In World War I, the U.S. Army purchased the 2,130-acre Miramar Ranch for an infantry training center. The Army named the facility Camp Kearny (frequently misspelled as Kearney), in honor of General S. W. Kearny, former military governor of California who also served in the Mexican War. Although Army aircraft occasionally landed on the camp's parade ground, an official airfield was never established. Between the wars, the government retained the property as an airfield for military and civilian use. The Ryan Company weight tested Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St. Louis here in 1927. During 1929 and 1930, the facility was known as Airtech Field, oper ated by the San Diego Air Service Corp. The Navy installed a mooring mast on the airport in 1932, first used by the Akron on a West Coast flight May 11, 1932. Twenty five thousand spectators watched in horror as the Akron's first mooring attempt ended when a gust of wind carried the airship upward, taking four ground handlers with it. One man jumped to the ground before the airship reached too high of an altitude and suffered a broken arm. As the Akron continued to ascend, two other men lost their grip and fell to their deaths. One man managed to hold on as a news camera crew, on hand for the event, captured the entire incident. The Navy continued to use the facility and Macon moored at Camp Kearny four times during 1934.
In December 1940, the Navy began a series of projects to improve and expand the airfield. On December 21, the First Marine Air Wing arrived and set up a tent city, remaining until August 1942 when it moved to Guadalcanal. Meanwhile, the Navy began the construction of an air station at the camp and commissioned NAAS Camp Kearny on February 20, 1943, an auxiliary of San Diego. The station was also known at times as Kearny Mesa. The Marines occupied an area adjacent to the Navy station where they commissioned the Marine Corps Air Depot Camp Kearny one month later. The primary Navy mission at Camp Kearny was the training in Consolidated PB4Y Liberators. Training was supervised and conducted by the Transition Liberator Unit. When the asphalt runways began to deteriorate under the PB4Y's weight, two concrete runways were added during 1943. Confusion arose between the Navy and Marine installations at Camp Kearny, so the Marines changed their station name to Marine Corps Air Depot Miramar on September 2, 1943. MCAD Miramar served as the West Coast processing depot for embarkation of Marine squadrons to the South Pacific as well as home base for other squadrons.
British use of the Liberator and other landbased
aircraft in antisubmarine and long range patrol missions impressed
the Navy. In 1942, the Navy began to negotiate with the Army for
some of its aircraft. On the other hand, the Army coveted the
Navy-owned Boeing plant at Renton, Washington that was developing
the PBB Sea Ranger. In July 1942, an agreement was reached as
the Navy cancelled the Sea Ranger. In exchange for the Renton
plant, the Army would allow the Navy to purchase B-24s, B-34s
(PVs), and B-25s from its production lines. The Navy also agreed
to limit orders of Consolidated PBYs at the San Diego plant as
to not interfere with B-24 production. Initially, the Navy drew
B-24s directly from Army production and modified the aircraft
to Navy specifications. Earlier PB4Ys had the glass house nose
just like the Army B-24. Later models had the Erco ball turrets
installed previously manufactured for the cancelled Boeing PBB
Sea Ranger. PB4Ys were flown across the bay from the Consolidated
plant at San Diego's Lindbergh Field to North Island for the installation
of the ball turret. In addition to patrol bombers, the Navy also
converted some PB4Ys to a photographic reconnaissance configuration
assigned to VD squadrons. Several of
these squadrons passed through Camp Kearny. In May 1943, work began on a Navy dedicated PB4Y. Three B-24Ds were taken from the production line and converted to the PB4Y-2 Privateer. The Privateer had a lengthened fuselage, a single vertical stabilizer, and non-supercharged engines. The first PB4Y-2s were delivered in March 1944. In the meantime, the Army disbanded its Antisubmarine Command in August 1943, turning its airplanes over to the Navy.
