Air-Ports Of Call

BRUNSWICK, Maine
by
Derek Squire
 

Naval Air Station Brunswick is located on the coast of Maine approximately 25 miles northeast of Portland, Maine's largest city.  Located near Great Circle Routes for both shipping and air lanes, NAS Brunswick is the American base closest to the European and Middle East theatres.

 It is the last, active-duty Department of Defence airfield remaining in the northeast, and is currently home to active duty and reserve squadrons. Flying Lockheed P-3 "Orion" long-range maritime patrol aircraft tasked by Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing Five, active duty squadrons regularly deploy overseas for six months at a time. NAS Brunswick supports operations by three active duty and one special mission P-3C and EP-3 squadrons     (VPU-1), VP-8, VP-10 and VP-26, one reserve C-130 squadron (VR-62) and one reserve VP squadron (VP-92). NAS Brunswick is also the host for Commander Patrol Reconnaissance Wing 5 (CPRW-5). In addition, there is a Seabee Battalion and numerous other reserve commands.

Constructed on land, which from the 1700's had been used only for the purpose of growing blueberries, Naval Air Station, Brunswick, Maine, was commissioned on April 15, 1943. The primary purpose was to train Canadian and British Air Force pilots of the British Naval Command. This activity continued until the end of WWII. The base was deactivated in 1947, and subsequently reactivated in 1951 with the primary mission of anti-submarine warfare. The station, encompassing 1 487 acres, was built on a plot of land which had been willed to the needy people of Brunswick for the sole purpose of picking blueberries. It is located two miles east of the town of Brunswick, south of U. S. Route one.

Operating under the motto "Built for Business," in addition to training, the air station carried out a secondary mission during the war years, that of anti-submarine warfare, which its squadrons performed with 'round the clock' efficiency.

The first U. S. squadron to arrive at NAS Brunswick, was a “heavier than air” Scouting Squadron (VS1D1). When they began operations, there was only a half mile of runway, no hangers or operations tower. The ready room the pilots utilized was also incomplete and the men used packing boxes for seats and a pot-bellied stove to warm the hut. It became better known as the "family room" when the men’s wives began making frequent appearances to see the aviators off on missions.

At the height of its wartime operations, the air station was supporting three auxiliary landing fields, one at Sanford, one at Lewiston, and one at Rockland, Maine.

When the Royal Canadian Air Force crews first arrived in 1943, construction was still underway on the runways and various other parts of the station. Soft tar lined the edges of the runways. As the RAF planes neared the air station, they performed a nonchalant style of flight that is still talked about by the old-timers of the area. After they were contacted near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, they were warned of the soft tar on the runways and instructed to land in single formation using the center of the landing area. As the Canadians soared over the field, they seemed determined to smash the control tower as they made low altitude passes. However, they pulled up at the last instant and barrel-rolled over the tower. Lieutenant Shelley was in the tower at the time and stated that if he had had a rock, he could have tossed it into the cockpits of the Canadian planes.

After performing numerous acrobatics in the air, they resumed formation and started to land, three planes abreast. As the first planes touched down, the two on the tip of the formation hit the soft tar and toppled nose-first, skidding 200 feet on their backs. Fortunately, neither of the pilots was injured except for minor scratches.

Aside from the aforementioned mission, the air station had another function, that of emergency masting of airships. The nearest mooring station for blimps was located in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, and on several occasions the airships from that station had arrived at Brunswick to "checkout" the mooring crews. The first airship to be moored at NAS, Brunswick, was during World War Two.

Lieutenant Commander Allingham was the commanding officer of the first Royal Canadian Air Force / Navy Squadron to be given training at the air station. At the end of the war, for the assistance rendered to the Canadian pilots, NAS Brunswick was presented a plaque by the Royal Navy "in recognition for the training, of British Naval pilots during the periods 1943 through 1945."

