Naval Air Station Squantum

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Naval Air Station Squantum
NAS Squantum MA during WW2.jpg
Squantum during World War II
IATA: noneICAO: none
Summary
Airport typeMilitary: Naval Air Station
OperatorUnited States Navy
LocationQuincy, Massachusetts, USA
In use1917 and 1923-1953
OccupantsNavy, Marines, and Coast Guard
Elevation AMSL6 ft / 2 m
Coordinates42°17′47″N 071°01′52″W / 42.29639°N 71.03111°W / 42.29639; -71.03111
Runways
DirectionLengthSurface
ftm
14/324,0901,247Asphalt
2/202,500762Asphalt
8/263,087941Asphalt
Redeveloped
 
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Naval Air Station Squantum
NAS Squantum MA during WW2.jpg
Squantum during World War II
IATA: noneICAO: none
Summary
Airport typeMilitary: Naval Air Station
OperatorUnited States Navy
LocationQuincy, Massachusetts, USA
In use1917 and 1923-1953
OccupantsNavy, Marines, and Coast Guard
Elevation AMSL6 ft / 2 m
Coordinates42°17′47″N 071°01′52″W / 42.29639°N 71.03111°W / 42.29639; -71.03111
Runways
DirectionLengthSurface
ftm
14/324,0901,247Asphalt
2/202,500762Asphalt
8/263,087941Asphalt
Redeveloped

Naval Air Station Squantum was an active naval aviation facility during 1917 and from 1923 until 1953. The original civilian airfield that preceded it, the Harvard Aviation Field, dates back to 1910. The base was sited on Squantum Point in the city of Quincy, Massachusetts. It also abutted Dorchester Bay, Quincy Bay, and the Neponset River.

History[edit]

Early military usage of the airfield dates to the early months of U.S. involvement in World War I when the Massachusetts Naval Militia (a forerunner to the United States Naval Reserve) built a small wooden seaplane hangar and pier on the Dorchester Bay shoreline adjacent to the former Harvard Aviation Field. Primary flight instruction was provided at the Massachusetts School for Naval Air Service, as the tiny seaplane base was originally called, to members of the Massachusetts Naval Militia who would subsequently go on to take advanced flight training at the Navy's flying school at Pensacola, Florida. In May 1917 the Navy took the seaplane base over and evicted the Sturtevant Aeroplane Company from the former Harvard Aviation Field as well. The Navy continued to use the U.S. Naval Air Station Squantum as a primary flight training facility until the end of September 1917 when all naval flight training activity was consolidated in areas of the country with better year-round flying weather.

Thereafter, much of land surrounding the former seaplane base and Harvard Aviation Field was taken over by the Navy Department for the construction of a new shipyard called the Victory Destroyer Plant. The Victory Plant, which was owned by the government but operated by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, was designed specifically to mass-produce one type of ship, the Clemson-class destroyers. A total of 35 were built at the Victory Plant before the shipyard closed on June 1, 1920.

During the summer of 1923 then-Lieutenant Richard E. Byrd, with the assistance of a group of volunteer Navy veterans of the First World War, helped found the NRAS (Naval Reserve Air Station) at Squantum Point using the disused First World War seaplane hangar, which had remained more-or-less intact after the Victory Plant shipyard was built. NRAS Squantum, which was commissioned on August 15, 1923, is considered to have been the first air base in the Naval Reserve program.[1]

During October 1929 a small turf airfield was opened at NRAS Squantum. Up to this point, NRAS Squantum was a seaplane base only, though occasional naval landplane operations were conducted using the airfield at the nearby Dennison Airport. In early 1930, possibly because of the addition of the airfield, Squantum was redesignated a Naval Reserve Air Base or NRAB.

OJ-2s and SBUs of VS-2R lined up for inspection, in 1938.

Throughout the 1930s decade NRAS Squantum was greatly improved and expanded, in the manner of an aerodrome, without defined runways. This was due in large part to the ingenuity of executive officer John J. Shea, a man who knew how to leverage and make the most out of volunteer labor, salvaged materials, and Depression-era public works programs like the Works Progress Administration. The greatest expansion efforts on the base took place between 1939 and 1941 when, among other things, three "proper" paved runways were built (in contrast to the earlier "aerodrome" design) and the old Victory Plant Shipyard buildings (many of which had been gutted during a previous fire) were razed. On 5 March 1941 the base at Squantum was redesignated a Naval Air Station or NAS.

During the Second World War NAS Squantum served as a maritime patrol and training base. Regular Navy squadrons VJ-4 and VS-1D1/VS-31 flew anti-submarine patrols over Massachusetts Bay and the Gulf of Maine using Grumman Ducks, Consolidated PBY Catalinas, Vought-Sikorski Kingfishers, Douglas Dauntlesses, and Curtiss Helldivers. In addition, the base provided elimination and primary flight instruction for Naval Aviation Cadets as well as advancedfe training to Royal Navy torpedo and dive-bomber squadrons, and U.S. Navy fighter, torpedo, and dive-bomber squadrons.

After the war ended, NAS Squantum became an important component of the new Naval Air Reserve Training Command. The base served as the focus of Navy and Marine Corps reserve aviation training activity in New England until December 1953 when the reserve program was moved to nearby NAS South Weymouth and Squantum was closed.

"Modern" NAS Squantum had a couple of problems. First, its proximity to Boston's Logan International Airport resulted in increasing airspace conflicts in the postwar era; the Boston Logan Instrument Landing System was in alignment with Runway 2 of Squantum. In one case, an Air France Lockheed Constellation bound for Boston actually landed at Squantum by mistake. The base's second problem was its short and landlocked (water locked?) runways. These were not long enough to support routine jet operations and because of the base's position on the Squantum peninsula they could not be lengthened. The 1946 and 1949 USGS topographic maps labeled the property as “U.S. Naval Reservation”, but did not depict an airfield. The base's third problem was that it was old and that many of its facilities had been jury-built using scrap materials and re-used structures salvaged from the Victory Plant Shipyard during the depths of the Great Depression when funds were hard to come by. It was said of NAS Squantum in the January 1949 issue of Naval Aviation News that it "grew like topsy" and was more the result of having to make do with what was available instead of careful planning.

Closure[edit]

The location of the airport doomed it to be closed in 1953. Operations were moved to the nearby South Weymouth NAS. In 1957, the Navy transferred 5 acres (20,000 m2) to the Air Force, which made the Squantum Electronics Research Annex. The site was labeled as an "Abandoned Airport" in 1960.

Present-Day Usage[edit]

One of several informational plaques in Squantum Point Park, this one commemorating the Harvard-Boston Aero Meet of 1910

Today a marina sits on its northern end; the air station's main hangar was its main building into the 1990s. Boston Scientific is also located on the site. A 2,700-foot (820 m) portion of the primary northwest runway was opened to the public in 2001 as Squantum Point Park.[2] Other than that, condominiums and other buildings forming the Marina Bay development dot the landscape of the former naval air station. A local veterans' organization, the Association of Naval Aviation Patriot Squadron, operates and maintains a small museum called the Shea Field Naval Aviation Historical Museum dedicated to preserving the heritage of NAS Squantum and NAS South Weymouth in the former Navy gymnasium (The Shea Fitness Center) located on CDR Shea Boulevard at former NAS South Weymouth (the SouthField Development) in Weymouth, Massachusetts.

Squadrons Based There[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]