On January 20, 1944, Camp Kearny lost its first PB4Y when an aircraft of VB-101 crashed after takeoff killing its 13-man crew. On May 25, 1944, the Transition Liberator Unit's name changed to Headquarters Squadron 2 Fleet Air Wing 14 (HEDRON 2 FAW 14). In the fall of 1944, the designation of PB4Y squadrons changed from VB to VPB. In less than two weeks in mid-1944, the station reeled from the loss of three PB4Ys and their crews. On May 27, seven crewmen were killed when a PB4Y crashed on approach. Three days later, a PB4Y of VB-102 had a midair collision with an F4F claiming 12 lives. The worst was yet to come. One week later, a PB4Y crashed into a building on the base killing a total of 17 men from the aircraft and on the ground. Thirty six men from Camp Kearny lost their lives in ten days!
When VP-14 returned to the U.S. from combat in the South Pacific, it was recommissioned as VPB-197 on December 1, 1944. Under the command of HEDRON 2 FAW 14, VPB-197 conducted the final phase of operational training that formed replacement crews. After the completion of training, the crew and its aircraft were sent to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, for assignment to combat squadrons where needed. Initially, VPB-197 operated 15 PB4Y-1 Liberators. By March 1945, the squadron's aircraft numbered one PB4Y-1 and 44 PB4Y-2s.
Camp Kearny had one 3,000 x 500-ft. asphalt and two 6,000 x 200-ft. concrete runways. The 3,000-ft. runway was mainly used for aircraft parking. In mid-1944, station personnel numbered 611 officers and 4076 enlisted men with accommodations for 688 officers and 4176 enlisted men. After VJ-Day, the Navy used the station as a separation center return ing 25,000 men to civilian life.
On May 1, 1946, the Navy departed Camp Kearny and the station became MCAS Miramar. After only a year, the Marines closed the base and moved all units to El Toro. On June 30, 1947, the Navy redesignated Miramar an NAAS. In July 1949, the Navy began a project to improve the runways and establish a Master Jet Base. The station upgraded to an NAS on April 1, 1952. Following the Korean War, the Navy faced a cutback and offered Miramar to the City of San Diego in 1954 for $1. In what will go down in San Diego's history as the most idiotic decision ever made by the City's leaders, the offer was turned down! In the Author's opinion, San Diego's Lindbergh Airport remains today one of the worst commercial airports in the United States -- obstructions, no CAT II or CAT III approaches, noise problems, and a relatively short runway with no over runs. Miramar would have made a wonderful international airport for San Diego!
The Navy decided to keep Miramar open and eventually built the station into one of the Navy's biggest bases. In 1961, the station was designated for fighter squadrons only and was unofficially known as "Fightertown." During the Vietnam War, the famous "Top Gun" school formed The 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Commission has caused major changes at Miramar. The F-14 squadrons have moved to Oceana, Virginia, while Top Gun is being transferred to Fallon, Nevada. With the closing of El Toro, the Marines are scheduled to assume command of Miramar on October 1, 1997.
Copied with the permission of the author from United States Naval Air Stations of World War II.
On 01 October 1997, NAS Miramar, California, officially became Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, as part of the DoD Realignment Program.
Marine Corps Air Station Miramar is a 24,000-acre installation located in the northern suburbs of San Diego and is one of the largest military bases in the area. The station averages 250 aircraft aboard on any given day, with up to 200,000 flight operations per year. During Base Realignment and Closure hearings in 1993, MCAS El Toro was selected for closure, and the Marine flight operations were recommended for transfer to NAS Miramar. Marine Corps Air Stations El Toro and Tustin were closed, and their assets moved to Miramar by the end of 1999. Miramar is home for eight F/A-18C & F/A-18D Hornet jet squadrons, four CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter squadrons, four CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter squadrons, one KC-130 transport and refueling squadron, and nine station support aircraft for a total of about 257 aircraft. When the move was completed, 12,200 Marines, Sailors and civilians called Miramar home.
The 1993 and 1995 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission decided to realign NAS Miramar to MCAS Miramar. This transition will officially occur on 1 October 1997, although several transitions have already been made over the past two years to facilitate the realignment and relocation process. As a Master Jet Air Station, F- 14 Tomcat squadrons under the Commander, Fighter Wing Pacific were stationed here and trained to carry out their missions. Advanced training was also provided at the Navy Fighter Weapons School ("TOPGUN") for experienced fighter aircrews. NAS Miramar is also home to four E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning squadrons, which provide operational support for aircraft carriers.
