November 15, 2016 - With a quick snip of the oversized, ceremonial scissors and a fluttering of red, white, and blue ribbon, Naval Air Station Whiting Field's Navy Outlying Landing Field Summerdale was officially reopened for business March 14.
The outlying field, located in Baldwin County, had been idle for more than 10 years, but a recent military construction project lengthened the runways to enable them to accommodate the installation's fleet of T-6B Texan II aircraft.
Baldwin County Commissioner Chris Elliott joined NAS Whiting Field Commanding Officer Capt. Todd Bahlau in the ceremony and recalled his time as a youth riding a bike near the airfield and seeing the previous training aircraft performing touch and go operations. The sight spurred his interest in aviation, and engendered a true excitement in the military.
"It is absolutely the most patriotic thing we have going here in Baldwin County," Bahlau said following the ceremony. "It is an awesome aircraft, and the mission of training NAS Whiting Field performs is incredibly important. We are proud to have you back!"
NAS Whiting Field has not utilized NOLF Summerdale regularly since 2005, but with the recent P-266 construction on the facility completed, training flights can now recommence. Construction was necessitated by the installation's planned replacement of the venerable T-34 Turbomentor aircraft with the T-6B Texan II. The T-6B required longer runways and NOLF Barin and NOLF Summerdale were selected as the airfields best able to accommodate the extensions during a lengthy scoping process in 2010.
The construction effort included the purchase of privately owned land, dwellings and structures necessary for the construction of runway extensions, reestablishing clear zones and realigning nearby roadways. Each runway was extended by 1,150 feet, providing total runway lengths of 4,000 feet. Additionally, 500 foot overruns were provided at the end of each runway to comply with Navy and FAA Safety requirements. The construction at NOLF Summerdale represents one half of a $36.5M Military Construction (MILCON) project to revitalize and extend NOLFs Barin and Summerdale.
"The completion of NOLF Summerdale represents a significant increase in flight safety and scheduling flexibility for Training Air Wing 5 to complete their Primary flight training mission," Cmdr. Eric Seib, NAS Whiting Field's Operations Officer said. "With nearly 70 percent of all primary flight training flown out of NAS Whiting Field, the addition of NOLF Summerdale gives a significant increase in airfield training opportunities. The addition of NOLF Summerdale reduces airspace congestion thus increasing flight safety over the other NOLF's that support primary flight training. The completion of P266 represents a major milestone in potential student Naval aviator throughput at NAS Whiting Field."
NAS Whiting Field's complex is the busiest Naval aviation facility in the world and serves as the "Backbone of Naval Aviation." Training Air Wing 5, the major tenant command on the base, regularly accomplishes more than 1.1 million flight operations per year and flies more than 150,000 flight hours. This comprises 14 percent of all Navy and Marine Corps flight hours worldwide.
More than 700 student military aviators completed their primary flight training through Training Air Wing 5 in 2015. This comprises approximately two thirds of all primary Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard aviators. TRAWING-5 also trains all helicopter pilots for the three maritime services. NOLF Summerdale will be one of five outlying fields that NAS Whiting Field and Training Air Wing 5 use to complete their T-6B aviator training mission.
The others are NOLFs Barin, Evergreen, Brewton, and Choctaw. Bahlau emphasized the need for NOLF Summerdale to augment the other NOLFs.
"The production of pilots for our national defense is just as important now as it was when Outlying Field Summerdale was first constructed in 1943," NAS Whiting Field Commanding Officer Capt. Todd Bahlau said. "The completion of the runway extensions at Summerdale reestablishes a key asset for our mission and will help ensure years of safe, productive flight training for our student aviators."
Navy Outlying Landing Field Summerdale has played an integral part in NAS Whiting Field's military pilot training mission, dating back to its original construction date of 1943. During the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s this airfield supported training flights from both Training Air Wing 5 at NAS Whiting Field and Training Air Wing 6 at NAS Pensacola in support of T-34 touch and goes. The last significant number of operations that occurred at NOLF Summerdale was in 2005, when Training Air Wing 6 at NAS Pensacola began their T-34 to T-6A transition. Since 2005 the airfield has served as a "Low Approach" only airfield due to the runway length restrictions.
Training Air Wing 5 commenced full-time training flight operations March 14.
"The residents of Baldwin County and Summerdale are tremendous patriots and supporters of the military -- it is a great place to fly, and we are happy to be back," Bahlau said.