Naval Air Station South Weymouth

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Naval Air Station South Weymouth
South Weymouth Naval Air Station.jpg
NAS South Weymouth in 2006
IATA: NZWICAO: KNZWFAA LID: NZW
Summary
Airport typeMilitary: Naval Air Station
OperatorUnited States Navy
LocationWeymouth, Rockland, and Abington, Massachusetts
Built1941-1942
In use(NAS) 1942-1945, (NAF/NAPS) 1945-1949, (ALF) 1949-1953, (NAS) 1953-1997
OccupantsNavy, Marines, and Coast Guard
Elevation AMSL148 ft / 45 m
Coordinates42°08′55″N 070°56′23″W / 42.14861°N 70.93972°W / 42.14861; -70.93972
Runways
DirectionLengthSurface
ftm
17/357,0002,129Asphalt/Concrete
08/266,0001,829Asphalt/Concrete
02/205,0001,520Asphalt/Concrete
Closed To All Aviation Traffic
 
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Naval Air Station South Weymouth
South Weymouth Naval Air Station.jpg
NAS South Weymouth in 2006
IATA: NZWICAO: KNZWFAA LID: NZW
Summary
Airport typeMilitary: Naval Air Station
OperatorUnited States Navy
LocationWeymouth, Rockland, and Abington, Massachusetts
Built1941-1942
In use(NAS) 1942-1945, (NAF/NAPS) 1945-1949, (ALF) 1949-1953, (NAS) 1953-1997
OccupantsNavy, Marines, and Coast Guard
Elevation AMSL148 ft / 45 m
Coordinates42°08′55″N 070°56′23″W / 42.14861°N 70.93972°W / 42.14861; -70.93972
Runways
DirectionLengthSurface
ftm
17/357,0002,129Asphalt/Concrete
08/266,0001,829Asphalt/Concrete
02/205,0001,520Asphalt/Concrete
Closed To All Aviation Traffic

Naval Air Station South Weymouth, was an operational United States Navy airfield from 1942 to 1997. It was first established as a regular Navy blimp base during World War II. During the postwar era the base became an important component of the Naval Air Reserve Training Command, hosting a diverse and changing variety of Navy and Marine Corps reserve aircraft squadrons and other types of reserve units throughout the years. It is located in South Weymouth

World War II[edit]

In 1938, the site was surveyed as a possible location for a municipal airport, which was never built. Construction work on the base began in September 1941 and the base was commissioned as the United States Naval Air Station South Weymouth on March 1, 1942. During WWII the base's primary mission was to provide support for anti-submarine blimp operations. In its original as-built format South Weymouth's main facilities consisted of two gigantic blimp hangars, the earlier (LTA Hangar One or "The Big Hangar") of steel construction and the second (LTA Hangar Two) of the more common WWII standardized design of nearly all-wooden construction employed to conserve rationed metals. The base also had a 2,000-foot-diameter (610 m) Macadamized blimp landing mat, six mooring circles, and a 4,500-foot-long (1,400 m) cinder-surfaced turf runway.

Throughout the war with Germany NAS South Weymouth served as the home base of airship patrol squadron ZP-11, which operated up to twelve K class blimps employed on ASW patrols and convoy escort missions in and around Massachusetts Bay and the Gulf of Maine. Some historians and former Navy personnel allege that a ZP-11 blimp, the K-14, which crashed with loss of life off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine on July 2, 1944 was actually shot down by a German submarine.

In addition to ZP-11,[1] NAS South Weymouth also hosted wartime detachments of airship patrol squadron ZP-12 based at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey and airship utility squadron ZJ-1[2] based at Meacham Field in Key West, Florida. ZJ-1 was unique, being the only airship utility squadron in the Navy. ZJ-1's South Weymouth detachment (Detachment 1) flew K and G-class airships in support of electronics research projects conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, performed aerial photography missions, and helped to recover test torpedoes for the Navy torpedo station in Newport, Rhode Island. A sub-detachment operated from Elizabeth Field on Fisher's Island, New York.

