The Naval Air Station (NAS) South Weymouth was an operational U.S. Navy airfield from 1942 to 1997. The location for the base was selected by Captain Charles E. Rosendalh, Chief of the Navy’s Lighter-Than-Air (LTA) Program in 1940. The LTA program was developed to provide anti-submarine patrolling of the nation’s coasts and harbors using blimps, or airships. Public Act No. 635 of the 75th U.S. Congress, referred to as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 10,000 Plane Program, provided the enabling legislation to construct and open of the NAS South Weymouth. The base had the distinction of being the first NAS proposed in the Navy’s original 1940 war plan.
The site of the NAS South Weymouth was originally surveyed for use as a municipal airport beginning in 1938. At more than 1,200 acres, the area was almost completely undeveloped when the Navy acquired it two years later. Construction began in September of 1941 and totaled about $6 million, making it the largest wartime construction project completed on the south shore. The base was formally commissioned on March 1, 1942.
World War II
During World War II, the base’s primary mission was to patrol the Atlantic Coast and protect Allied convoys by spotting enemy submarines. Its main facilities consisted of two massive aviation hangers. The first hanger, known as LTA Hanger 1 or the "big hanger,” was made of steel and shaped like a giant Quonset hut. It was the second largest aviation hanger in the world (covering eight acres in area) and the largest of its type with no central support. The second hanger, known as LTA Hangar 2, was made from timber – the more common World War II standardized construction, employed to conserve rationed metals. Other on-site facilities included a 2,000-ft diameter landing mat, a 4,500-ft cinder-surfaced turf runway, and six mooring circles.
Throughout the war, the NAS South Weymouth served as home base for the Airship Patrol Squadron ZP-11. The squadron operated up to 12 K-class blimps, which were employed on patrols and convoy-escort missions in and around the Massachusetts Bay and the Gulf of Maine. In addition to ZP-11, the NAS South Weymouth hosted wartime detachments of the Airship Patrol Squadron ZP-12 based at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey and the Airship Utility Squadron ZJ-1 based at Meacham Field in Key West, Florida. The ZJ-1's South Weymouth detachment flew K- and G-class blimps in support of research conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and further helped recover test torpedoes for the Navy’s base in Newport, Rhode Island.
In 1944, the NAS South Weymouth was the starting point for the first transatlantic crossings of non-rigid airships. Two Navy K-ships from the Blimp Squadron ZP-14 left South Weymouth on May 28, 1944 and landed about 16 hours later in Argentina, Newfoundland Canada. The two airships then flew approximately 22 hours to Lagens Field on the island of Terceira in the Azores archipelago. The last leg of the flight was about 20 hours and ended at Port Lyautey, French Morocco, now Kenitra, Morocco. Four additional K-ships followed on June 11 and 27, respectively. These six airships were used for nighttime anti-submarine warfare operations, employing magnetic-anomaly detection to locate U-boats in the relatively shallow waters around the Straits of Gibraltar. Later, the ZP-14’s K-ships conducted mine spotting and mine sweeping operations in key Mediterranean ports and various escort missions including that of the Allied convoy carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the Yalta Conference in early 1945.
Post-World War II
The NAS South Weymouth was downgraded to a Naval Air Facility (NAF) on August 9, 1945 after Germany surrendered, thus ending the submarine threat to the east coast. It was thereafter used to store surplus naval aircrafts, which were awaiting final disposition. During this period of the base’s history, the site was known as a Naval Aircraft Parking Station (NAPS). The NAF South Weymouth was again downgraded on June 30, 1949, being placed into caretaker status as an Auxiliary Landing Field (ALF).
In 1950, due to the outbreak of the Korean War, the Navy began emphasizing jet training for Naval and Marine Air Reservists in New England. The NAS at nearby Squantum, Massachusetts, the “birthplace of Naval Reserve Aviation,” had no additional room to lengthen its runways. Air traffic from this base also interfered with operations at Logan International Airport in Boston. As a consequence, the NAS Squantum was closed, and its personnel, facilities, and the reserve program transferred to South Weymouth.
Between 1952 and 1953, the South Weymouth base was refurbished to better accommodate conventional aircraft operations. Its original World War II facilities were not intended for regular use by “heavier-than-air” aircrafts. The LTA Hangar 2 was razed, three new paved runways were built, and a CPN-4 ground-controlled approach facility and modern control tower were established. The base was reactivated as a full-fledge NAS for reserve training on December 4, 1953.
