Naval Air Station Sanford

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Naval Air Station Sanford
A-3B Skywarriors of VAH-7 flying over NAS Sanford.jpg
A3D-2 (A-3B) Skywarriors of VAH-7 over
NAS Sanford in the early 1960s
Airport type Military
Owner United States Navy
Location Sanford, Florida
Elevation AMSL 57 (now 55) ft / 18 (now 17) m
Coordinates 28°46′40″N 081°14′15″W / 28.77778°N 81.23750°W / 28.77778; -81.23750Coordinates: 28°46′40″N 081°14′15″W / 28.77778°N 81.23750°W / 28.77778; -81.23750
NRJ is located in Florida
Location within Florida
Direction Length Surface
ft m
(now 9L/27R)
8,000 2,438 Asphalt/Concrete
18/36 6,002 1,829 Asphalt/Concrete

Naval Air Station Sanford (IATA: NRJICAO: KNRJFAA LID: NRJ) was a United States Navy naval air station in Sanford, Florida, approximately 20 miles north of Orlando, Florida. Opening less than a year after the start of World War II, NAS Sanford's initial function was as an advanced training base for land-based patrol bombers, followed by carrier-based fighter aircraft. The air station briefly closed following the war and was placed in caretaker status, then reactivated in 1950, eventually serving as a Master Jet Base for carrier-based heavy attack and reconnaissance aircraft until 1969. After its closure, it reopened as civilian general aviation airport under various names with a non-Navy civilian airport identifier (IATA: SFBICAO: KSFBFAA LID: SFB) until finally transitioning to a scheduled air carrier airport under its current name of Orlando-Sanford International Airport.


Naval Air Station Sanford was commissioned as an active naval installation on November 3, 1942 and was initially assigned the airport codes NRJ and KNRJ. The base initially concentrated on advanced land-based patrol plane training, operating PV-1 Venturas, PBO Hudsons and SNB-2 Kansans. Peak wartime complement reached approximately 360 officers and 1400 enlisted men with 150 officer and enlisted WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during 1943-1945. In 1943, training at NAS Sanford shifted to carrier-based fighter aircraft using the F4F, FM-1 and FM-2 Wildcat and F6F Hellcat.[1][2] The air station also held oversight of an auxiliary airfield known as Outlying Field Osceola (OLF Osceola) approximately 6 nautical miles (11 km) east-southeast of NAS Sanford.[3]

Decommissioned in 1946 and placed in a caretaker status, the base was recommissioned as Naval Auxiliary Air Station Sanford (NAAS Sanford) in 1950 in response to both the Korean War and the Cold War. Subsequently redesignated as a full naval air station and renamed NAS Sanford once again, the installation initially served as a base for the carrier-based AJ Savage attack aircraft. In the late 1950s, substantial upgrades followed in order to turn the air station into a Master Jet Base for the carrier-based Douglas A-3 Skywarrior (at the time, designated A3D) nuclear attack aircraft of Heavy Attack Wing ONE (HATWING ONE). In addition to the Skywarrior, other associated land-based training aircraft supporting A3D training, such as the P2V-3W Neptune, were also assigned.[4]

The upgrades to the former NAAS to achieve status as a full-fledged NAS and Master Jet Base included lengthening of the main runway to 8,000 feet (2,400 m) with additional overruns of approximately 2,000 feet (610 m) on both ends; construction of additional new hangars; barracks and administrative support buildings for the air station, heavy attack wing, heavy attack squadrons, and Marine Barracks; installation or upgrades to precision approach radar/ground controlled approach (PAR/GCA), non-directional beacon (NDB) and tactical air navigation (TACAN) navigational aids; a robust storage and distribution system for JP-5 jet fuel (which relied on resupply via a railroad spur into the base); secure weapon/air-dropped ordnance storage facilities; a Navy Dispensary; a Navy Exchange complex and associated garage/service station/MiniMart; and morale, welfare and recreation facilities that included a base movie theater, two swimming pools, lakeside recreational facilities and separate clubs for officers, chief petty officers and enlisted personnel. Like Pinecastle AFB (later renamed McCoy AFB), a Strategic Air Command installation approximately 25 miles (40 km) to the south, a commissary and full-fledged Naval Hospital facilities were not considered necessary at NAS Sanford due to the relatively close proximity of a commissary and USAF Hospital at Central Florida's other major military installation at the time, the nearby Orlando AFB (which was transferred to the U.S. Navy control in 1968 and renamed Naval Training Center Orlando), approximately 12 miles (19 km) miles to the south.

