Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Naval Auxiliary Air Facility (Lighter Than Air), Del Mar
NAAF (LTA) Del Mar circa 1943 (NARA)
History by M.L. Shettle, Jr.

Del Mar is a seaside resort community located 20 miles north of San Diego's North Island. The town is the location of the San Diego County Fairgrounds, the Del Mar Race Track, and the luxurious Del Mar Hotel. An unpaved military outlying field, known as San Dieguito Valley or Del Mar, existed one mile east of town as far back as the 1920's and possibly earlier. In June 1941, the Navy, previously leasing the airfield's 80 acres, purchased the property with the intention of building two hard-surfaced runways. When the cost of building a dike to prevent possible flooding by the San Dieguito River proved prohibitive at that time, the proposal was canceled and the airfield remained unimproved.

Wartime needs for a blimp facility to patrol the sea around San Diego, prompted the Navy's return to the site in 1943 to construct a small blimp base. Although Lt. Hugh Talford landed the first blimp there on July 1, 1943, the facility was not commissioned until August 8 as an auxiliary of NAS Santa Ana. The station was essentially identical in make-up to Santa Ana's other auxiliary at Lompoc, California consisting of a 500 by 1000-ft. asphalt mat with two mooring circles and barracks for 26 officers and 112 enlisted men.

Normally, Santa Ana's ZP-31 or Blimp Headquarters Squadron Three maintained a detachment of one to two K-ships at Del Mar. During the summer of 1944, MGM studios used the station to film segments of the motion picture, This Man's Navy. The typical implausible action feature of the day, the film ended in Burma -- Del Mar was the location for this segment. The film starred the late Wallace Beery, who had been made an honorary LCdr. and Naval Aviator in the 1930s in appreciation of his promotional contributions to the Naval Aviation Reserve at NRAB Long Beach.

On October 17, 1944, K-111 of Blimp Headquarters Squadron Three from Tillamook, Oregon crashed on Santa Catalina Island. Temporarily deployed to Del Mar, the fully armed blimp was conducting a night navigation training flight when it hit high terrain on the island. The blimp's depth charges and gasoline tanks exploded, killing five of its nine-man crew. In spite of this tragedy, duty at Del Mar must have been quite pleasant. One former blimp pilot recalled: "We'd get our orders for the next day's patrol from the end of the bar at the Hotel Del Mar."

The Navy closed Del Mar in September 1945 and eventually sold the property to San Diego County for $1. The County then leased the property for an air-port. The fixed-base operators had both been stationed at Del Mar during the war -- one of which was former Lt. Hugh Talford, who landed the first blimp at the station. The runway was ultimately extended to 3,500 ft. The airport, frequented by visitors to the Del Mar Hotel and race track, remained open until October 8, 1959, when Interstate 5 was constructed through the middle of the property.
US Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District History (1999)

On 16 January 1941 the Navy acquired 80.04 acres in fee from Swift and Company for use as a landing field in the San Dieguito Valley of San Diego County, southeast of the county fairgrounds.

The Navy originally acquired the property for use as an auxiliary airfield and emergency landing strip for NAS San Diego. After concluding that this field could no longer accommodate modern carrier aircraft, the site was designated in 1942 as an auxiliary air facility for lighter-than-air dirigible aircraft. The facility could accommodate two K-type blimps which were used in anti-submarine warfare along the western coast. Improvements to the site included 6 buildings, 5 ordnance magazines, a septic tank and sewer lines, a 12,000 gallon underground gasoline storage tank and pump, landing mat and roadways paved with asphalt and concrete, domestic water lines, and electrical services.

The Navy retained the property until 26 November 1947 when 80.04 acres were quitclaimed to the County of San Diego for use as a municipal airport. The site remained a municipal airport until it was closed in 1959 and transferred to the State of California to allow for the construction of the Interstate 5 freeway. Currently, 26 acres of the property are owned by the State of California as part of the Interstate 5 right-of-way and 54 acres are owned by the San Dieguito River Regional Park Joint Powers Authority which plans to begin wetland restoration activities in the next couple of years. Remaining military improvements include concrete building foundations, remnants of the landing mat and roadways, partial remains of some of the ammunition magazines, and the 12,000 gallon underground storage tank

Extract, US Army Air Forces Directory of Airfields, January 1945


Additional Histories:

Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields California

Copied with the permission of the author from United States Naval Air Stations of World War II.

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Updated 8 February 2016