After the air station was deactivated in October 1946, the land and buildings were leased jointly to the University of Maine and Bowdoin College as annexes to ease the over-crowded conditions at both colleges caused by G. I. Bill student influx. When the station facilities were no longer needed, both colleges terminated their leases in 1949 and the base was taken over by the Brunswick Flying Service. At this time, the buildings that had housed men and implements of war were put to uses never considered by the military. Hanger One was a skating rink; hanger two and the operations tower were a civilian flying school; hanger three housed automobiles; ammunition magazines were mushroom farms; and shrubbery nurseries graced the northern boundaries of the reservation. Any resemblance to a Naval Air Station was purely coincidental.

Following this period of caretaker status, the air station was selected by the Navy as a prime center for development. The Navy, in December of 1950, requested $35,000,000 from Congress to be used for this master jet project. Such a base required dual 8,000 foot runways and two outlying fields - one for gunnery and one for carrier practice landings. In June of 1951, the Secretary of Defence submitted a request to Congress for approximately  $20 000 000 for the station. This money was to be used for additional barracks, officers' quarters, and an enlisted men’s club, control tower, storage, and communication buildings, new galleys and mess facility, to make it a permanent installation. During this period, the Air Force reached an agreement with the Navy authorizing the construction of an Air Force Control and Warning Facility, as a part of the continental circumferential radar screen.

On March 15, 1951, the national ensign was again hoisted to the peak of
the flagpole, recommissioning the dormant-base as a Naval Air Facility with the established mission of supporting three land-plane patrol squadrons and one Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron, and a planned future mission as a master jet base.

During the reactivation period in the spring of 1951, there were only a handful of men on the base. Since the base was reactivated, several new permanent-type facilities have been erected to replace the World War Two "temporary" buildings. New facilities included a modern operations tower, capable of handling all the complex flights of a jet airfield. The air station also had three-deck barracks, which could house over two thousand men and a mess hall, which could feed five thousand men per meal. In addition to these facilities, a new enlisted men’s club, Navy Exchange, and Bachelor Officers' Quarters had been constructed. The working population sprouted to several thousands, including the personnel of six patrol squadrons, a Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron, a USAF radar squadron, plus hundreds of Navy and civilian personnel in the stations departments. Reserve Navy air units brought many more men to the central Maine station during the summer months for annual cruises and training. During the early reactivation days, drinking water was at a premium with the only source coming from a local spring water company once a week.

A Maintenance and Depot unit was organized April 16, 1954, at Navy Brunswick, to provide technical training in the field for aviation officers and enlisted men of aviation units, in the operation, maintenance and repair of the type aircraft and associated equipment utilized by Navy Brunswick based squadrons.

Special training is provided for aircrews of FAW-3 by two units at NAS, Brunswick. The Arctic Survival Training School trains aircrew members deploying to the Arctic in north country survival. The survival school was established at Navy Brunswick September 6, 1956.

During the Lebanon crisis in the fall of 1958, Brunswick based squadrons of Fleet Air Wing Three, provided anti-submarine protection for the Sixth Fleet then operating in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The air station has progressed from its first activation mission of training Canadian pilots, to the present important mission of support to the fleet. To comply with standard missions, the squadrons stationed at NAS Brunswick deploy to various parts of the world, usually the Mediterranean or Northern portion of the globe.

The airfield (KNHZ) is located at 43-53-32.0000N / 069-56-19.0100W. Presently there are two 8,000- by 200-foot runways at Brunswick, 19 L&R and 1 L&R (Runways 19 Left and Right and Runways 1 Left And Right.) Runway 19L-1R (same runway) is more frequently used than 19R-1L, due to 1R's high-intensity runway lights with a 3,000 foot lighted runway approach. The airport's beacon flashes from dusk to dawn with a (White-White-Green) sequence, signifying it is a lighted military airport. The approach aids include ILS, TACAN and NDBs in addition to RADAR Controlled Approaches.

Following the end of the Cold War, it became apparent to the Congress that the military was unnecessarily large. The Defence Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990 became law in November of that year. A number of installations, aligned with all the services—the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines—were closed in the first round in 1991. The DoD determined that these bases were no longer necessary. More bases were closed in subsequent rounds in 1993 and 1995. In all of these rounds NAS Brunswick avoided the chopping block.

