MILTON — It was 1943, a significant year for the Navy’s aviation community. The United States’ war machine was in full production. In fact, by year’s end, 11 fleet and four light carriers were commissioned. The Navy was in desperate need of pilots to man the aircraft that would support these new ships.
This need had been anticipated from the beginning of the United States’ entry into World War II. Only eight days after Japan’s devastating attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Secretary of the Navy expanded pilot training from 800 student pilots per month to 2,500. By the end of 1943, the Navy was producing 20,000 naval aviators annually.
Years before the war, a Naval officer by the name of Kenneth Whiting saw the value of placing airplanes on ships. A visionary in his own right, young Whiting, known today as the "Father of the Aircraft Carrier," learned to fly from Orville Wright at Dayton, Ohio, in 1914. He was then designated as Naval Aviator #16.
Whiting’s vision of Naval aviation was centered on what he called the airplane carrier. He and a small circle of compatriots believed that the battleship would no longer be the centerpiece of naval strategy and that future sea battles would be waged and won from the air.
In 1919, Whiting requested that the collier USS Jupiter be converted into an experimental carrier, renamed USS Langley after Samuel P. Langley’s experiments in aviation. Whiting served as her executive officer when she was commissioned and later helped plan and outfit the carriers USS Lexington and USS Saratoga.
Captain Whiting remained dedicated to the cause of putting planes at sea until his death in April of 1943—less than three months before the Navy named a new auxiliary air station in honor of his many contributions to Naval Aviation.
Naval Auxiliary Air Station Whiting Field would be the Naval Air Training Center’s sixth auxiliary air station—built to help meet the urgent need to train pilots through its unique design of two independent airfields under one command.
The Navy purchased the 3,060 acres north of the then-small township of Milton at a cost of just $45,000. Two weeks before the commissioning ceremony, which took place on July 16, 1943, a unit of Squadron Three brought in their SNJ "Texan" aircraft from Saufley Field and moved onto South Field. Squadron Three was soon joined by another unit from Chevalier Field, Pensacola.
But the new base was no paradise. Construction was not completed at the time of commissioning. Only one hangar was operational. Roads were in place, but unpaved. Ditches overflowed with water from the heavy rains. There was sand in the air, mud up to the knees and pigs ran on the runways.
By November, North Field was completed and became the home of Squadron Eight and its SNB "Expeditor" aircraft, which had all been moved to Whiting from Corry Field by year’s end.
Meanwhile, the business of Naval aviation training continued in full force at Whiting Field. In 1944, Squadron Eight reached its zenith in the number of students to complete their SNB training.
After World War II, Whiting Field continued its basic SNJ curriculum. From May 1948 to October 1956, over 18,000 students completed the training.
Since its commissioning 75 years ago, NAS Whiting Fields primary mission has been to support pilot training. As a major primary and intermediate training facility and the sole helicopter training activity for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, over 1,000 student naval aviators are trained in the primary and intermediate phases of fixed-wing aircraft and advanced phases of helicopter training annually.
Today, North Field continues to support fixed-wing operations and South Field is home for helicopter operations.
Between these two separate and distinct airports and 13 Navy Outlying Landing Fields, (NOLFs), NAS Whiting Field has become "the Busiest Naval Air Complex in the World."
As Rear Admiral George D. Murray said when he delivered the principal address at Whiting Field’s commissioning 75 years ago, "If Ken Whiting could see the field that bears his name, he would love it."