Key West has been at the forefront of naval aviation for 100 years, starting with the establishment of an air base on Trumbo Point Dec. 18, 1917, and U.S. Navy pilots have often been on the front lines of history while stationed on the island.
They’ve responded in World Wars I and II and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, among many other things.
While naval aviation in the Southernmost City is celebrating a century, it’s only catching up to its original arrival: The Navy has been in Key West since March 25, 1822, when naval officer Matthew C. Perry sailed the schooner Shark to the island and planted the U.S. flag claiming the Keys as United States property, according to official Navy history posted on www.cnic.navy.mil.
But this week, Naval Air Station Key West will mark the 100th year of aviation in the Southernmost City, where the military branch’s presence is as ubiquitous as the ocean. NAS Key West will celebrate the historic milestone, and remember Pearl Harbor Day, from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Custom House Museum, 281 Front St., Key West.
“Wear a flight suit, flight deck jersey or any uniform you like,” NAS said in a release. “The kickoff to the celebration will feature a historic uniformed photo opportunity on the steps of the Custom House.”
For the celebration, the Custom House will be free and open to the public and feature a “Navy in Key West” exhibit with a newly added naval aviation display. Navy units from around the air station will be on hand to sell merchandise.
World War I brought greater expansion to the Navy footprint in Key West. “Year-round ideal weather for training and the island's strategic location led to the establishment of a Navy submarine base at what is now Truman Annex,” says the Navy’s history site. “The nation's southernmost Naval Base also proved to be an ideal training facility for the Navy's fledgling aviation force.”
Following World War I, the air station and submarine base were closed and its personnel released. Most of the buildings on Trumbo Point were either destroyed or dismantled and moved to other locations.
But overseas trouble and a growing German submarine menace in waters close to the Keys began to revive Navy operations in the late 1930s, the Navy points out.
Seaplanes operating from Trumbo Point led to the reopening of NAS Key West on Dec. 15, 1940. Meachum Field, which is now Key West International Airport, was used to support blimps flying anti-submarine patrols.
After World War II ended, NAS Key West was kept as a training facility. And then came the threat of nuclear war.
“The air station's strategic location proved vital during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis,” the Navy’s official history website says.
Reconnaissance and operational flights began Oct. 22, 1962, in support of the U.S. blockade of Cuba due to Russian missile siter in the island nation. President Kennedy visited NAS Key West afterward to thank service members and their families for their contributions during the crisis.
Blue Angels 2019
The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team, the Blue Angels, and other military and civilian aerial groups will perform in the Florida Keys on March 30 and 31, 2019, at the Naval Air Station Key West Southernmost Air Spectacular air show at Boca Chica Field.
In addition to the Blue Angels, the air station will invite aerial demonstrations by military and civilian performers, and static military and vintage aircraft. A final schedule of events will be announced at a later date, NAS said.
About 50,000 people attended the two-day air show in 2016. For information, visit the Facebook page NAS Key West Southernmost Air Spectacular or go to www.airshowkeywest.com.
For general information and sponsorship inquiries call Emma Harlow at (305) 293-2503. For more information, contact the NAS Key West Public Affairs Office at (305) 293-2027.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen