The history of Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, New Orleans, Louisiana is actually the story of two air stations. The original installation was located on the northern edge of the city of New Orleans on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain. This site was in use from 1941 to 1957 at which time the entire air station was moved to a new site located 15 miles south of New Orleans. The lakefront air station was turned over to the city and is the present site of the University of New Orleans.
In the fall of 1940, the Navy began improving its primary flight training facilities by building up its system of Naval Reserve air bases. Construction was initiated at three new reserve air bases at Dallas, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Facilities at the three air stations were identical, including a steel hangar, barracks for 100 cadets, a small assembly and repair shop and storage for 50,000 gallons of fuel. In 1945, the three stations had accommodations for 8,100 personnel.
By January 1942, a rapid expansion of the Naval Reserve Air Base (NRAB) New Orleans was under way. Two million dollars of additional construction funds were provided for two barracks, a ground school and an auditorium. By May of that year, the base possessed 27 N3N-3 (Yellow Peril) primary trainers and 21 instructors.
NRAB New Orleans began to receive prospective Naval Aviation Cadets who had been chosen by selection boards located near the training bases. Prospective cadets who qualified, enlisted as seaman second class (class V-5, aviation) in the Naval Reserve and reported to one of the 16 Naval Reserve Air Bases for preliminary training.
The prospective cadets received approximately 10 hours of dual instruction and one hour of solo time. The balance of the 30-day course was devoted to ground school and military training. Those students who demonstrated an aptitude were then selected for further pilot training.
In November 1942, the New Orleans installation was designated a Naval Air Station (NAS) and assumed the role of a Primary Training Base for student naval aviators. By the end of 1943, the student input stopped and the primary mission of the base was the training of flight instructors. By July of 1946, the air station assumed the mission of training Navy and Marine Corps Air Reservists. In April 1947, the base was training 350 officers, 600 enlisted men and 50 Marines. Squadrons included a light carrier squadron, two fleet maintenance squadrons, a carrier escort squadron and a Marine fighter squadron.
In July 1950, a New Orleans based reserve squadron, Fighter Squadron 821 (VF-821), was called to active duty two months after hostilities began in Korea. Following that cruise, the squadron returned to the U.S. and transitioned to F-9 Panthers. VF-821 then deployed again to Korea.
The squadron flew 1,626 missions in the Korean Combat Zone without losing a single aircraft. This was a remarkable feat considering that more than 50 percent of the missions were conducted as flak suppression sorties.
By the late 1940’s, it was apparent that the lakefront site of the air station would soon be inadequate. Urban growth in the area of the air station made future jet operations unfeasible.
James V. Forrestal, then Secretary of Defense, designated the Navy to monitor a joint engineering survey by Army, Navy, and Air Force to determine if requirements of their respective reserve forces could economically and practically be met by the installation of a joint air reserve training center near New Orleans.
The site considered most promising was an area about 15 miles south of the business center of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish. The site included the old 515-acre Alvin Callender Field which itself had an interesting history. The field was named after World War I flying ace, Alvin Andrew Callender, a New Orleans area native who served with the British Royal Flying Corps. Callender was shotdown over northeast France on October 30,1918.
The field originally consisted of a grassy area that was cleared in the late 1920’s to provide a landing site for Charles Lindbergh who visited New Orleans during a nation-wide tour. Callender Field then served as the commercial airport for New Orleans until acquired by the Navy in 1940 to be used as an outlying field for NRAB/NAS New Orleans.
The remaining 2,724 acre tract that comprised the new air station was low and swampy. It was covered with dense brush, trees and vegetation. Due to sub-soil conditions, it was necessary to excavate muck and mud to a depth of three feet and back fill with river sand to obtain a suitably stabilized sub-base.
Initial construction of the new air station started in August 1954 and NAS New Orleans was commissioned on December 13, 1957. The aircraft, supplies, equipment and personnel were transferred piece by piece from the lakefront. Captain William A. Hood, Jr., USN, directed the move and served as the Commanding Officer of the new installation. Soon Air Reserve Units of the Navy and Marine Corps moved from the lakefront air station to NAS New Orleans. An Air Force Reserve Unit from Ellington AFB, Texas and a Louisiana Air National Guard Unit from Lakefront Municipal Airport moved to the new air station.
The Coast Guard Air Detachment moved from the old air station to the new. This search and rescue helicopter unit later became Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans.
A detachment of an Air Force squadron in Michigan provided air defense for this region of the Gulf Coast, flying F-106s out of the air station.
NAS New Orleans, Alvin Callender Field, was dedicated in elaborate ceremonies on April 26, 1958. Admiral Arthur W. Radford, USN (Ret), made the dedication address. This was followed by a Blue Angels air show.
Through the ’60s and ’70s, the various air reserve components continued to train pilots, aircrew and ground personnel. The units on board the base consisted of tactical and non-tactical units of the Naval Air Reserve: VC-13 flying A-4Ls, VP-94 flying SP-2s, and VR-54 flying C- 118s.