The post-World War II mission of the NAS South Weymouth was to provide combat-ready Naval Air Service squadrons and units to integrate with the regular operating forces of the Navy. In 1972, at the time of Weymouth’s 375th anniversary, the following squadrons and units were participating in the base’s mission: one Naval Air Reserve Staff (NARS Z-1), three Naval Air Reserve Divisions (NARDIVS Z-1, Z-2, and Z-3), Replacement Training Unit (RTU) 92, three Operational Control Units (OPCONS EL13Z-3, VN4Z-2, and GR4Z-1), one Intermediate Maintenance Unit (IMSU 23Z-1), an Air Intelligence Unit (NAIRU Z-1), a Systems Command Unit (NASRU Z-1), and a Systems Analysis Unit (RSAND Z-1). The NAS South Weymouth also housed a detachment of some 160 active duty marines, supporting almost 500 Marine Corps Air Reservists, and there were another 36 officers and some 375 enlisted men on active duty to support the reserve squadrons assigned there.
Though officially a reserve base, the NAS South Weymouth hosted an unusual Navy unit between 1953 and 1961. This was a secretive research and development outfit called the Naval Air Development Unit (NADU), which was tasked with providing flight testing support for research projects associated with the MIT Lincoln Laboratories and other defense contractors. The NADU operated a diverse aircraft fleet, including the world’s largest airship model, the ZPG-2W.
Blimp operations were formally discontinued at the NAS South Weymouth in July of 1961. This was done in advance of the NADU's disestablishment on October 1, 1961. The base’s LTA Hanger 1 (the “big hanger”) was further demolished in 1966 and replaced with a much smaller concrete-arch hanger (Hanger 1). In 1966, Attack Squadrons 911 and 912, flying the A-4 Skyhawk jet, were assigned to the NAS South Weymouth to train naval pilots and crews for combat missions.
The national Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) first recommended that the NAS South Weymouth be closed in 1990. In the face of strong community objection, the base was removed from the list a year later. By the third and final round of the BRAC process, however, the NAS South Weymouth was again recommended for closure. After various visits, BRAC officials voted unanimously to close the base in 1995. A year later, the base hosted a “Farewell to Boston” Air Show, which drew over 100,000 visitors. The airfield officially closed on September 30, 1996, after the last C130T Hercules jet and P-3C Orion jet flew off in a final tribute. Finally, on September 30, 1997, the NAS South Weymouth closed, ending over 55 years of service to the Navy as the "Home of New England's Naval Air Reserve."
Today in Union Point, an A-4 Skyhawk jet mounted on a pedestal in a small park known as Shea Memorial Grove, named for the NAS Squantum reservist CDR John "Jack" Shea who was killed in action when the aircraft carrier USS Wasp was sunk during WWII, stands as a perpetual reminder of the site's naval heritage.
Timeline of the NAS South Weymouth
|1940||Captain Charles Rosendahl, chief of the Navy's lighter-than-air (LTA) program, selects South Weymouth as the location for a blimp base to patrol the sea-lanes to Boston Harbor. The Navy purchases 335 acres for $25,000 and construction begins at the cost of $6 million.|
|1942||The NAS South Weymouth is established.|
|1944||Six blimps fly out of South Weymouth and complete the first crossing of the Atlantic by non-rigid ships. These airships become the first "Blimp Barrier" in the Mediterranean, flying anti-submarine patrols around the Straits of Gibraltar.|
|1953||The NAS South Weymouth reopens with over $5 million in new construction. In addition, from the early 50's through base closure in 1996, the South Weymouth NAS is home of the Patrol Squadrons (VP), who are deployed throughout the East Coast and Europe during the War. Flying the PB4Y-2 (Privateer), P2 (Neptune), and P3 (Orion), they are the largest and most active units at the NAS.|
|1954||The NAS South Weymouth hosts its first air show, featuring the Blue Angels, to a crowd of over 100,000 spectators.|
|1961||The Navy celebrates 50 years of naval aviation. The last operating blimp squadron is disestablished. Navy blimps over New England become a thing of the past.|
|1966||Attack Squadrons 911 and 912, flying the A-4 Skyhawk, are assigned to South Weymouth to train naval pilots and its crews for combat missions. The Naval Reserve program celebrates its 50th Anniversary.|
|1970||Naval Air Reserve Training Command transitions to the "Reserve Force Concept." Two VS and two VA squadrons are disestablished and reorganized as HS-74.|
|1972||The NAS South Weymouth celebrates its 30th anniversary, in conjunction with the Town of Weymouth's 350th anniversary. The NAS Quonset Point closes, bringing HS-74 onboard the NAS South Weymouth.|