NAAS / NAS Sanford also retained control of OLF Osceola into the early 1960s. However, OLF Osceola's 4000 to 5,000-foot (1,500 m) runways lacked sufficient length and pavement strength for contemporary carrier-based jet aircraft like the A3D. As a result, no improvements were made to the OLF's infrastructure and it was effectively abandoned as an operational facility.[3]

HATWING ONE consisted of nine Heavy Attack Squadrons (VAH), also known as HATRONs: VAH-1, VAH-3, VAH-5, VAH-6, VAH-7, VAH-9, VAH-11, VAH-12 and VAH-13. All were Fleet deployable units with the exception of VAH-3, which conducted Replacement Air Group (RAG) / Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) functions. In addition to the HATWING ONE squadrons, Air Development Squadron FIVE (VX-5), based at NAWS China Lake, California, also maintained a detachment at NAS Sanford.[5]

Due to the Skywarrior's nuclear strike mission and the presence of an associated special weapons storage area at NAS Sanford, U.S. Marine Corps personnel provided both base security and special weapons storage area security, leading to the establishment of Marine Corps Barracks Sanford aboard the air station.[6]

On February 6, 1959, NAS Sanford was dedicated as Ramey Field in honor of Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Ramey, USN, who lost his life by electing to guide his crippled A3D Skywarrior away from a residential area. By staying with the aircraft, LCDR Ramey not only gave his flight crew time to bail out of the aircraft, but also saved the lives of numerous families in the residential community.[7][8]

A3D Skywarriors of Heavy Attack Wing ONE (HATWING-1) at NAS Sanford.

In the early 1960s, the A-3 aircraft began to be replaced by the Mach 2+ North American A-5A Vigilante aircraft (initially designated A3J until 1962). But by 1964, the strategic nuclear strike mission for carrier-based aircraft was eliminated and the Navy's strategic nuclear strike mission under the SIOP was transferred to the Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) nuclear submarine force. As a result, all Vigilante squadrons were converted to a carrier-based tactical reconnaissance mission and redesignated as Reconnaissance Attack Squadrons (RVAH). Existing A-5A and A-5B aircraft were modified to the RA-5C Vigilante configuration and the North American production line shifted to producing all subsequent aircraft as RA-5Cs. Heavy Attack Wing ONE was renamed Reconnaissance Attack Wing ONE and its subordinate squadrons as Reconnaissance Attack Squadrons (RVAH).

NAS Sanford-based squadrons routinely deployed aboard both Atlantic and Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers of the Forrestal, Kitty Hawk and Enterprise classes, seeing extensive action during the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Numerous RA-5C flight crews and aircraft were also lost to enemy action in the Vietnam War, with several Sanford-based Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers becoming prisoners of war in Vietnam until repatriation in 1973. In addition to RA-5C aircraft, NAS Sanford also continued to operate the TA-3B variant of the Skywarrior, several examples of which were attached to the RA-5C Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THREE (RVAH-3), for training Naval Flight Officers as Reconnaissance Attack Navigators (RAN) in the RA-5C. NAS Sanford also operated the R4D-8/C-117 Skytrain as an operational support aircraft assigned to the air station proper.[9][10] Transient aircraft from NAS Jacksonville and NAS Cecil Field, Florida and NAS Glynco, Georgia would also utilize NAS Sanford for training or as a weather or fuel divert from the Atlantic offshore training areas or the Navy's Pinecastle Bombing Range in the Ocala National Forest.

Congress directed the closure of NAS Sanford in 1968 due to funding constraints caused by the Vietnam War, transferring the wing and squadrons to the former Turner AFB, renamed as NAS Albany, Georgia. With the post-Vietnam closure of NAS Albany, the wing and squadrons subsequently relocated to NAS Key West, Florida during 1974-75 and continued to deploy to both the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific aboard Forrestal, Kitty Hawk, Enterprise and Nimitz class aircraft carriers. RA-5C units remained operational at NAS Key West until the RA-5C's retirement from active service in 1980.[10] A commemorative NAS Sanford Memorial Park, along with plaques and a retired RA-5C Vigilante aircraft on loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation were dedicated in May 2003 and are positioned on the main entrance road within the Orlando Sanford International Airport perimeter in memory to NAS Sanford personnel who served their country during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War. A PV-1 Ventura, also on loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation, is in the process of being restored at the airport and will join the RA-5C on display. An A-3 Skywarrior has also been requested from the Navy for future restoration and display.[11]

Following base closure, the City of Sanford assumed control of the facility, initially developing it as a regional general aviation airport and adjacent industrial park. Today, the airfield operates as Orlando-Sanford International Airport, a commercial airport with domestic and international airline service, augmenting commercial service at nearby Orlando International Airport and Daytona Beach International Airport.

