Whiting Field

One of four water towers at Whiting Field. “Fly Marines” is painted on the side of the water tank (A. Thomas).

Naval Air Auxiliary Field (NAAF) Whiting Field was commissioned on July 16, 1943. At the time, most of the base was still under construction. The airfield was named after Captain Kenneth Whiting, champion of the aircraft carrier. It is rumored that he learned to fly from Orville Wright. Captain Whiting was stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola and was in charge of developing the first aircraft carrier, in addition to developing aircraft arresting gear and the Landing Signals Officer position. Whiting died at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, after a short hospitalization in April of 1943 (Southeastern Archaeological Research, Inc. [SEARCH] 2014).

RADAR tower located at Whiting Field (A.Thomas).

At the time of its commission, Whiting Field was the largest of the auxiliary fields around Pensacola.  It had a south and a north field. Each field had four asphalt runways that were 6,000 feet in length.  In addition to training American pilots, Whiting Field also trained 4,000 British pilots.  In 1944, a German prisoner-of-war camp was established near the North Field that housed 225 prisoners (SEARCH 2014).

Instruction building located at the Choctaw outlying field, circa 1960s (A. Thomas).

At the end of World War II, the U.S. government realigned and downsized bases across the country. Whiting Field was one of the bases that was selected to stay open, and it absorbed the men and planes from NAS Hutchinson, Kansas and NAS Miami, Florida.  From 1945 to 1947, the airfield was the home of naval aviation bombing, reconnaissance, and map training.  In 1948, after another base closure scare, Whiting Field became the main site for training in the North American T-6 Texan, a single-engine trainer aircraft.  In 1949, Whiting Field became the center of the Navy’s flight program (SEARCH 2014).

In 1965, an estimated $10 million was spent on construction projects base-wide. Whiting Field officially became a Naval Air Station.  In 1972, Whiting Field became the home for Training Air Wing Five, which was composed of three primary training squadrons and support personnel.  Helicopter Training Squadron Eight came under the command of Training Air Wing Five, and was later split off to form Helicopter Training Squadron Eighteen.  In 1974, all helicopter training was relocated to Whiting Field.

An outlying field runway (A. Thomas).

Today, Whiting Field has transitioned into the new T-6B aircraft, and the installation hosts six Training Squadrons and two Instructor Squadrons, with 141 T-6B airplanes and 120 TH-57 helicopters at their disposal.  The base still retains the north and south fields, as well as 13 outlying training fields.

A storage building with alternating bands of brickwork laid out in stretcher rows and smaller bands of recessed brickwork, circa 1940s (A.Thomas).