The BRAC decision consequently affected the operations of NAS Miramar, as the realignment requires the relocation of personnel, aircraft, and equipment at MCAS Tustin and MCAS El Toro in Orange County, California to NAS Miramar. MCAS Miramar supports the aviation units of the Fleet Marine Force, including the Third Marine Aircraft Wing. MCAS Miramar will eventually support nine helicopter squadrons and nine fixed-wing squadrons.
NAS Miramar is divided into four land use sectors: Main Station, South/West Miramar, East Miramar, and Sycamore Canyon. These sectors are further divided into "improved," "semi-improved," and "unimproved" acreage. Improved acreage (1,363 acres) is land on which intensive development has taken place and grounds maintenance is performed. These areas include residential, commercial, industrial, recreational, and construction sites. Semi-improved lands (6,931 acres) include agricultural outlease lands, the flight line, ammunition storage areas, fuelbreaks, fire roads, and drainage ways. Unimproved areas (14,891 acres) are considered resource management areas which contain environmental and Air Installation Compatible Use Zone constraints. Of the total land holdings, approximately 17,000 acres are unimproved or semi- improved and consist of native vegetation The native vegetation on NAS Miramar is classified into 32 different vegetation types such as riparian woodland, oak woodland, perennial grasslands, coastal sage scrub, mixed chaparral, chemise chaparral, and freshwater marsh.
MCAS Miramar shares some of the environmental concerns that face MCB Camp Pendleton. The installation lies primarily on a plateau, but backs to the foothills of a number of mountains. The nearby valleys offer habitat to endangered species, and the Marine Corps is underwriting extensive field research regarding habitat retention and nesting success in a high noise environment.
Highest on the list of local issues faced by MCAS Miramar is aircraft noise. Introduction of the HH-53 heavy lift helicopter at the base has significantly complicated the noise situation (fighter activity at Miramar had long been a matter of community concern, but development of least-impact departure and arrival routes has defused the worst of this concern). Anticipated traffic pattern congestion issues do not appear to have materialized, however, the HH-53, whose working areas, especially MCB Camp Pendleton, are increasingly surrounded and impacted by nearby community development, has brought an unprecedented level of noise complaints. MCAS Miramar and COMCABWEST managers have evaluated a variety of alternative ground tracks to satisfy operational requirements while minimizing noise impacts.
The MARCH Coalition Fund is a nonprofit corporation organized in 1995 by San Diego County residents to stop the planned relocation of at least 112 USMC helicopters to Miramar Air Station. This homeowners group near Miramar has complained for years about helicopter noise. The Marines have changed flight patterns and training hours, but the controversy continued. The homeowners group has called for the Marines to move the helicopters from Miramar, possibly to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County.
On 23 February 1999 the Department of Defense and the group of local plaintiffs announced a cooperative settlement of the lawsuit which questioned the Governments environmental studies in connection with the realignment to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar. As part of the settlement, the Marine Corps agreed on a process to further study impacts to air quality and seek new ways to mitigate noise and safety impacts from military aircraft overflights without interfering with training and operations. The Federal Government also agreed to reimburse plaintiffs for litigation costs associated with the suit. The Federal District Court retained jurisdiction for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the terms and conditions of the agreement. The Marine Corps agreed to conduct a comprehensive air quality analysis and support an integrated Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control study of the San Diego airspace affected by MCAS Miramar operations. Several adjustments to helicopter flight patterns were made. For example, the number of helicopter Box Pattern operations to the north of the base are being reduced to the necessary minimum. Weather and air traffic permitting, helicopter departures and most arrivals to and from the coast will be via the existing fixed-wing Seawolf corridor. The Marine Corps also assessed the possibility of moving its helicopter flights further offshore and establishing an Eastern corridor over less populated areas.
On 30 June 2000 the Marine Corps completed the study that explored the feasibility of an eastern helicopter route. The study was required as part of the Feb. 23, 1999 litigation settlement-agreement. The settlement-agreement directed the study be conducted, "... for the purpose of determining the feasibility of creating an eastern helicopter route, using as criteria air traffic and safety implications and operational impacts ... ." The Commander, Marine Corps Air Bases Western Area, after consultation with Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Installations and Facilities), determined that an additional route is not currently feasible.
