Naval Air Station North Island holds the enviable position of being the birthplace of naval aviation. Situated in San Diego Bay, 100 years of heroes and history trace their beginnings to this very place. In February 2011 a celebratory event was held, Jason Grant and Mark Forest produce a photo-report for AeroResource.

On 17th February 1911, inventor and aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss taxied his seaplane to the battleship USS Pennsylvania which was anchored in San Diego bay. The hydroplane which he piloted was hoisted aboard the ship, before being lowered back into the sea and taxied back to North Island. This event prompted the Navy to purchase its very first aircraft, the A-1 Triad. In 1911, the Navy’s first aviator, Lieutenant Theodore G. Ellyson began training at NAS North Island and later qualified flying the A-1 Triad.

Zoom forward 100 years to the present day and the Navy’s rich heritage was on show for all to see at the Centennial of Naval Aviation, Parade of Flight and Open House at NAS North Island. Held on 12th February 2011, the Air Station hosted a spectacular Open House event allowing military and civilians alike to see the rich tapestry of the US Navy and offered a glimpse into the future. Guests were able to stroll the runways to view historic and modern static aircraft displays, motorcycle stunt shows, antique car collections, sponsor and vendor booths, live entertainment, food and beverage, as well as aircraft carrier and assault ship tours. The highlight for many though was the once-in-a-lifetime aerial review which saw a parade of flight with over two hundred military aircraft who all had links to the US Navy over the past 100 years.

A short walk or bus ride across the Naval Air Station allowed members of the public the opportunity to view first hand one of the most impressive ships ever built, the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered Supercarrier, John C Stennis (CVN-74). Commissioned on 9th December 1995, the $4.5 billion Carrier is expected to patrol the oceans for 50 years as part of the Carrier Strike Group Three. The ships length is a staggering 332.08 meters and thanks to two Westinghouse A4W nuclear reactors, it can run at 30 knots for 20 years. On 26th February 1998 the John C Stennis made her maiden deployment to the Persian Gulf. Sailing an impressive 8020 nm in 274 hours she relieved the USS George Washington in conducting Operation Southern Watch missions. On returning from the deployment, the John C Stennis arrived at her new home port of Naval Air Station North Island on the 26th August 1998. Since then she has been deployed to the Persian Gulf and Pacific Ocean a further 5 times with her Air Wing, CVW-9.

Berthed next to CVN-74 was a Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship, the USS Peleliu (LHA-5). Named after the battle of Peleliu during World War II, the ship entered service in 1980. Although, not quite as long as the John C Stennis at only 250 meters, the Peleliu stood as high as the carrier. The ship’s propulsion is carried out by steam turbine and it can travel at 24 knots. Inside this ship seemed a very different place to the carrier we had just visited, no powered ramps to move assets around, just long steep slopes and wide open areas for the movement of amphibious landing craft. On deck we were greeted by the sight of Marine Corps helicopters and crew who were only to pleased to show members of the public around each helicopter.

The Peleliu is also capable of carrying a small complement of AV-8B Harrier jets. The Peleliu has seen many deployments in its 36 year history, from conflicts in the Persian Gulf to humanitarian missions around the World, the most recent in August 2010 to help with the flooding in Pakistan. We were fortunate enough to witness this ship arrive and could only comprehend it’s enormous size once it had berthed next to the John C Stennis.

The glorious weather played its part on the day allowing the public to relax around the specially marked aircraft which adorned the event. The Heritage Paint Scheme Project allowed one or more aircraft of each type, model and series from the current U.S. Navy aircraft inventory to be painted with a historic scheme which had not been seen on Naval aircraft for many years. Approximately 28 modern aircraft took part and the idea behind it was to inform the public and promote appreciation as well as educate service members on the heritage of the aircraft they work on or fly on a regular basis. To minimise cost and maintain budget constraints, only aircraft that were scheduled for painting as part of routine maintenance, planned refurbishment or leaving the factory newly assembled received the paint scheme.

At 13:00 it was time for the main event, as the US Navy’s official parachute team, the Leap Frogs gracefully descended from the heavens, the event fell silent as the National anthem rang out. The sound of jet engines approached as the Blue Angels appeared in formation to mark the start of the flypast. Many different aircraft from the last 100 years took part in the flypast, too many to list but if it had a Navy background, even if it was privately owned, it was there for all to see.

The Marine Corps demonstrated a version of its much loved Marines Air Ground Task Force demonstration, filling the sky with helicopters and jets. The Coast Guard demonstrated its Search and Rescue role and as the two hours passed by in what seemed like minutes, we were all treated to over two hundred aircraft in the once-in-a-lifetime review. For the finale, The John C Stennis air wing (CVW-9) appeared in a large formation from over the Pacific Ocean. It comprised of 29 x F-18 Hornets, 3 x EA-6 Prowlers, 2 x E-2 Hawkeyes and 1 x C-2 Greyhound. The formation flew slowly over the crowd and disappeared over the heart of San Diego, a very fitting tribute and end to a very special day.

Centennial events will be continuing throughout the year with many more displays at a selection of air shows throughout the USA.

We (Jason Grant and Mark Forest) would like to thank Stuart Skelton and Paul Newbold for their assistance on the day. We would also like to express our thanks and gratitude to the Public Affairs’ Office at NAS North Island who managed to pull off one of the best public events we have attended in a very long time.