Centennial of Naval Aviation Launches at NAS North Island


Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI), the “Birthplace of Naval Aviation,” served as the location for the official kick off of the Centennial of Naval Aviation (CoNA) celebration, Feb. 12, as thousands of visitors attended a special Open House and Parade of Flight.

The first successful hydroaeroplane flight took place at the base in 1911, just eight years after the famed 1903 Wright brother’s flight in North Carolina.

During 1911, the Navy began training its first pilots on the base. Twelve years later the base played host to the first non-stop transcontinental flight, and the first mid-air refueling, both in 1923.

San Diego area CoNA celebrations include a series of events aimed to impress the public, instill pride throughout the armed services, and honor the rich and colorful history of naval aviation during the past 100 years.

“One hundred years ago naval aviation was on the heels of the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk,” said Rear Adm. Pat McGrath, who led the CoNA effort. “Here in San Diego, experiments with ‘hydroaeroplanes’ set the stage for the flying machine to become an integral part of our Navy.”

The U.S. Navy flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, led the “Parade of Flight” which included aircraft ranging from World War II, to present day fighter, attack and transport aircraft. The U.S. Navy parachute team, the Leapfrogs, also made an appearance to the delights of the audience.

“The Leap Frogs are always great,” said Gary Roald, who served on board the USS Ticonderoga (CV 14) during Vietnam. Roald said he enjoys air shows and has seen the Leap Frogs a number of times.

Three ships were moored pier-side at the base for the public to tour; the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5) and the guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91).

“It’s been as challenging as it’s been fun, keeping up with this many people,” said Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW) Dan Smithyman, USS Peleliu public affairs officer. “The crew has done a great job showing them around the ship and answering all their questions.”

Along with the ship tours there were more than 75 aircraft on static display for the public to view. There was a “Metal Mulisha” motorcycle stunt show, live stage entertainment, a classic car show and an area for children, complete with bounce houses and other inflatable entertainment.

Commemorating 100 years of progress and achievement in naval aviation, CoNA is a year-long tribute to the scope of all naval aviation activities including aircraft, people, ships, innovations and significant milestones.

DoD News

DoD News publishes news from the US Defense Department.

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