The photograph above shows the original airfield at NAS Pensacola, Chevalier Field, circa 1940's. The view is looking north, with the City of Pensacola in the upper right. Note the large blimp hangar on the southeast portion of the field. The four hangars located along the southern edge of the field are still standing. The field itself is now the site of the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) and is fully populated by buildings.
The Pensacola area is truly the "Cradle of Naval Aviation". The site of the current Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola opened as the Navy’s first flying school in 1913, only two years after the Navy purchased its first aircraft, the A1 Triad, from Glenn Curtis. The Navy’s first presence at Pensacola was in the form of the Pensacola Navy Yard, established in 1826 and closed in 1911 after a devastating hurricane in 1906 followed by a severe Yellow Fever epidemic two years later. After two years of lying fallow, the old Navy Yard location was chosen as the site of the Navy’s flying school. The location, lying on the shore of Pensacola Bay, was a nearly perfect fit to the Navy’s needs, since early Naval Aviation was devoted almost entirely to seaplanes. The bayshore was lined with seaplane ramps, some of which remain today. In 1917, in the middle of American involvement in World War I, the Pensacola site was officially designated as a Naval Air Station.
When the Navy’s first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV1), was commissioned in 1922, the future of Naval Aviation as a sea-based air arm was well established. Training requirements shifted to include land-based aircraft, and an airfield was established and initially called Station Field. In addition, an auxiliary field was established north of Pensacola and later named Corry Field. In 1927, Corry Field was relocated to a site just north of the Naval Air Station, the current site of the Naval Technical Training Center, Corry Station, the Navy’s electronic warfare training center.
Training slowed dramatically during the Great Depression, but in 1935 the Navy inaugurated its Aviation Cadet training program. To accommodate the increased training requirements, Station Field was enlarged, its runways paved, and the field itself renamed Chevalier Field in honor of LCDR Godfrey Chevalier, who lost his life in an aircraft accident. Chevalier Field had five asphalt runways, the longest of which was 3100 feet.
In 1938, federal legislation authorized a 3,000 aircraft ceiling for Naval Aviation, which in turn brought additional growth to The Pensacola Naval Air Station. Auxiliary airfields were added in and around Pensacola. Saufley Field was commissioned in 1940, and Ellyson Field in 1941. Three more auxiliary fields were added as the America entered World War II—Bronson and Barin Fields in 1942, and Whiting Field in 1943.
Various types of training took place in Pensacola during World War II in both land-planes and seaplanes. Seaplane instruction was conducted using PBY flying boats and OS2U, SC, and N3N floatplanes. Chevalier field hosted, among other activities, the flight instructor school, which boasted a complement of SNJ’s, SNV’s, N3N’s, and N2S’s, together with the Assembly and Repair Department. By this time, actual flight instruction was delivered at the auxiliary airfields. By the end of the war, over 28,000 Naval Aviators were designated by NAS Pensacola and its auxiliary airfields.
Following the war, NAS Pensacola was named the site of the Naval Air Basic Training Command. In 1955, a master jet airfield was opened on the western side of the vast NAS property. This airfield was named Forrest Sherman Field after the late Admiral Forrest P. Sherman, a former Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). Shortly thereafter the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team arrived, and it remains stationed there today. Chevalier Field remained opened because of the Overhaul and Repair Department located there.
Today, NAS Pensacola hosts the headquarters of the Chief of Naval Education and Training (CNET), a Vice Admiral responsible for all education and training throughout the Navy. In addition, the Naval Aerospace Research Laboratory and the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute are located there. Training continues there as well, with Training Air Wing Six located at Sherman Field, and the vast Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) located on the former site of Chevalier Field, having moved into newly constructed facilities from its former site in Memphis in 1997.
NAS Pensacola also is the site of the National Museum of Naval Aviation, one of the finest air museums in the world. The Barrancas National Cemetery is also located aboard the Air Station, and the National Park Service maintains several historic forts located there.