Incidents and accidents[edit]

RA-5C Vigilante (BuNo 156632) in the markings of Reconnaissance Attack Squadron 3 on display at Orlando Sanford International Airport, the former NAS Sanford.
  • Numerous aircraft mishaps occurred during the World War II years, but detailed data is not readily available. In late 1970, wreckage of an FM-1 Wildcat was located by hunters near the south shore of nearby Lake Jessup. Subsequent contact with and investigation by USN authorities indicated that the pilot had safely bailed out of the aircraft during this circa 1944 mishap.
  • In October 1961, A3D-2 (A-3B) Bureau Number (BuNo) 142663, assigned to Heavy Attack Squadron FIVE (VAH-5), crashed near NAS Sanford following a mid-air collision with another A3D-2 (A-3B) assigned to Heavy Attack Squadron ELEVEN (VAH-11). All eight crewmen, 4 in the VAH-5 aircraft and 4 in the VAH-11 aircraft, were killed.
  • In January 1962, A3D-2 (A-3B) BuNo 142243, assigned to Heavy Attack Squadron ELEVEN (VAH-11), crashed near NAS Sanford following an in-flight emergency. All crewmen bailed out safely.
  • On November 27, 1962, A-5A BuNo 148927 was stricken at NAS Sanford after overruning the end west end of runway 27. No flight crew were aboard during the mishap.[10]
  • On September 5, 1963, A-5A BuNo 148930, assigned to Heavy Attack Squadron THREE (VAH-3), crashed into Lake Monroe just north of NAS Sanford. Both crewmen ejected but were killed.[10]
  • On September 3, 1964, RA-5C BuNo 151616, assigned to Reconnaissance Attack Squadron ONE (RVAH-1), crashed at NAS Sanford. Both crewmen ejected.[10]
  • On September 8, 1964, RA-5C BuNo 149292, assigned to Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THREE (RVAH-3), crashed at NAS Sanford. Both crewmen ejected.[10]
  • On November 14, 1964, RA-5C BuNo 149308, assigned to Reconnaissance Attack Squadron NINE (RVAH-9), crashed at NAS Sanford. Both crewmen ejected.[10]
  • On December 23, 1964, RA-5C BuNo 151821 (actually this was probably BuNo 151621, BuNo 151821 would have been a Grumman A-6A[12]), assigned to Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THIRTEEN (RVAH-13), crashed in DeBary, FL after takeoff from NAS Sanford. Both crewmen ejected. The pilot, RVAH-13 Commanding Officer, CDR C.V. Nolta, Jr was killed,[13] the navigator survived .[10]
  • On December 15, 1965, RA-5C BuNo 150827, assigned to Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THREE (RVAH-3), crashed at NAS Sanford. Both crewmen ejected.[10]
  • On June 14, 1967, RA-5C BuNo 149314, assigned to Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THREE (RVAH-3), crashed at NAS Sanford during Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP). During a touch-and-go landing, the aircraft sustained in-flight ingestion of a loose clamp into the starboard engine with subsequent foreign object damage (FOD) and fire. Both crewmen ejected. The pilot, CDR Charles Thomas Butler, was killed; the Naval Flight Officer/Reconnaissance Attack Navigator (NFO/RAN), ENS John B. Smith, survived.[10][14]
  • On October 3, 1967, RA-5C BuNo 149315, assigned to Reconnaissance Attack Squadron THREE (RVAH-3), crashed at NAS Sanford. The pilot ejected; there was no NFO/RAN aboard.[10]


  1. ^ NAS History
  2. ^ The Hook, Vol. 35, No. 2, Summer 2007, p. 48, ISSN: 0736-9220
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Various Neptune units
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ United States Naval Aviation 1910-1980, NAVAIR 00-80P-1, US Government Printing Office, c1980, p.466
  8. ^ NAS Sanford Personnel
  9. ^ United States Naval Aviation 1910-1980, NAVAIR 00-80P-1, US Government Printing Office, c1980, p.251
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k RA-5C Vigilante Units in Combat, R. R. Powell, Osprey Publishing, Ltd, Botley, Oxford, UK, c2004, ISBN 1-84176-749-2
  11. ^
  12. ^ Grumman A-6 Intruder, Robert F. Dorr, Osprey Air Combat, 1987.
  13. ^ RVAH-13 Command History pg 2 of 4 Dated 19 Apr 1965
  14. ^

External links[edit]