Navy Bases

Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Washington

Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island is located on beautiful Whidbey Island, WA, overlooking the picturesque mountains of the Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan Islands. NAS Whidbey Island is composed of two bases five miles apart - the Seaplane Base, located on the eastern shore of the island at the edge of the city of Oak Harbor, and Ault Field, northwest of the Seaplane Base. Also under the jurisdiction of the station are Outlying Field Coupeville and the Boardman Training Range in Oregon.

NAS Whidbey Island has a population of 7,500 military personnel, 1,200 civilian employees and 1,200 contractors and is one of four naval installations that make up Navy Region Northwest.

On Jan. 17, 1941, almost 11 months before the U.S. entered World War II, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations asked the Commandant of the 13th Naval District to find a location for the re-arming and refueling of Navy patrol planes operating in defense of Puget Sound, should such defense be necessary.

Lake Ozette, Indian Island, Keystone Harbor, Penn Cove and Oak Harbor were considered and later rejected because of mountainous terrain, bluff shore front, inaccessibility, absence of sufficient beaches and lee shores.

But within 10 days, the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Seattle recommended the site of Saratoga Passage on the shores of Crescent Harbor and Forbes Point as a base suitable for seaplane takeoffs and landings under instrument conditions.

A narrow strip of land tied Oak Harbor to what is now Maylor's Capehart Housing. Dredging, filling, and running water and power lines to the city was under way when at the end of November came the word to find a land plane site.

On Dec. 8, three workers started a topographic survey of what would become Ault Field, about four miles to the north. The crew would soon grow to 17. None of them were engineers, but with the attack at Pearl Harbor, everyone went to work. Regardless of the weather, there were 175 men on the job at the peak of survey work.

Bewildered citizens, caught up in the war effort, signed up for jobs to build the station. There were approximately 20 farms on 4,325 acres. Farmers turned over the titles to their ancestral lands, known for growing some of the finest wheat in the country, to the government for runways and hangars. They quietly moved to other farms in Skagit County.

Clover Valley - level, well drained and accessible from any approach - was tailor-made for a landing field. The strategic location, commanding the eastern end of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, guarded the entrance to Puget Sound. It was far enough from populated areas to carry on operational training flights with live loads. The area experienced visual flying conditions about 89 percent of the time and there was plenty of room to grow.

Actual construction of Ault Field started on March 1, 1942. The first plane landed there on Aug. 5, when Lt. Newton Wakefield, a former civil engineer and airline pilot, who later became Operations Officer, brought his SNJ single-engine trainer in with little fanfare. Everyone was busy working on the still-incomplete runway.

On Sept. 21, 1942, from the steps of Building 12, Commanding Officer Capt Cyril Thomas Simard read the orders and the watch was set. U.S. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was duly commissioned. There were 212 people present for the ceremony.

A year later, on Sept. 25, 1943, the land plane field was named Ault Field, in memory of Cdr. William B. Ault missing in action in the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Following the recommendation of the Interdepartmental Air Traffic Control Board, an area 2 1/2 miles southeast of Coupeville was approved as an auxiliary field to serve NS Seattle. Survey work began in February 1943, and work started in March. Outlying Field Coupeville was in use by September.

Crews surveyed the Rocky Point area in the summer of 1943. It became the transmitter and machine gun range. Air gunners going to the fleet were trained there.

Originally commissioned as a temporary station, operations slowed at war's end. It was almost certain the base would be earmarked for decommissioning.

Many bases were closing because they couldn't meet the requirements of the new Air Navy; 6,000-foot runways were now the minimum standard. Approach paths had to be suitable for radar-controlled approaches in any weather.

In December 1949, the Navy decided that, while NS Seattle, the major pre-war naval installation in the Northwest, was suitable to train Reserve forces and support a moderate number of aircraft, it could not be expanded as a major fleet support station.

Thus, NAS Whidbey Island was chosen as the only station north of San Francisco and west of Chicago for this all-type, all-weather Navy field to support fleet and Alaskan activities.

NAS Whidbey's award winning recycling programs, improved housing and quality of life for families and single Sailors, environmental restoration and protection, training and fleet support stand as models for the entire Navy.

The air station actively supports DEFY - Drug Education for Youth - a two-phase program designed to teach young people between ages 9 and 12 about the dangers of drug abuse and gang involvement.

The School Partnership Program, or Personal Excellence Program, recruits and places sharp military volunteers into local schools where they work as tutors, mentors and role models.