report by : T. LETELLIER
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. 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. 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.
Because of its unique location, NAF El Centro is known to every naval aviator and plays a key role in their initial and refresher training. What makes the NAF so special is its combination of unique climate, vast unobstructed desert terrain, limited non-military air traffic and its own dedicated gunnery and bomb ranges. These factors make NAF El Centro an ideal environment for aerial combat maneuvering, air-to-air gunnery, bombing practice and electronic warfare training. Variable climatic conditions and population are limiting factors at the Navy’s only other facilities with similar missions
NAF El Centro 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. Until mid-March, the officers and enlisted personnel, who are specialists in all the aviation roles required to support the squadron’s maintenance, administration and public affairs requirements, hone their skills as a cohesive unit.
Technical information source : US NAVY