In May 2012 Mark Forest and Jason Grant joined HSM-40 Air Wolves (Helicopter Maritime Strike) at NAS Mayport to discover their history and development of their Naval Air Station and squadron.
There is evidence of continuous occupation of the naval station site by Native Americans, Spanish, English, and Americans since the 16th Century but it was under the Hepburn Act of 17 May, 1938 when the footprint of a modern military base, NAS Mayport, was established. The act instigated the appointment of a board, headed by Rear Admiral A. J. Helpburn to investigate a south-eastern naval air base. The board recommended the establishment of a major base at Jacksonville and having the following characteristics:
- Facilities for two carrier groups (planned with a view to expansion to four carrier groups)
- Facilities for three patrol squadrons (planned with a view to accommodate six squadrons)
- Facilities for two utility squadrons
- Facilities for complete plane and engine overhaul
- Berthing for carriers at inner end of entrance jetty
- A channel to permit tender berthing at piers at Camp Foster
- Development of an outlying patrol plane operating area in the lower “Banana River”
In April 1939, the Navy initiated its plans for the area. The land was purchased for the building of two stations; a Naval Air Base and Carrier Berthing. Ribault Bay was selected as the location for the development of an aircraft carrier basin and work began along the south jetties. An expansion program during WWII to build a carrier pier on the north side of the basin was begun but this was never completed and the project cancelled at the end of the war. Following a proposal submitted by Lieutenant Commander M.R.Sanders, a second section base was built and in December 1942, Mayport was commissioned as a U.S. Naval Section Base. The air facility at Mayport continued to develop and on 1st April 1944, the air facility was commissioned a Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS). 1945 saw the Naval Auxiliary Air Station take over the entire site including the pier and docking facilities. The base was deactivated following the end of WWII. In June 1948, the base was reactivated and over the next few years the base grew in size to 1,680 acres. The runway was extended to meet the need for increasing air traffic and the basin dredged to 42 feet to allow Midway class carriers to enter the basin. A $10 million investment meant that by 1955 Mayport had grown considerably in land area, command importance, and activity.
In April of 1955, Rear Admiral Robert Goldwaite, Commander, Carrier Division Two, moved his headquarters to Mayport. This was the first time in Jacksonville’s history that such headquarters were shore based here. The following year the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) arrived in Mayport, its new homeport, from Bremerton, Washington. This was also the first time Navy families moved here with the ship. An “ordnance clearance” of 462 acres in 1956 brought the total land area of Mayport to 1,888 acres; and in 1957 another 540 acres of land was acquired to bring the land area total to 2,428 acres. Mayport became the home for the East Coast Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System Mk III community and this reflection in growth signified Mayport Naval Air Facility being re-designated a Naval Air Station in 1988.
29th January 2010 is a key date in the continuing history and development of the base when the Quadrennial Defence Review Report stated that a nuclear aircraft carrier will be home ported at NAS Mayport. Significant hurdles need to be overcome for this to happen including funding during the economic downturn and objections from elected officials in Virginia where the single East Coast nuclear carriers are based but whatever the outcome, NAS Mayport will continue to play a significant role as a major Surface and Air Warfare organization. Today, NAS Mayport is home to the Navy’s 4th Fleet. The Navy at Mayport covers 3,409 acres and is the third largest Naval Facility in the continental United States.
Mayport remains dedicated to providing “The Finest Service to the Finest Fleet”
The Fleet Readiness Squadron’s mission is to “Provide Quality Training to Fleet Replacement Pilots and Aircrew so they may fight and win at sea” and its heritage can be traced back to the 4th October 1985 when it was formed as part of Helicopter Sea Control Wing Three which is now known as Helicopter Maritime Strike Wing, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. HSM-40 is complemented by sixty Staff Officers.
The squadron operates 20 Helicopters; the SH-60B and the newer MH-60R Seahawk. The MH-60 “Romeo” is a significant upgrade on the older model and is a new build aircraft. Over time all of the older SH-60 “Bravo” models will be replaced with the newer model. The Seahawk is a twin turboshaft engine, multi mission helicopter based on the UH-60 Black Hawk, produced by Sikorsky. HSM-40 is one of only two SH-60B and MH-60R Fleet Readiness Squadrons, and its role is to train pilots and aircrew for the United States Atlantic Fleet. Operational flight training is carried out using the Seahawk and this is complemented with full-motion, full visual operational flight simulators. Lt Heather Tally, the squadrons public affairs officer explains the difference between the two versions of the helicopter…
“The thing the pilot notices first in the new “Romeo” is the “glass” cockpit design which replaces most of the old analogue systems found on the “Bravo”. The “Romeo” also has full sonar capabilities, this capability used to be carried out by the SH-60F. The software upgrades include a Joint Mission Planning System, improved satellite and radio communications, a Ground Proximity Warning System, an upgraded Friend or Foe identification system, better data link system for sharing information with ships and aircraft and an improved integrated self defence to name but a few.”
Jason Grant and Mark Forest would like to extend their sincere thanks to Bill Austin at the Base Public Affairs Office, for his help and support, The COMNAVIRLANT Public Affairs Office in the Pentagon and Lt Heather Talley; for taking the time on the day to accommodate our questions and requests. We would also like to thank Paul Newbold and Stuart Skelton for their assistance on the day.