NAS Whiting Field Editorial by Ralph Williams
Located a short distance from the Alabama-Florida border, Whiting Field is approximately 30 miles north of the city of Pensacola, Florida, and its nearby base, NAS Pensacola. Located north of highway I-10, traveling west on I-10 lie the cities of Mobile, Alabama, Biloxi, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana. It is near many attractions along the beautiful Florida Gulf Coast, making this an excellent location to be stationed at and train.
NAS Whiting Field was established in 1943 as Naval Auxiliary Air Station Whiting Field. Its mission from its creation to the present day is to serve as a Naval Aviation training facility. The base is named after Naval hero, Captain Kenneth Whiting, a Navy Officer instrumental in the development of the very first U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. Captain Whiting is sometimes referred to as the U.S. Navy’s “father of the aircraft carrier.” Many of his innovations of aircraft carrier design and operations are still in use.
Located near NAS Pensacola, “The Cradle of Naval Aviation,” Whiting Field has trained future Navy Aviators from World War II onward. Its present curriculum consists of primary flight training for fixed wing trainees using its 148 Beechcraft T-6 Texan II aircraft on its North Field and advanced helicopter training on its South Field using its 113 TH-57 Sea Ranger helicopters. Whiting Field covers 12,000 acres which include 13 outlying fields along with its main airfields. The home of Training Air Wing Five, it is the backbone of Naval Aviation Training. The majority (60 percent) of all Navy primary flight training is performed at NAS Whiting Field. It also trains all Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard helicopter students in their rotary winged training. The base’s training load is heavy, 15 percent of all Navy flight hours are performed here annually.
Facilities and Quality of Life
NAS Whiting Field offers many facilities. These facilities include a Navy Gateway Inn & Suites, an exchange, commissary, gym, swimming pool, bowling center, archery field, dining facilities, the Ace’s Pub, several snack bars, and an RV park.
The area around the base is mostly rural, the area was originally settled in the early 1800s focusing on the lumber industry. The town of Milton has a growing population of about 10,000. To the nearby south, Yellow River Marsh Preserve State Park offers hikers a chance to view one of Florida’s last remaining tracts of wet prairie, where exotic wildlife such as the carnivorous pitcher plant can be seen.
To the west of the base is the Blackwater River State Park, with 600 acres along its namesake pristine waterway, the park manager’s message is to enjoy floating down the river and escape the hustle and bustle of life while cooling off and enjoying nature at the speed of the river’s flow. Canoeing, kayaking, camping, and picnicking are popular activities in the park. Blackwater Canoe Rental at the park provides river trip services including canoe, kayak, and tube rentals. They will transport you upstream to the launch point so that when you end your river trip you are back at where you parked your vehicle. If you are looking for an extended stay camping, there are gravel campground sites with full hookups for tents or RVs up to 50 foot long. Wildlife at the park includes Whitetail deer, alligators, river otters and numerous species of birds. Fish at the park include largemouth bass, panfish and catfish.
Heading south to the Gulf of Mexico lie the popular tourist beach areas of the Florida Emerald Coast and its cities such as Pensacola Beach, Destin, and Miramar Beach. It’s 100 miles of beautiful powder white beaches that stretch from Alabama to Florida are colloquially known as the “Redneck Riviera.” If heading to the Gulf there is a bar that is built on the FL-AL state line in Perdido Key called the “Flora-Bama” that allows its patrons to drink in two states, it is a very popular spot. To add to this are all the attractions of the Pensacola area, such as the National Naval Aviation Museum (free admission and open to the public), the Pensacola Lighthouse Museum, and numerous historic forts open to the public, such as the Fort Pickens National Park.
Whiting Field offers two ways to stay on base for visitors. The Navy Gateway Inns & Suites offers hotel type accommodations to its guests and is pet friendly. Reservations can be made online and are encouraged in advance as they probably fill up with guests of the classes graduating from their flight training.
The Clear Creek RV Park on base offers 10 full hookup RV sites, an on-site bathhouse and free laundry facility. Reservations can be made through the MWR Navy Outdoor Recreation Program Tickets and Travel Office at 850-665-6250.
NAS Whiting Field and the town of Milton are close to the Emerald Coast of Florida. Famous for its tranquil white beaches, the Emerald Coast is a vacation destination for travelers around the world. Located in mostly rural Santa Rosa County, NAS Whiting Field offers visitors some of the best preserved wooded and waterway areas in the state. Close to many popular beaches in the area, it is far enough out to maintain a relaxing country atmosphere. NAS Whiting Field offers its visitors and those stationed there a taste of many distinct experiences to enjoy.