In 1974, VA-204 came to the air station from Memphis, Tennessee, flying the A-7 Corsair II. That same year an Air Operations Branch of the U.S. Customs Service was opened at the air station. They flew two Cessnas, a Hughes 300 helicopter and two Grumman S-2Fs.
The Marine Air Reserve Training Detachment supported two CH-46 helicopter squadrons. In 1979, they were redesignated Marine Aircraft Group 46 Detachment B (MAG 46 Det.B) and began flying the UH-1 Huey helicopter.
In 1963, the 926th Troop Carrier Group, Air Force Reserve, came to NAS New Orleans, flying C- 119 transport aircraft. In 1967, the squadron was redesignated the 926th Tactical Airlift Group. Two years later they transitioned to the C-130 Hercules. In 1977, the squadron was redesignated the 926th Tactical Fighter Group (TFG) and they began flying the A-37 Dragonfly. In 1978 the group transitioned to the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft.
The 159th TFG, Louisiana Air National Guard, was flying F-100Ds while the 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (Detachment One) stood air defense alert in F-106s. In 1979, the 159th TFG transitioned to the F-4C Phantom and took over the fighter intercept mission.
VA-204 was redesignated VFA-204 and turned in its A-7 Corsairs for the F/A-18 Hornet, the Navy’s multi-mission jet fighter. VR-54 was recommissioned, flying the brand new C-130T Hercules.
The 926th TFG was redesignated the 926th Fighter Group with the dissolution of the Tactical Air Command and began its transition from the A-10 to the F-16 Fighting Falcon in 1992. Three years later the wind transitioned back to the A-10. MAG 46 Det. B was redesignated MAG 42 Det. C with the reorganization of the Marine Corps Reserve.
The 90s continued to be a decade of change and improvement as the base stood up under the new name of Naval Air Station, Joint Reserve Base in May of 1994. This name change was enacted to better attest to the joint nature of the base and its unique mission as the only Naval Reserve Facility built specifically to house all branches of military service.
Following 9/11 and throughout the Global War on Terrorism, members of the 926th Fighter Wing, 3rd Battalion 23rd Marines, and Marine Air Group 42 mobilized and deployed to support military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The year 2002 was a banner year for the base as NAS JRB was recognized as the Navy's most outstanding military shore installation, and received the Conway Trophy for Base Installation Excellence. Also in 2002, Belle Chasse Academy, the first charter school on a military installation, opened and the number of on-base houses tripled in number with the completion of a Public-Private Venture housing project, one of the first in the country.
In 2003 and again in 2005, NAS JRB was nominated by Navy Region South to be their representative for the Secretary of Defense Shore Installation Excellence Awards given to the best military base of all the branches of Services.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the central Gulf Coast are on August 29, 2005, NAS JRB became the center of the Department of Defense rescue and recovery efforts. During the first ten days following the storm, more than 10,000 military personnel and relief workers were airlifted in NAS JRB along with in excess of 18 million pounds of relief supplies. NAS JRB, with the only operating runways in New Orleans, became the primary search and rescue airfield for flights that saved over 10,000 lives in the New Orleans area.
While still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and preparing for the 2006 storm season, NAS JRB bid farewell to Patrol Squadron NINE FOUR as the squadron decommissioned March 31, 2006. This was followed by the decommissioning of the 926th Fighter Wing of the Air Force Reserve on Sept. 30, 2006.
In 2008 the base welcomed the Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW 77), the Night Wolves, flying the E-2C Hawkeye. During the next two years and in line with more BRAC moves the base welcomed more new tenants: the Navy Band, Navy Air Logistics Office, Personnel Support Detachment, Navy Reserve Professional Development Center and the Military Entrance Processing Station.
In 2011, a new Navy Exchange and Commissary facility occupying more than 100,000 square feet opened on base for service to the military and their families. A new Marine Barracks was also completed and opened in 2011.
Growth aboard NAS JRB New Orleans continued in 2012 as construction on a new NAS JRB New Orleans air traffic control tower began. The new tower will give air traffic controllers a better view of the airfield, provide more room for the training of new air traffic controllers and is designed to facilitate installation of new electronics as they come into future use. Also, construction began on a 400-seat auditorium at Belle Chasse Academy. The building will be a joint usage facility, available for base functions during non-school hours. Aviation Arbor Recreational Vehicle Park and a base sports complex opened in 2012. The RV park has 45 spots including two that are handicap accessible and the sports complex features a quarter-mile running track, softball field, football/soccer field, playground, tennis courts, pavilion and concession stand, with restrooms. In August, Hurricane Isaac deluged the area with rain and wind, knocking power out on base for several days, uprooting trees and damaging some buildings.
With its exceptional facilities, capabilities and training resources, NAS JRB New Orleans will continue to be the vanguard of the military's commitment to excellence far into the twenty-first century.