report by: Sebastien Mousty
NAF El Centro provides realistic training to active and reserve aviation units and activities of the Navy’s operating and training forces. Squadrons visit NAF El Centro to practice gunnery, bombing, carrier landings and air combat. The facility has two operating runways. The 9,500-foot east/west runway handles 96 percent of the traffic. It is equipped with a Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System at each approach end as well as lighted carrier deck landing areas at both ends so pilots can simulate carrier landings.
Naval Air Facility El Centro was commissioned on May 1, 1946, as a Naval Air Station. Prior to that, the base was a Marine Corps Air Station. Through the years, Navy El Centro has had several names: Naval Air Facility, Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, Naval Air Station, and the National Parachute Test Range.
Apart from “touch and go” landings and take-offs, aircrews use the many ranges at NAF El Centro to develop their skills. A remote-controlled target area allows naval aviators to practice ordinance delivery. The desert range is used for air-to-ground bombing, rocket firing, strafing, dummy drops and mobile land target training. The target complex uses the Weapons Impact Scoring System that microwaves target images to a range master control building for immediate verification of weapons delivery accuracy.
The addition of the Display and Debriefing Subsystem, known as DDS, expanded the role of NAF El Centro to include air combat training by utilizing remote television, acoustical and laser scoring systems. The DDS is linked with TACTS to provide a computerized record of the tactics employed by individual aircrews employ and to evaluate the effectiveness of each maneuver. Many believe the training at NAF El Centro is as close as pilots can get to actual air combat.
The relatively isolated location of NAF El Centro continues to make this a valuable resource in supporting the aviation readiness of the Navy and Marine Corps. In addition to serving as a divert base for aircraft operating off air capable ships in W-291, the Command supports Field Carrier Landing Practice operations for Navy and Marine Corps users in the immediate area and, as the schedule allows, other units located in the southwestern United States. NAF is the “winter home” of the world-famous Blue Angels, the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron. Starting every January, the ‘Blues’ conduct over two months of intense flight operations prior to the start of their air show season.
NAF El Centro and its personnel have a role of providing essential support to the squadrons and units training here. This includes flight operations, logistics, billeting, messing, hangars, ramps, aircraft parking space, administration and supply transport. Every month, seven to 12 squadrons and up to 1,600 personnel train here. Additionally, U.S. Air Force parachutists, U.S. Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and British, French, German and Italian aviators visit for various phases of their training.
Despite the poor weather it was a real pleasure for us to visit NAF El Centro Airshow 2018.