Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
Naval Air Station,
Oneonta Gunnery School Field, Ream Field,
Naval Auxiliary Air Station Ream Field, Naval Auxiliary Air Station
Imperial Beach, Outlying Field Imperial Beach)
Station Imperial Beach
by M.L. Shettle, Jr.
An SH-2F Seasprite of Helicopter
Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 31 hovers over a practice
landing pad at Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Imperial Beach,
California, while an SH-3 Sea King operates behind it. This image
was taken on April 7, 1975.
During World War I, the Army took
over North Island at San Diego for primary training. The Army
then established an auxiliary named Aviation Field, 11 miles
south at San Ysidro. Once the Army changed North Island to pursuit
and gunnery training, the facility was renamed the Oneonta Gunnery
School Field. On October 5, 1918, the name changed to Ream Field,
in honor of Major William Ream, killed in an aircraft accident
during a Liberty Bond drive in Indiana. Major Ream was the first
Army flight surgeon to be killed in an aircraft accident. The
Army investment at the field totaled $148,000 including several
hangars. Following the war, the Navy leased the field's 140 acres
from the civilian owners for an OLF. The property remained in
use as an OLF through the 1920s and 1930s. In October 1942, the
Navy allocated $1.2 million to develop an auxiliary air station
at the site. Initially, San Diego maintained administrative control
of the station. Commissioning eventually occurred on July 17,
1943, with the completion of construction. Surprisingly, the
Navy retained the designation, Ream Field -- previously named
for an Army officer.
From July 1943, to June 1944, a total of 13 VC squadrons based
at the station with CASU 17 in support. A detachment of San Diego's
CASU 5, later replaced CASU 17. In July, the station embarked
on an expansion project including installation of an HE 5 catapult
and arresting gear system -- the only one in the San Diego area.
In October, CASU 65 commissioned remaining at the station to
the end of the war. In late 1944, and early 1945, units on board
included the light CAGs 32 and 38 as well as VT-9, VF-12, and
VBF-12. After the expansion program had been completed in early
1945, the station hosted large carrier air groups. CAG 14 trained
at Ream in the spring and the war ended with CAG 80 on board.
Meanwhile, a Fleet Airborne Early Warning Training Unit also
operated from the station in June.
Ream had expanded from the original 140
to 630 Navy-owned acres. The airfield had one 5,000 and three
2,500-ft. x 500-ft. asphalt runways. In March 1944, personnel
stood at 324 officers and 2567 enlisted men while barracks existed
for only 254 officers and 1800 men. Station aircraft usually
consisted of a GH Howard or a GB Staggerwing Beech and a J2F
In June 1949, the Navy inactivated the field making it an ALF
of San Diego. The Korean War brought renewed activity as the
first helicopter squadron arrived in October 1950. Ream eventually
became home base for all helicopter squadrons of the Pacific
Fleet and was known as "Helicopter Capital." The station
was redesignated NAAS Imperial Beach in July 1955. The Vietnam
War brought modernization with additional construction including
a new hangar and a 500-man barracks.
On January 1, 1968, the Navy upgraded the station to an NAS.
The end of the Vietnam War caused Imperial Beach to be disestablished
on December 31, 1974, and the facility became an ALF once again.
Today, Outlying Landing Field Imperial Beach is used by helicopters
from North Island and as a Navy Supply Center.