Following an historic land exchange agreement between the U.S. Navy and Escambia County, the Navy’s newest outlying landing field opened for helicopter training operations today, after years of collaboration and hard work.
To commemorate the completion of the field and the exchange of property, NAS Whiting Field held a ribbon cutting with representatives from the Navy, Escambia and Santa Rosa counties on Wednesday.
Escambia County handed over the keys to Navy outlying landing field Site X in Santa Rosa County, thus opening the site for operations. The Navy ceased operations Jan. 29 at NOLF Site 8 in Escambia County after nearly 8 decades of training aviators at the site.
“This has been a great journey with all the collaboration that has gone on between the different stakeholders and the community. It’s great to literally watch this [effort] come in for a landing now and come to fruition,” said Matt Coughlin, Assistant County Administrator, Escambia County.
Following initial discussions and coordination between the two parties a number of years ago, the President signed the National Defense Authorization Act in 2015 that authorized the land exchange. In 2016, the land exchange agreement was formalized with the intention to transfer the property at Site 8 to the County, in exchange for a suitable landing field to replace Site 8.
Construction began in 2016, with Naval Facilities Southeast Region in Jacksonville, Navy Installations Command and Whiting Field coordinating with Escambia County project managers to ensure requirements for the training mission at NAS Whiting Field were met.
NAS Whiting Field Commanding officer, Capt. Paul Bowdich commented, “we’re very excited that this unique land exchange project has come to fruition. The tremendous partnership we enjoy with Escambia County, Santa Rosa County and all the hard work from our NAVFAC Southeast partners, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy Jim Balocki, Navy Region Southeast partners and our team here at Whiting Field have resulted in a fantastic new outlying landing field that will help Training Air Wing Five here continue to train the world’s finest aviators.”
During the ribbon cutting event, Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, Commander, Navy Region Southeast, called the land exchange a “landmark event” that showcases the achievements possible when “our military installations and our communities work hand-in-hand.”
“Never before has a fully functional and vital military airfield been exchanged for a newly constructed airfield that meets the same capabilities and training requirements. This is a monumental achievement to have brought this ambitious plan to fruition,” the admiral commented.
NAS Whiting Field trains all of the Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps helicopter pilots, as well as a number of international students each year.
“Hundreds of student helicopter pilots start right here, every year, and they’ll go on to do great things for our nation. And they’ll be better and more skilled pilots all due to the enhanced training this site will bring to our student aviators… We thank the leadership of Escambia County for their hard work and diligence in constructing this outlying field that the Navy is pleased to accept today,” the admiral said.
Representing the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Energy, Installations, and Environment, Mr. Jim Omans, Real Estate director said that the “exchange of NOLF Site 8 is the best example to date of unlocking real estate value. It is truly a win-win for the Navy and the community. We receive modern, state of the art facilities that support naval aviation readiness today, tomorrow, the foreseeable future. The community can create new jobs, increase its tax base, and improve the quality of life for its residents by redeveloping Site 8. This is truly the definition of a win-win.”
The new outlying field, Site X, located in Jay, FL, is approximately 600 acres that affords helicopter students with land features so they can learn skills to advance as pilots in future helicopter platforms.
Site X has two pinnacles, earth platforms that provide students with tactical practice landing on a small raised surface. It also boasts a confined area landing feature that provides aviators practice in landing in tight areas surrounded by a wall of trees.
In addition, the runways and grass features give students and instructors the ability to fly a number of landing and flight techniques as they advance in their instruction.
Training Air Wing Five Commodore, Col. Dave Morris, U.S. Marine Corps, leads the aviation training at NAS Whiting Field and said, “one hundred percent of all Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps helicopter pilots train right here at NAS Whiting Field. This new outlying field provides our students aviators an outstanding platform to practice more options for tactical training and
to hone their flying skills. Additionally, the location of the new field is about half the distance as compared to Site 8, so it automatically makes us more efficient and effective. This field is an example of the community’s tremendous involvement in supporting the training of our future aviators. We couldn’t ask for better partners than we have in Escambia and Santa Rosa County.”
Santa Rosa County commissioner Don Salter participated in the event recognizing the beginning of operations at NOLF Site X. He unveiled the new name Santa Rosa County has bestowed on the road adjacent to the field as Major Stephen W. Pless Medal of Honor Way. Pless was a U.S. Marine Corps major who received the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism and outstanding flying skills during the Vietnam War. Salter said it’s an honor to recognize a great American hero by naming this new field’s road after Major Pless.
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