Known as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation,” Pensacola Naval Air Station is the primary training base for Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard aviators. It is also home to the Naval Air and Operational Medical Institute, which trains all of the U.S. Navy’s flight surgeons and aviation physiologists. Located south of the city of Pensacola, Florida, near Warrington, the base also hosts the Blue Angels demonstration team, a Luftwaffe training squadron, and schools for the technical instruction of enlistees in aviation-related fields. The station is also known for its colorful history and contributions to the development of aviation.
Noting the nearby harbor, vast timber reserves, and favorable climate, President John Quincy Adams ordered the construction of what would become Pensacola Navy Yard in 1825 and, by the onset of the Civil War, the base had become a well-stocked and developed facility. Surrendering to the Confederates at the war’s beginning, the naval yard was razed by the rebels after New Orleans was captured by the Union in 1862. Again due to the value of its location, the Navy chose to rebuild the base after the war.
Due to the efforts of Captain Washington Irving Chambers, Congress included a provision in the Naval Appropriation Act of 1911 for the development of naval aviation. A committee soon selected Pensacola as the site for a flight training school and, during the course of World War 1, the air station went from housing a contingent of 38 aviators and 54 aircraft to supporting a school that had graduated over 1,000 naval aviators and included facilities for supporting fixed-wing land aircraft, seaplanes, balloons, and dirigibles.
Though the interwar period saw a slowdown of the base’s training operations, its use rapidly expanded during the years preceding World War II, during which it trained the crews of many carrier-based aircraft. It continued as the Navy’s primary flight training center and, during the Korean War alone, graduated 6000 aviators. Though graduation rates have since been reduced in keeping with naval downsizing, the base still supports numerous schools and aircraft. Sadly, the existence of asbestos in military barracks, as well as in the naval and aircraft repaired at the base, has exposed many who lived and worked there to the risk of asbestos-related disease.