AKA: United States Navy (USN), Naval Air Station El Centro, El Centro, CA; United States Navy (USN), Naval Air Facility El Centro, El Centro, CA

Structure Type: built works - military buildings

Designers: Stanton, J.E., Architect (firm); Jesse Earl Stanton (architect)

Dates: constructed 1942

Naval Air Facility El Centro, El Centro, CA

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Building History

The US Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) was formed by Congressional act in 1938; it was renamed the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) in 1940. At this time, the CAB, sought to construct two4,500-ft. runways in the Imperial Valley and selected a 983-acre site that had recently been a flax farm. With the start of World War II, the CAB accelerated the construction timetable for the airfield, where work had begun on01/08/1942.By 03/1942, the US Navy began a search in the San Diego area for an airfield for the Marine Corps, and chose the already started El Centro site, adding 749 acres shortly after it leased the facility. Paving the first two runways had been completed by 04/1942 and buildings began to be added by the next month. During the course of 1942, the two existing runways were extended and a third planned. Between 06/1942 and 09/1942, the number of planes stationed at El Centro increased from 20 to 105 includingGrumman F4F Wildcat fighters and, later, Vought F4U Corsair fighters.El Centro's formal commissioning as a Marine Air Station on 07/26/1943.

An expansion occurred at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Centro in 04/1944, with the creation of two more runways and buildings to house a Bombardier and Gunnery School established in that year. By 12/1944, the field accommodated 213 aircraft, including Corsairs, Douglas SBD dive bombers, andGrumman F6F Hellcat fighters. This also included the addition of a new transport group transferred from Oregon to the El Centro air station, using 19 Douglas C-47 Skytrain and 90 Curtiss C-46 Commando transport planes. For the rest of the war, the El Centro base focused on the training of transport crews. On 03/15/1945, aMarine Corps Aerial Gunnery School was also established with 32 officers and 322 enlisted men.

The MCAS El Centro was decommssioned on 05/01/1946, and repuprosed as a Naval Air Station used for aircraft storage, and training gunnery and rocket crews. In 1947, the military sought to take advantage of the area's excellent flying weather, and moved its Parachute Experimental Division from the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, NJ, to El Centro. TheNaval Air Technical Training Unit relocated to NAS El Centro in 04/1949. By 10/1949, the field had been demoted to becoming aNaval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS).

In 1958, the Navy downgraded El Centro to an Auxiliary Landing Field (ALF), but during the 1960s, NASA began to use it for testing parachute recovery systems for its Mercury and Gemini programs. The Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron, formed in 1946, moved here in 1967, using it as a winter training base.

By 2018, the Blue Angels continued to reside here part-time, and the base also served Navy and Marine aviators for weapons training. According to the NAF El Centro Command History: "Today, NAF El Centro provides realistic training to active and reserve aviation units and activities of the Navy’s operating and training forces. Squadrons visit NAF El Centro to practice gunnery, bombing, carrier landings and air combat.The facility has two operating runways. The 9,500-foot east/west runway handles 96 percent of the traffic. It is equipped with a Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System at each approach end as well as lighted carrier deck landing areas at both ends so pilots can simulate carrier landings.Apart from 'touch and go' landings and take-offs, aircrews use the many ranges at NAF El Centro to develop their skills. A remote-controlled target area allows naval aviators to practice ordinance delivery. The desert range is used for air-to-ground bombing, rocket firing, strafing, dummy drops and mobile land target training. The target complex uses the Weapons Impact Scoring System that microwaves target images to a range master control building for immediate verification of weapons delivery accuracy. The addition of the Display and Debriefing Subsystem, known as DDS, expanded the role of NAF El Centro to include air combat training by utilizing remote television, acoustical and laser scoring systems. The DDS is linked with TACTS to provide a computerized record of the tactics employed by individual aircrews employ and to evaluate the effectiveness of each maneuver. Many believe the training at NAF El Centro is as close as pilots can get to actual air combat. Much of the movie "Top Gun" was shot at NAF El Centro." (See Military Museum.org, "NAF El Centro Command History (2003)," accessed 05/29/2018.)


A joint US Navy-Air Force National Parachute Test Range opened at the El Centro facility in 1951 and aFleet Air Gunnery Unit was relocated here in 05/1952. It is likely that Los Angeles architect Jesse E. Stanton (1887-1971) worked on alterations for this purpose in 1951-1952.

PCAD id: 19295