In 1944, NAS South Weymouth was the starting point for the first transatlantic crossings of non-rigid airships. United States Navy K-ships (blimps) K-123 and K-130 from Blimp Squadron 14 (also known as ZP-14, Blimpron 14, or "The Africa Squadron") left South Weymouth on May 28, 1944 and landed at Argentia, Newfoundland about 16 hours later. The two K-ships then flew approximately 22 hours to Lagens Field on Terceira Island in the Azores. The last leg of the flight was a ~20 hour flight to their destination with Fleet Air Wing (FAW) 15 at Port Lyautey, French Morocco (now Kenitra, Morocco). Blimps K-123 & K-130 were followed by K-109 & K-134 and K-112 & K-101 which left South Weymouth on June 11 and 27, respectively, in 1944. These six blimps initially conducted nighttime anti-submarine warfare operations to complement the daytime missions flown by FAW-15 aircraft (PBYs and B-24s) using magnetic anomaly detection to locate U-boats in the relatively shallow waters around the Straits of Gibraltar. Later, ZP-14 K-ships conducted minespotting and minesweeping operations in key Mediterranean ports and various escort missions including that of the convoy carrying Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to the Yalta Conference in early 1945.[3][4]

Post-war demobilization and Cold War use[edit]

South Weymouth was downgraded from a naval air station to a naval air facility on August 9, 1945 after Germany surrendered, thus ending the U-Boat threat to the east coast, and was thereafter used to store surplus naval aircraft that were awaiting final disposition. Many of these aircraft, especially Eastern/Grumman TBM/TBF Avengers, were subjected to elaborate cocooning and preservation methods in the two huge blimp hangars. During this period of South Weymouth's history the base was known as a naval aircraft parking station or "NAPS". Naval Air Facility South Weymouth was placed into caretaker status on June 30, 1949 and downgraded again to an auxiliary landing field or "ALF".

In 1950 the Navy decided to close Squantum Naval Air Station, traditionally the focus of Navy and Marine Corps reserve aviation training in New England, and move the reserve program to ALF South Weymouth. The decision to close NAS Squantum resulted from increasing incidents of airspace conflicts with Boston's commercial airport (modern-day Logan International Airport) in nearby East Boston and due to the fact that Squantum's relatively short and landlocked (waterlocked?) runways were not capable of supporting high-performance jet aircraft.

Between 1952 and 1953 NAAF South Weymouth was rebuilt to make it more suitable for supporting conventional aircraft operations. In its original WWII format, the base was not really intended for regular use by heavier-than-air aircraft. Its cinder-covered turf runways were only intended for transient aircraft, the station's Beech GB Traveler, and other light utility aircraft. During the 1952–1953 reconstruction effort LTA Hangar Two (the wooden blimp hangar) was razed, three new paved runways (7,000-foot (2,100 m) north–south runway 17/35, 2,000-foot (610 m) east–west runway 08/26, and 5,000-foot (1,500 m) diagonally aligned runway 02/20) were built, and a CPN-4 ground-controlled-approach facility and modern control tower (the wartime base's control towers were located on top of LTA Hangar One) were established. South Weymouth was reactivated as a reserve training base and fully-fledged naval air station on December 4, 1953.

Though officially a reserve base, NAS South Weymouth hosted an unusual regular Navy unit between 1953 and 1961. This was a secretive research and development outfit called the Naval Air Development Unit, known as "NADU" for short. The NADU, which derived in a way from Special Project Unit (SPU) CAST based at Squantum Naval Air Station during WWII, was tasked with providing flight testing support for research projects associated with the MIT Lincoln Laboratories and other defense contractors. Mainly, these research projects involved experimental electronic equipment such as radars associated with air defense and anti-submarine warfare systems. The NADU operated a diverse aircraft fleet that included (among other things) Lockheed WV-2 Warning Stars, Douglas F4D Skyrays, Douglas F3D Skyknights, Lockheed P2V Neptunes, and the ZPG-2W, which were the world's largest blimps.

