Navy Bases

Willow Grove Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Pennsylvania

The Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base (NASJRB) Willow Grove is located on Route 611 in Horsham Township, Montgomery County, approximately 20 miles north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The main gate of NAS Willow Grove fronts Route 611, which runs south four miles to the PA turnpike. Just south of the turnpike is the town of Willow Grove with its upscale shopping centers, scenic beauty, outdoor recreation attractions, professional and collegiate sporting events, hotels, and excellent restaurants. Route 611 merges into Broad Street, which runs directly south through Philadelphia to the Delaware River. Running north, route 611 goes through the attractive Bucks county seat of Doylestown. The base is located in a very high cost of living area. The station has a total of 204 enlisted housing units and six officer units. The main enlisted family housing complex, Shenandoah Woods, is located approximately eight miles away in Warminster, PA.

Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove currently employs 1,289 active duty and 726 civilians to provide services and facilities to over 5,000 joint reserve personnel from 22 tenant and 32 reserve units associated with the station.

NAS JRB Willow Grove provides support infrastructure and services to assigned units and supported commands, enabling them to achieve their readiness and training goals.

In 1926, when many people were afraid of airplanes and most considered flying a daredevil sport, aviation pioneer Harold Pitcairn bought a large section of farmland on the west side of Doylestown Pike, now Route 611.

No sooner were the arrangements of sale signed and the checks handed over when Pitcairn began work that turned the farmland into a flying field. A hangar was soon built near the highway and the grass was mowed for a landing strip. From these beginnings sprang what is now the largest Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base on the East Coast. From 1926 to 1942, Pitcairn developed, tested, built and flew many different aircraft, most notable being the Mailwing and the Autogyro.

In 1927, when Pitcairn won the Postal Service contract to carry the overnight mail between New York and Atlanta, he designed the Mailwing. Faster, safer and more efficient than any other aircraft on the market, the Mailwing was immediately bought as standard equipment by many other airlines. Pilots loved the aircraft because of its reliability and ease of handling. When crashes did occur, pilots were often able to walk away with minor injuries due to the Mailwing's rugged construction.

In December of 1928, Pitcairn first brought the Autogyro to America. This aviation phenomenon, with its uncanny ability to make steep takeoffs without danger of stalling and to land nearly vertically with no-roll landings, had been developed by the Spanish aeronautical engineer Juan de la Cierva. Recognizing the potential of this aircraft, Pitcairn bought the American rights to Cierva's patents and soon Autogyros, as well as Mailwings were being turned out of the Pitcairn aircraft factory. Although the Autogyro did not become the commercial success that many hoped it would, the Pitcairn patents were purchased by Sikorski and utilized in developing the Helicopter. Pitcairn Aviation, from its early mail route start, went on to later become Eastern Airlines.

In 1942, to help the nation rise to its defense, Pitcairn sold his flying field to the United States Navy. The naval aviation unit that first occupied what was to become NAS JRB Willow Grove originated in 1929 at the Rockaway, N.Y. training school with 16 officers, 53 enlisted men, four seaplanes and seven land based aircraft. They were soon transferred to Mustin Field at the Philadelphia Navy Yard as World War II approached; it became obvious that small Mustin Field was inadequate for mobilization purposes. So in early 1942, the Navy paid $480,000 for the Pitcairn field and hangars. Some 250 Naval personnel took possession of the field that year bringing along with them 30 N3N biplane trainers known as the "Yellow Peril."

In January 1943, the field was officially commissioned the United States Naval Air Station Willow Grove. By October, a highly classified project under the direction of the Naval Research Laboratory got underway to establish an effective deterrent to the German submarine threat. A new unit called, USNR Radio/Radar Unit, modified over 2,000 PV-1 antisubmarine aircraft here, for delivery to squadrons operating in both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres. The PV-1 is the ancestor of our present day P-3C aircraft that operates in the Patrol Squadrons here on station and around the country. At its wartime peak, NAS Willow Grove housed tens of thousands of servicemen and women.

Following the end of the war, Willow grove was designated a Reserve training stations under the Chief of Naval Air Reserve Training. Activities increased during the Korean War and then in 1957, the Navy purchased additional land bordering the station to bring the area to its present total of 1,100 acres. The Vietnam War also brought a step up in operations and many Willow Grove Reservists volunteered to fly airlift and cargo missions in support of the U.S. effort.

In 1994, the station's name was changed to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, Willow Grove, to accurately depict the population and efforts of the station. In 2003, more changes to the Department of the Navy's structure came about creating a new command on station known as the Naval Air Reserve, which is now responsible for more than 5,000 drilling Naval Reservists that come to the Grove each month.

Integration of resources and personnel is the theme throughout today's Navy. Today's Navy Selected Reservist is a member of the Navy's Reserve, supporting the Fleet wherever the need exists. On October 1, 2004, the Naval Air Reserve Command onboard NAS JRB Willow Grove became the home to the more than 2,500 Navy Selected Reservists that drill here. Additionally, last year marked the station's 60th Anniversary. The station has grown in scope tremendously over the years and currently employs 1,289 active duty and 726 civilians to provide services and facilities to over 5,000 joint reserve personnel from 22 tenant and 32 reserve units associated with the station. As of 2005, the NAR was redesignated the Naval Operational Support Command to encompass the ever-changing Navy Selected Reserve program. The station is truly a Joint Reserve Base. The Willow Grove "team" supports Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and Army Guard units. From A-10 and C-130 aircraft, MH-53 helicopters, soldiers on the ground to Sailors on ships these units deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and around the globe. Since the Operation Enduring Freedom began, approximately 4,000 mobilizations have occurred. These are the people winning the Global War on Terrorism. Through outstanding support to Reservists, NAS JRB Willow Grove fulfills the mission of the Naval Reserve - "support to the fleet-ready and fully integrated."

While the units stay busy defending our freedom, NAS JRB Willow Grove is one of the bases on the BRAC 2005 list for realignment and closure. As of October 1, 2007, the 913th Airlift Wing Air Force Reserve was disestablished due to the Department of the Air Force's decision to realign their programs. The Navy and Marine Corps squadrons/units are scheduled to move to McGuire Air Force Base by 2010. The 111th Fighter Wing of the PA Air National Guard will remain at their present site along with an Army Reserve enclave scheduled to be in place by 2010. The Main Gate to NAS JRB Willow Grove will be closed by 2011.