|1979||Construction begins on the new Enlisted Quarters and Navy Exchange/Retail Store. On February 18, fire sweeps through the building.|
|1980||Construction on more new facilities is completed, including the Bowling Alley/Snack Bar, fitness center, gate guard shack, and AIMD building.|
|1985||HS-74 is redesignated as HSL-74 to operate its new helicopter, the SH-2F "Seasprite" and its new mission aboard Naval Reserve Frigates. Base closure looms over the NAS South Weymouth as the Senate Armed Services Committee places the air station on its closure list.|
|1990||The first round of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) includes the NAS South Weymouth on its list as a potential candidate for base closure. Iraqi forces invade Kuwait, prompting the largest mobilization of the U.S. military in 40 years. Over 400 Sailors and Marines deploy from the NAS South Weymouth.|
|1991||The NAS South Weymouth is removed from consideration for possible closure in round one of the BRAC process. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovers volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy-metals contamination in both soil and groundwater samples from the base. Contamination is particularly high near the West Gate landfill, the Rubble Disposal area, the fire fighting training area, and the tile leachfield.|
|1992||VMA-322 "Fighting Gamecocks" are deactivated, starting the end of 49 years of Marine Reserve Aviation. This also brings the jet age at the NAS South Weymouth to a close, as the last A-4M Skyhawk flies off the air station.|
|1993||Round two of BRAC once again places the NAS South Weymouth on the closure list but survives.|
|1994||The "Demon-Elves" of HSL-74 are disestablished in March. In April, VR-62 transferred from the NAF Detroit to the NAS South Weymouth and are renamed the "Nor'Easters."|
|1995||The NAS South Weymouth appears on the third and final BRAC base closure list. After various visits by BRAC officials, the NAS South Weymouth is voted to remain on the closure list by a vote of 8-0. The President and Congress approve the list.|
|1996||The NAS South Weymouth hosts its "Blue Farewell to Boston" Air Show. The last air show at the air station draws over 100,000 visitors. The airfield officially closes on September 30, as the last C130T Hercules and P-3C Orion fly off in a final tribute to the air station.|
|1997||On September 30, the NAS South Weymouth officially closes, ending over 55 years of service to the Navy and New England as the "Home of New England's Naval Air Reserve.|
|1998||In March, the first Reuse Plan for redevelopment of the NAS South Weymouth is approved by a three-town vote: Abington, Rockland, and Weymouth. The Massachusetts legislature passes legislation establishing the South Shore Tri-Town Development Corporation, charged with implementing the Reuse Plan.|
|1999||A Federal Facility Agreement with the EPA is signed in November and becomes effective in April of 2000. This agreement establishes the Navy as the lead agency for the environmental investigation and cleanup of designated sites at the NAS South Weymouth, with EPA oversight.|
|2002||The Tri-Town Development Corporation, representing the three towns, selects the LNR Property Corporation to become master developer at the NAS South Weymouth.|
The South Weymouth MBTA Commuter Rail Station reopens at 89 Trotter Road, bringing the Plymouth/Kingston Line (aka, the Old Colony Line) to the NAS South Weymouth. At the urging of the EPA, the LNR Property Corporation develops a second Reuse Plan based on Smart Growth, transit-oriented development principles. The three towns adopt the new plan in the summer. This plan calls for a minimum of 900,000 square feet of commercial space, a maximum of 2,855 residential housing units, a minimum of 400 senior housing units, a minimum of 10 percent "affordable" or "workforce" housing units, and 1,000 acres of permanently preserved open space and recreational facilities.
|2007||Construction beings at Southfield.|
|2011||The first residents move into Southfield.|
|2013||The first section of the new East/West Parkway through Southfield opens, providing easy access to Route 3 at Exit 14 in Rockland. Southfield's master developer, the LNR Property Corporation, sells its business interests to the Starwood Capital Group.|
The Starwood Capital Group proposes new legislation related to Southfield for the Massachusetts legislature to consider. The new legislation calls for the towns of Abington, Rockland, and Weymouth to assume responsibility for providing municipal services at Southfield in exchange for collecting taxes directly from property owners. The state passes the new legislation in August.
|2015||For the first time, Weymouth collects taxes from properties owners at Southfield.|
|2016||Southfield is renamed Union Point to better reflect the partnership between Weymouth, Rockland, and Abington,|