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Naval Air Station, Oakland
(Naval Reserve Air Base, Oakland; Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Oakland)
by M.L. Shettle, Jr.
 


On February 5, 1927, the Oakland City Council purchased the 692-acre Bay Farm Island, five miles south of town, to develop an airport. On June 3, the Army informed the City that it wished to use the island as the takeoff point for an attempt to fly to Hawaii. Since a runway did not yet exist, the Army requested that one be graded by the end of the month. Working around the clock for 23 days, crews completed a 7,020-ft. runway -- at that time, the longest in the world. On June 28, 1Lts. Lester Maitland and Albert Hegenberger departed in a Fokker C-2. Twenty five hours and 49 minutes later, they landed on Oahu at the Army's Wheeler Field, completing the first non-stop flight between the Mainland and Hawaii.
 
Oakland became the departure point for many pioneering flights to Hawaii. In July, Ernie Smith and Emory Bronte, also completed a non-stop flight to Hawaii. On August 16, a group of aviators gathered at Oakland to vie for $35,000 in prizes offered by pineapple magnate James Dole for a race to Hawaii. Six entrants crashed preparing for the race or at the race's start and two disappeared over the Pacific. On August 17, two aircraft completed the flight, with the first prize of $25,000 being claimed by Hollywood stunt pilot Art Goebel and his navigator, Navy Lt. William Davis. Charles Lindbergh was the guest of honor for the dedication of the airport that took place on September 27. On May 31 of the next year, Australians Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm departed for Hawaii on the first leg of their epic flight to Australia.

On August 1, 1928, the Navy formed an NRAB at the airport with two aircraft and 1200 sq. ft. of leased hangar space. By 1935, the station began the Elimination Training Course with ten aircraft. Eleven days after Pearl Harbor, the C.O.s of all the NRABs held a conference in Pensacola -- the subject being the increase of primary training at their bases. Among the C.O.s with a problem, was Cdr. R.L. Johnson of Oakland. With the addition of Army interceptors at the airport, the expansion of primary training would be impossible without a new base. After returning to Oakland, Cdr. Johnson and his men selected a site 25 miles away, 3.5 miles east of Livermore. Nevertheless, full primary training began in January 1942. With the imminent departure of primary training, Oakland was chosen to be a Naval Air Transport Service Terminal. In September, VR-3 began scheduled service to the station. By November 1942, all primary flight activities transferred to Livermore; however, administrative control remained at Oakland.

On January 1, 1943, Oakland became an NAS along with most of the other NRABs in the Navy. On March 4, VR-4 commissioned with a complement of 13 R4Ds received from Alameda's VR-2 which then became an exclusive seaplane operation. When Livermore commissioned as an NAS on June 1, Oakland was, in turn, reduced to an NAAS under Alameda. VR-11 commissioned here on September 1. Although the headquarters of VR-11 moved to Honolulu three and a half months later, the squadron maintained a detachment and conducted training at Oakland. Meanwhile, United Airlines had an aircraft mechanics school for the Army at the airport. In 1943, United began training Navy mechanics and completed 1,281 during the war.
 
In April 1944, the station began an expansion program. On June 16, VR-13 commissioned and in the spring of 1945, transferred to Los Negros in the Admiralty Islands. A new NATS passenger terminal reached completion on July 19.
 
Oakland was situated on 1,016 acres of which the Navy owned 65 and leased the remainder. The air field had four asphalt runways, the longest 6,500 ft. Barracks existed for 253 officers and 4,658 men. The station operated an R5D, a GH Howard, and an SNV. Oakland was a joint-use facility with the Army's Air Technical Service Command that serviced transient aircraft.
 
Following the war, the Navy began reserve activities at Oakland in 1946, upgrading the station to an NAS. In 1961, Oakland closed and the Reserve mission moved to Alameda. Today, the airport is known as Oakland International Airport.

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


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