainer flown by President George H. W. Bush during his World War II training.
Over the years since Vietnam, the base has had some new tenant commands that have come to call NAS Pensacola home. The Naval Education and Training Command, or NETC, provides direction and control of all Navy education and training throughout the fleet. Almost all of the Navy’s aviation training schools are also located at NAS Pensacola.
However, NAS Pensacola’s most famous tenant command is the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels. The Blues fly at airshows all over the world demonstrating their aerial superiority while promoting naval aviation for millions of people with their precision maneuvers.
As NAS Pensacola celebrates its 100 year anniversary, one can only wonder what the next 100 years might bring. No matter what new aircraft or technology may appear, the essence of NAS Pensacola remains simply those who have passed through the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” and those yet to come.