The Marine Corps continued current noise mitigation measures to minimize effects on neighbors. These measures include the prioritization of flights over-water, and when flying the I-15 route is necessary due to mission or weather, the highest possible Visual Flight Rule [VFR] altitudes are maintained. The number of I-15 helicopter flight operations during May and June 2000 averaged less than 2 per day. While this number may fluctuate depending on weather and mission requirements, helicopter flight operations on the I-15 are being kept to a minimum.
Local airspace issues at San Diego are inextricably tied to the future of the regions primary civil airport, Lindbergh Field. This single (9,000 foot) runway airport, surrounded by high terrain and dense urban development, is considered by some vocal partisans to be a constraint on future growth and community development. Miramar is clearly a target for some of these local activists, who have predicted that the base will be closed under a future BRAC round, and turned over to the city for use as its civil airport. Not surprisingly, an almost equally vocal contingent, located nearer to MCAS Miramar and aware that a civil airport could generate traffic levels far in excess of those experienced there today, are insistent that the community look elsewhere to solve this problem.
The Marine Corps is evaluating all Department of Defense West Coast installations within the operational radius of the MV-22 to develop reasonable site alternatives for the Osprey. To date, five installations have been identified as potential basing sites for the Osprey. These sites are Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Naval Air Facility El Centro and Edwards Air Force Base. Other site alternatives may be considered if they are appropriate to the screening criteria.
The public scoping phase of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process covering the the MV-22 Osprey, which allows residents to voice their concerns about proposed basing options, officially concluded 01 December 2001. The West Coast Osprey basing decisions have not been predetermined. The Record of Decision, which is expected in May 2003, will be based on operational requirements, environmental factors and community concerns. The Department of the Navy proposes to replace all West Coast 3d and 4th Marine Aircraft Wing CH-46E aircraft; and replace the West Coast 4th Marine Aircraft Wing CH-53E squadron. The primary mission of the MV-22 in the Third and Fourth Marine Aircraft Wings will be to support Fleet Marine Force training and operations at MCB Camp Pendleton; accordingly, alternatives to be considered in the EIS are all aviation facilities within the operational radius of the MV-22 from MCB Camp Pendleton.
As a result of a BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) 1995 decision, NAS Miramar transferred ownership to MCAS Miramar. As part of this action, three Carrier Air Wings, CVW-11, CVW-14 & CVW-2, relocated to NAS Lemoore. The new administration building, located on Skytrain, houses all of the Carrier Air Wings aboard NAS Lemoore.
The procurement of the F/A-18E/F "SuperHornet" strike-fighter allows the Navy to modernize its fleet. In July 1998, the Navy approved the Environmental Impact Statement and officially selected NAS Lemoore as the West Coast homeport for the Super Hornet. NAS Lemoore, with its dual offset runways, separate administrative and operations areas, and access to West Coast training ranges, is virtually free from encroachment. For these reasons, it is the most advantageous location for the F/A-18E/F.
The proposed action added 92 additional aircraft to NAS Lemoore. One new Fleet Replacement Squadron and four new fleet squadrons will be based there. Additional staffing will be required at Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD), Naval Air Maintenance Training (NAMTRA), and Strike Fighter Weapons School Pacific (SFWSP). The projected increase to base loading is approximately 1,900 active duty and 3,000 family members.
Facility expansion and construction will be required for FY98 through FY03 to accommodate the additional aircraft and personnel. Hangar 4 will be rehabilitated to house the additional fleet squadrons. The AIMD Airframes and Engine Maintenance shops will be modified. A new AIMD Aviation Armament Shop will be built. NAMTRA and Strike Fighter Weapons School Pacific will expand. A new Bachelor Enlisted Quarters will be built.
Recent DoD working groups and conferences have begun to question community acceptance strategies for some new weapons systems. In particular, the Joint Strike Fighter may face a variety of challenges in several potential beddown locations. The aircraft generates an extraordinary amount of thrust from its single engine, and according to preliminary analyses, does so at some cost in noise and air quality. Preliminary analysis of the San Diego area has revealed air quality limitations that may preclude unrestricted operation of the STOVL (Short Takeoff, Vertical Landing) version of the aircraft that will be procured by the USMC. The highest thrust settings for the aircrafts F-119 engine will occur during transition to and from vertical flight. Noise and emissions, especially of oxides of Nitrogen (NOx), may exceed those encountered in any equivalent engine.
