Naval Auxiliary Air Station Kingsville
With the start of the Korean War, the Navy needed more jet pilots and a place to train them. Kingsville Field was the answer. On March 7, 1951, the Chief of Naval Operations announced in Washington, D.C., that P-4 Kingsville Field would be reactivated and become a permanent part of the Naval Aeronautical shore establishment. The base would function as an auxiliary field of NAS Corpus Christi, and thus Naval Air Auxiliary Station (NAAS) Kingsville was born.
Less than three weeks later, on the afternoon of April 1, three Navy jets flew in formation over the administration building and the re-commissioning ceremonies began. Under the direction of CAPT Francis R. Jones as Commanding Officer, the base began to immediately rebuild and recondition itself. The runways at North Field were lengthened, buildings and hangars were constructed, and standing structures were scrubbed, painted, and made livable.
South Field opened for air traffic in January 1952. A month later, Advanced Training Unit SIX (later to become VT-22) began arriving along with their TBM and SNJ aircraft. The squadron was later designated as Advanced Training Unit 200 (ATU-200) and then ATU-212. In May, Advanced Training Unit TWO (ATU 2) began operations at NAAS Kingsville, flying F8F-1s and SNJs.
Major construction projects undertaken during the first two years as a functioning air station included extending all four runways at North Field to 8,000 feet and all three runways at South Field to 6,000 feet. Both runways at Navy Auxiliary Landing Field (NALF) Orange Grove also featured two 8,000 foot runways. There were 311 buildings on the station (including 109 mobile homes and 14 bus shelters), and air station property was listed at 3,400 acres, with an additional 1,379 acres at NALF Orange Grove, and just over 1,100 acres under easement. In addition, the construction of permanent structures (to replace temporary buildings constructed in the 1940s that were still in use) marked an important step toward making NAAS Kingsville as advanced and capable as possible in carrying out its assigned mission.
In June 1953, CAPT F.R. Jones was relieved by CAPT Samuel P. Weller as Commanding Officer. Within a few months the base took on another activity – ATU 801– the all-weather flight unit whose mission was to provide student pilots with all-weather (instrument) training before they began their in-service training.
February 1954 marked the arrival of the T-28B Trojan, a two-place propeller-driven trainer to eventually replace and phase out the SNBs in all-weather flight. Utilization of this aircraft accomplished a two-fold purpose. First, it provided the instrument training so vital to future jet pilots, and second, it provided an intermediate step in acquainting the pilots with tri-cycle landing gear and cockpit arrangement similar to jet aircraft.
The base consisted of 17.36 miles of paved roadways, 6.09 miles of railroad tracks, and a total plant property inventory of nearly $39 million. The air station inventory also included 233 aircraft: 85 F9F Panthers, 51 S2F-1 Trackers, 48 TV-2 Shooting Stars, 41 T-28B Trojans, 4 SNB-5 Expeditors, two MO43-3s, and a single NO38-1 and R4D-5.
By 1955, the air station had four squadrons on board. Jet fighter training was conducted at North Field with ATU-200 flying the TV-2 Training Star, and ATU-202 (later to become VT-21) training fighter pilots in the F8F Bearcat. At South Field, ATU-100 trained fighter pilots in the F6F Hellcat; and ATU-400 performed anti-submarine training in the TBF Avenger and S2F-1 Tracker.
Averaging about 10,000 flying hours a month, with 300 flight students on board in a training status, the Station produced roughly 14 Naval Aviators each week. Once the pilots completed their training here, they went on to complete six qualifying carrier landings aboard the Navy’s light carrier at NAS Pensacola, Fla., before pinning on their coveted “Wings of Gold.” As their predecessors had been in the 1940s, personnel were faced with another war in the Pacific – this time in Korea. After earning their wings, fighter pilots returned to Kingsville for jet transition training and then moved on to Fleet squadrons for carrier duty.
The mid-1950s saw the end of the F8F Bearcat as a training aircraft and the arrival of the F9F-5 Panther to take its place. With the arrival of the F9F Panther, the home of the Navy’s jet training began to take on new significance, and ATU-202 (VT-21) became the first Navy training squadron to utilize a Navy combat veteran jet aircraft for training purposes. The F9F-5 had been the backbone of the Navy's carrier-based jet-powered ground attack capability during the last two years of the Korean War.
For the next decade, the F9F Panther would be the aircraft used to train Naval Aviators. Later versions of this aircraft included the two-seat trainer F9F-8 Cougar.
The base consisted of 17.36 miles of paved roadways, 6.09 miles of railroad tracks, and a total plant property inventory of nearly $39 million.