Brown Field Municipal Airport
|Brown Field Municipal Airport|
|IATA: SDM – ICAO: KSDM – FAA LID: SDM|
|Operator||City of San Diego|
|Serves||San Diego, California|
|Elevation AMSL||526 ft / 160 m|
Brown Field Municipal Airport (IATA: SDM, ICAO: KSDM, FAA LID: SDM) is in the Otay Mesa neighborhood of San Diego, California, 13 miles (21 km) southeast of Downtown San Diego and named in honor of Commander Melville S. Brown, USN, who was killed in an airplane crash in 1936. Its main runway is 7,972 feet (2,430 m) long. Its FAA/IATA airport code of SDM probably comes from "San Diego Municipal". Formerly Naval Auxiliary Air Station Brown Field, it is now a civilian reliever airport and a port of entry from Mexico. It is sometimes staffed by the U.S. Customs Service, but only upon request of incoming pilots to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Brown Field is 1.5 miles north of the US/Mexico border in the Otay Mesa Community of the City of San Diego. The airport, originally named East Field in honor of Army Major Whitten J. East, opened in 1918 when the U.S. Army established an aerial gunnery and aerobatics school to relieve congestion at North Island. Major East completed flight training at the Army Signal Corps Station, Rockwell Field on North Island before flying over the front lines in France during WWI. He was killed in an auto accident in 1918 while in command of Mitchel Field in New York at the age of 25. From 1918 - 1919, pilots flying the Curtis JN-4D Jenny trained at East Field. After WWI the military maintained control of East Field for touch and go landings and radio controlled target drone experiments. In 1943 the U.S. Navy took over the airfield and changed the name to NAAS Otay Mesa; later that year the name was changed again to NAAS Brown Field in honor of Navy Commander Melville S. Brown, who was killed in a plane crash near Descanso, CA in 1936. LCDR Brown was the Commanding Officer of the USS Truxtun (DD-229) when the ship was commissioned in 1921, and later was Executive Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2). Between 1943 and 1946 the Army and Navy used NAAS Brown Field for training in various aircraft, including the P-38 Lightning, F4F and FM1 Wildcat, TBF and TBM Avenger, F6F Hellcat, and PB4Y Privateer.
In 1946 the Navy decommissioned Brown Field and turned it over to San Diego County. The County ended up renting portions of the former base for use as a chicken farm. Chula Vista High School was established on the airport property in 1946.
In 1951 the Navy reopened Brown Field due to increased military activity from the Korean War. In 1954 Brown Field was again commissioned and designated a Naval Auxiliary Air Station with facilities to support regular operations of fleet aircraft, assigned missile programs, and fleet carrier landing practice. In 1955 NAAS Brown was home to one utility squadron, two anti submarine warfare squadrons, a fleet aircraft service squadron (FASRON), and a Regulus air missile unit. The following year the base was home to two utility squadrons, VU-3 and VU-7, Commander Utility Wing Pacific (COMUTWINGPAC), FASRON 4 detachment, and a ground control approach unit. Aircraft that operated at NAAS Brown Field include the F6F Hellcat, F9F Cougar, SNB, R4D Skytrain, JD-1 Invader, P2V Neptune, and FJ Fury. On November 2, 1954, the Convair XFY-1 Pogo made a transitional flight from vertical takeoff to horizontal flight, then back to a vertical landing at Brown Field. In 1957, Brown Field was selected as a site for one of the Vanguard Earth Satellite Tracking Stations.
On September 1, 1962 the Navy transferred ownership of Brown Field to the City of San Diego, with the condition that it remains a public airport. During the mid to late 1960s Pacific Southwest Airlines, an airline based in San Diego, trained its pilots at Brown Field using Piper Arrows, Comanches, Aztecs, and Beech Bonanzas. PSA also had a contract to train Lufthansa pilots at Brown Field. In 1970 Lufthansa training moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where it remains today.
A precision approach is not possible to either runway end due to rising terrain (elevation 3,600 feet) less than six miles (10 km) east of the airport. There have been several crashes due to pilots not maintaining sufficient altitude over these mountains (often flying VFR at night).
On March 16, 1991, seven members of Reba McEntire's band and her road manager were among 10 people who died in the crash of a plane that departed from Brown Field. The aircraft hit Otay Mountain northeast of the airport.