More than 150 years ago, MCAS Miramar was part of an enormous ranchero owned by Don Santiago Anguello, the former Mexican Army commandante of San Diegos presidio. In 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico and eventually annexed the territories of California and New Mexico.
When Edward Scripps arrived in 1890, he described San Diego as a dilapidated boomtown. Scripps was a wealthy newspaper publisher who sought to escape the pressures of life on the East Coast. He is credited with naming the mesa Miramar, which loosely translated from Spanish means an area from which there is a view of the sea from every vantage point.
Scripps established a ranch on 2,000 acres in the Miramar area. The land was later purchased by the Jessop family, a prominent group of San Diego jewelers. In the vicinity, a post office, general store and one-room schoolhouse served the Miramar settlement of cowboys and ranchers. Still, this dusty crossroad was a far cry from a military base.
Miramars military roots started in 1917, when the Army purchased the Miramar area and established Camp Kearny. Construction costs totaled $1.25 million, but few permanent structures were built. Most of Camp Kearnys soldiers lived in tents, as more than 65,000 men trooped through the camp on their way to World War I battlegrounds. After the war, the camp was used as a demobilization center, and in 1920, it ceased to function as a military base and languished for 12 years.
The Navys occupation of the area began in earnest in 1932, when the largest aircraft in the world came to Camp Kearny. A mooring mast was built at the camp for the dirigibles USS Akron and USS Macon. Both aircraft crashed as sea, and within only a few years, Camp Kearny was quiet once again.
The Navy retained control of the area for several years but did not actively employ its services. When World War II began in Europe, the U.S. military began a precautionary buildup. Runways were constructed at the camp in 1940 and were put to heavy use when America entered the war in 1941.
During the 1940s, both the Navy and the Marine Corps occupied Miramar. After World War II, all military facilities were combined and the base was redesignated Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. This lasted just 13 months, however, when the Marines moved to El Toro in 1947. Miramar was then redesignated a Naval Auxiliary Air Station. Only half of Miramars facilities were put to use, and the station literally began to deteriorate. Many buildings were sold as scrap during this period.
Throughout its already illustrious history, Miramar had prepared and supported carrier groups and squadrons during World War II and the Korean War, but it was during the Vietnam War that Miramar met its greatest challenge to train fighter air crews in air combat maneuvering and fleet air defense. This mission was accomplished through the creation of Top Gun, a graduated-level training school for fighter air crews. The school garnered fame throughout the military for its success. The movie Top Gun starring Tom Cruise, with portions of the movie filmed aboard the air station, brought worldwide fame to Fightertown, USA.
In 1993, a Base Realignment and Closure committee decision recommended that Naval Air Station Miramar be redesignated as a Marine Corps Air Station. The realignment involved relocating all Navys F-14 Tomcat and E-2 Hawkeye squadrons. Top Gun and the last F-14 squadron left the air station in 1996 to make way for Marines from MCAS El Toro and Marine Corps Air Facility Tustin.
The first Marine squadrons, support units and their F/A-18 Hornets began making the move from MCAS El Toro in August 1994. On Oct. 1, 1997, Miramar once again became a Marine Corps Air Station as the Marines landed back home after a 50-year absence. The final chapter in the transition process was etched July 2, 1999, with the closing ceremony for MCAS El Toro and MCAF Tustin. This historic event marked an end to a 52-year presence in Orange County and signified the final step in a move that spanned nearly five years.
With the move complete, all of Miramars fixed-wing F/A-18 and KC-130 Hercules squadrons, as well as its CH-46E Sea Knight and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, are in place. Additionally, the support commands Marine Wing Support Group 37 and Marine Air Control Group 38 have been established. These achievements, combined with the near completion of approximately $400 million in construction, means that MCAS Miramar has taken its long-awaited, rightful place as the home of the Marine Corps West Coast air power.
A chain of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121 aircraft filled the sky over San Diego as the last active duty FA-18D Hornets left Miramar February 7, 2003 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
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