NAVAL AIR STATION
With the completion of the 8,000foot runway at Leeward Point in January 1953, NAS Gitmo entered the Jet Age. Since that time, the story of NAS is a story of progress toward meeting increased responsibilities and accomplishment of the modernization of the Fleet Air. With the advent of jet aircraft, and their requirement for longer and blast-proof runways, Leeward Point has provided an increased potential in NAS operations. Better wind conditions are also a factor in this regard.
McCalla Field, which figured prominently in early Gitmo aviation and blimp operations, now handles prop aircraft and line maintenance, thus freeing Leeward for jet operations and heavy maintenance. With the recent installation of arresting gear, McCalla is also capable of handling high performance aircraft in time of emergency.
Regularly scheduled flights of Lockheed Super Constellations to and from Guantanamo Bay were initiated February 3, 1954. The decision to send the larger and heavier aircraft on regularly scheduled FLAW flights was made following a survey conducted at McCalla Field by the Paving Inspection and Testing Division of the Bureau of Yards and Docks.
The buildup of Leeward Point has necessitated the improvement of supporting and recreation facilities. New construction in 1953 included a Community Center, five enlisted barracks, jet fuel tanks and a jet fuel house and station.
During 1954 the land plane hangar with shops and offices was constructed. A further evidence of the anticipated increase in the tempo of operations was the construction of a permanent control tower. Modern enlisted messing facilities and a BOQ help to make Leeward a much more pleasant place, and it is no longer known as "Hungry Point"-a title earned in earlier days.
In 1955, the construction of several ready service magazines and a crash crew building was completed. A six-bed dispensary and an Enlisted Men's Club were built in 1956.
To the growing array of structures in 1957 was added a movie lyceum, line maintenance and line operations spaces. Additional jet fuel storage tanks and a gas crew building were also constructed. A swimming pool was built on one Of the high areas known as Recreation Hill. Later, basketball and tennis courts were added, making an attractive breezy recreation area.
With the installation of the cross bay pipelines in 1957, a laborious and costly operation-the transport of water and fuel to Leeward via barge was discontinued. The following year, two more enlisted barracks and quarters for married personnel were started. More of these quarters were built in 1959. A grade school and kindergarten was constructed within walking distance of all family quarters.
In July 1958, in an effort to improve security at Leeward Point, the Commanding Officer was granted permission to establish a Sentry Dog Patrol on a one-year trial basis. The first year of this patrol, pilferage and other security violations were reduced to practically nil. This patrol proved later was to be quite valuable and assigned to the defense forces to patrol the outer perimeter.
Some reorganization f the Naval Air Station took place during the years 1959 through 1962. The first transferred NAS from the management and technical control of BUAER to the Bureau of Naval Weapons.
Abase-wide consolidation of duplicate activities occurred in October 1960, and NAS Public Works Department functions were transferred to the Public Works Center.
In 1961, the Maintenance Branch of the Operations Department was made a separate department and in 1962, the Ordnance Branch of Operations attained independent status.
The year 1962 began as a normal year. At the request of the Governor General, the American Consul in Kingston, Jamaica, obtained the assistance of the NAS Sea-Air Rescue Team (SAR) for communication support during the tour of the Duke of Edinburgh to Jamaica, Grand Turk and Belize. NAS SAR teams earned additional praise by flying some of the longest missions on record here, with one mission logging 15.3 hours. In May, LCDR J. E. Garlitz, pilot; LT C. H. Sawyer, co-pilot and two enlisted crew members of a UF-2 aircraft spotted and aided in the rescue of five survivors Of the ill-fated merchant vessel SANTA ANA which sank approximately 14 days prior to rescue of the crew. The survivors were brought to the Naval Hospital here for treatment and subsequently flown to their homeland.
MATS (Military Air Transport Service) replaced FLAW flights to Gitmo on July 1, 1960. This resulted in an increased workload for Leeward Point since McCalla could not handle the heavily loaded aircraft.
The Air Station was designated an aircraft servicing point for South and Central American Naval Missions, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This placed an additional workload on the Operations and Maintenance Departments. Weekly flights to Port-au-Prince to transport Marine Corps personnel and their dependents to Guantanamo for medical and dental care, and other purposes, are made. These flights are also utilized for liberty parties. Tenth Naval District and NAS Gitmo aircraft alternate on a bi-weekly schedule on logistics flights to San Juan. Numerous other logistics flights are made to the United States; Kingston, Jamaica and other points.
The major event in 1962 was the Cuban Quarantine. Over 300 dependents were evacuated by air on October 22, 1962. The Air Station was on the receiving end of a tremendous air lift operation bringing troops, supplies and equipment in to help defend the base against possible attack. Within a 70-hour period, 188 4engine transport planes arrived and departed, with an average ground time of less than an hour.
Air operations increased in number and type at NAS with the arrival of squadrons and a Marine Air Group.
In the spring of 1963, the Leeward Point Field runway was closed for repairs and the installation of new lights and safety equipment. To enable McCalla Field to handle jet traffic, MOREST Gear was installed. For about three months McCalla resounded to the thundering afterburners of jet take-offs.
Go to Chapter Twenty-five