In September of 2005,  the US Secretary of Defence recommended a realignment of Naval Air Station Brunswick, ME, to another Naval Air Facility and relocate its aircraft along with dedicated personnel, equipment and support to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL. This recommendation was later further modified to Close Naval Air Station Brunswick, ME as an addition the Secretary’s recommendation list.

The Secretary of Defence justification for the realignment of Naval Air Station Brunswick is that it would reduce operating costs while single siting the East Coast Maritime Patrol community at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. It supports both DoD and Naval transformation goals by reducing the number of maintenance levels and streamlining the way maintenance is accomplished with associated significant cost reductions.

As Maine's second largest employer, NAS Brunswick employs almost five thousand military and civilian personnel. The air station provides nearly two hundred million dollars annually to the local economy.

 The closure of Naval Air Station Brunswick, ME was initially added to the list of other continental military bases by the Commission for consideration so that it could fairly and properly evaluate all possible options for this facility. The Commission found there were suitable detachment operating sites for Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Squadrons to support homeland defence and other Department of Defence mission support responsibilities in New England. The Multi-mission Aircraft (MMA), when developed, procured, and deployed, will not replace P-3s on a one-for-one basis. Therefore there will continue to be excess military installations, making a backfill at NAS Brunswick unlikely. Furthermore, the MMA could be deployed from other civilian or Air National Guard airfields in the event of future mission requirements in the New England region.

Initially, the flying squadrons were due to start departing for NAS Jacksonville at the end of 2008. When the base shuts down in 2011, more than 3 000 military personnel and 1 400 reservists will have moved on or be looking for work. While the federal set-aside was an important milestone, another, potentially more momentous decision point lies dead ahead - the feasibility of converting the base's twin 8 000-foot runways and 500 000 square feet of aviation buildings to civilian use.

 As of Feb 2007, the federal government had announced that the Maine National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration had secured ownership of 72 acres. The base’s air traffic control tower will go to the Federal Aviation Administration. The town Conservation Commission hopes about a third of the base will be preserved as open space. The Tedford Shelter would like to convert housing stock to serve the homeless. Bowdoin College is eyeing 450 acres on the property's western edge for a future expansion. The police department envisions a new headquarters near the main entrance.

In early 2007, it was announced that Brunswick Naval Air Station's reserve P-3 Orion squadron will be eliminated and more than 40 service members reassigned elsewhere in late November of the same year, ten months ahead of time. The reserve patrol squadron VP-92, with 37 enlistees and six officers, is being deactivated. The move is expected to save at least $3 million in fiscal year 2008. In a joint statement released Monday, Maine's congressional delegation indicated it had originally expected the reserve squadron to stay put until squadrons began moving out of Brunswick as part of the planned Base Realignment and Closure to begin in 2008.

Until the base closes, one may see a fighter jet or an aircraft other than the routine  P-3 Orion or C-130 aircraft, in the circuit or in the vicinity of the airfield. These visiting aircraft are not based at Brunswick Naval Air Station, but are coming from other United States and NATO air bases from around the United States, Canada and Europe. Some of the common aircraft visiting Brunswick not based there are Boeing F/A-18 fighter jets, Lockheed CP-140 Auroras,  Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers, and corporate jets that are property of the Navy. When visiting Maine, the American President’s jet, “Air Force One”, will often land at NAS Brunswick, as it is one of the few airports in Maine with a runway capable of hosting the large Boeing 747 jet – at least until 2011.


An Aerial View of NAS Brunswick


“P3 and Barque”A Brunswick based P-3 over flies a sailing vessel along the coast of Maine.


 “Nice P-2” – One of the Lockheed P-2 Neptunes that flew out of NAS Brunswick in the 1950s and 60s.

 


“Course Pic” – A Royal Canadian Navy flying training group at Brunswick during World War Two


“Coast” – A P-3 returns to NAS Brunswick after completing a patrol in the Atlantic Ocean.