|Navy opens more capable OLF
The Navy has a new outlying field after an unique deal that gave the base a
capable training site and Escambia County land it hopes to develop..
JAY, Fla. - The orange-and-white TH-57 helicopter circled the field several times as it
eased in for a landing at Site X in rural Santa Rosa County. It was the first of what will
be countless landings over the coming decades as new pilots earn their wings.
The Navy’s newest outlying landing field (OLF), more capable than the one it
replaces, is now open for helicopter training following a Jan. 30 ribbon-cutting. That
and the ceremonial handover of the key to the site was attended by representatives
from the Navy, Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
“We’re getting a newer and more capable field than we had before,” said Naval Air
Station Commanding Officer Capt. Paul Bowdich, shortly after landing the TH-57 at
Site X. Notably, there are no encroachment issues at the new site.
Exchange of the signed deeds, which is the act that finalized change of ownership for
both properties of some 600 acres each, was a day before the ribbon-cutting. At the
same time the Navy ceased operations at OLF Site 8 in neighboring Escambia
County after nearly eight decades of training aviators at the site.
While the new landing field is important in itself because of improved capabilities, the
entire process behind the exchange might very well serves as a model for other
exchanges of land between the Navy and local governments. The deal has grabbed
the attention of other areas that believe they can find better uses for Navy property,
but need to find alternate spots for the Navy to conduct its mission.
There was no template for how to accomplish the land transfer, pretty much writing
the rules along the way.
Escambia County had its eyes set on acquiring Site 8 because it’s close to the
growing Naval Federal Credit Union campus in Beulah,. Because it is close to
Interstate 10, Site 8 was seen by economic development officials as a great location
to develop, perhaps a commerce park. Initial discussions began years ago.
An important step was to get special legislation authorizing the exchange in the
National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Signed by President Obama on Nov. 25,
2015, it authorized but did not require, the Secretary of the Navy to convey NAS
Whiting Field's Site 8 to Escambia County, in exchange for land and improvements
from the county that were acceptable to the Navy as a replacement.
A land exchange agreement signed June 2016 between the Navy and Escambia
County, was amended September 2017 to reduce certain construction requirements
that Escambia County was responsible to build. Site X
construction was completed December 2018, and was deemed acceptable by the
Navy for use as an OLF.
The project cost the Navy nothing.
A land exchange project of this nature is without recent precedent in the
Navy. Many of the real estate procedures and processes required to execute this
type of transaction are not formalized in Navy real estate directives and have not
been successfully accomplished on this scale.
“This transaction is of keen interest to the highest levels of the Navy, and
will serve as the model for leveraging our underutilized facilities and real
property assets to obtain new facilities, optimize our resources and more
effectively support the warfighter,” said Naval Facilities Engineering Command
Southeast Project Manager Ferdinand Salomon.
Representing the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Energy, Installations,
and Environment, Jim Omans said that the “exchange of NOLF Site 8 is the best
example to date of unlocking real estate value,” he said. “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.”
Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, Commander, Navy Region Southeast, called the land
exchange a “landmark event” that showcases the achievements possible when
military installations and communities work together.
“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,”
she said. “It’s something that’s never been done before.”
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
Site X, in Jay, is about 600 acres that affords helicopter students with land features
so they can learn skills to advance as pilots in future helicopter platforms.
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.
It 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
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.
Naval Air Station Whiting Field, home of Training Air Wing FIVE, is the backbone of
Naval Aviation Training, supporting approximately 60 percent of all primary fixed-wing
flight training and 100 percent of all initial helicopter training for the Navy, Coast
Guard and Marine Corps.
NAS Whiting Field is the busiest aviation complex in the world with more than 1.2
million flight operations flown at the installation annually. It is comprised of two main
airfields and 12 Navy Outlying Landing Fields across five counties in Southeast
Alabama and Northwest Florida.