An A-4M of VMA-322 on the tarmac in Texas

In December 1956 a new hangar, Hangar #2, was completed adjacent to runway 17/35 to support the fixed-wing ASW and attack squadrons. Runway 08/26 was lengthened to 6,000 feet during 1959. The construction work required on the eastern end of this runway permanently severed Union Street, which had served as a major thoroughfare connecting the towns of Rockland and Weymouth. Blimp operations were discontinued at NAS South Weymouth in July 1961 in advance of the disestablishment of the Naval Air Development Unit on October 1.

Two reserve anti-submarine squadrons were activated at NAS South Weymouth during the Berlin Crisis. VS-915, which was based at NAS South Weymouth, was activated on October 1, 1961. It was joined by VS-733 transferred from NAS Grosse Ile, MI on November 1. Both squadrons flew operational ASW patrols from NAS South Weymouth and detachment sites such as Key West and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for nearly a year.

During the 1960s the station hosted a pair of unique Anti-Submarine Warfare Operational Flight Trainers. These consisted of two retired aircraft fuselages, a Grumman S-2A Tracker (crash damaged) and a Lockheed SP-2E Neptune (fire damaged), that were placed on the flat roof of the so-called "lean-to" on the southern side of LTA Hangar One. The radar scopes and other ASW sensors positioned at the tactical crew positions in these two aircraft fuselages were connected to signal generating devices located in the ASW Training Department spaces in the hangar, allowing them to serve as fixed tactical training simulators for reserve aircrewmen.

Steel blimp hangar LTA Hangar One, a local landmark, was demolished in 1966 and replaced with a much smaller concrete arch hangar (Hangar #1). The new hangar was not completed until November 1970, due in large part to a disaster on August 18, 1967 when several concrete arches collapsed, killing two civilian crane operators.[5] The base had target ranges at the nearby Nomans Land Island and the Liberty Ship SS James Longstreet. The base hosted the Navy Weymouth Aero Club from 1961 until the club's closure in 1984.

Base Realignment and Closure Commission[edit]

BRAC 1991[edit]

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to close the base in its recommendations. It was decided against because of the community's objections.

BRAC 1993[edit]

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission decided to close the base in its recommendations. The community argued that it was important and was ranked higher than other bases scheduled for realignment. This argument was acknowledged as well as the fact that the commission did not include demographics in its decision. The base remained open for the time being.[6]

BRAC 1995[edit]

The Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission of 1995 recommended that South Weymouth close in 1997 and its last remaining squadrons be realigned. VP-92, which flew P-3 Orions and VR-62, which flew C-130 Hercules transports, went to Brunswick NAS before the base was officially deactivated and closed by order of the 1995 BRAC.[7] In 1996, it was awarded the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation ribbon for the years 1993-1995.

Redevelopment[edit]

There are currently plans to put movie studios, shops, housing, a wildlife park, and a golf course at the site of the former air station. The U.S. Coast Guard also maintains a buoy maintenance facility near the old railroad spur to the station. An A-4 Skyhawk jet mounted on a pedestal in a small park called the "Shea Memorial Grove", named for Squantum reservist CDR John "Jack" Shea who was killed in action when the aircraft carrier USS Wasp was sunk during WWII, remains as a perpetual reminder of the site's naval heritage. The jet, the park, and a small Navy museum (the Shea Field Naval Aviation Historical Museum) located in the former base gymnasium building (The Shea Fitness Center) are maintained by a local veterans' organization called the Association of Naval Aviation Patriot Squadron.[1] The museum, which serves as a repository of photographs, documents, and other artifacts pertaining to NAS Squantum and NAS South Weymouth, is open from 9 AM to 11 AM on the last Saturday of the month. Admission is free.

In December 2008, a deal was reached[8] to build a movie studio complex on the site. The $100 million complex, to be called SouthField Studios, is planned to include 11 sound stages, production offices and other office space. Construction was set to begin in August 2009, but has been stalled due to financing difficulties.

The base also features a planned condominium community development called 'SouthField'.[2] Construction work began on the first residential development on SouthField during December 2010 and the first homes were sold and occupied by the summer.

Units Hosted[edit]

United States Marine Corps
United States Navy
Other Services

References[edit]

External links[edit]