Historic California Posts, Camps Stations and Airfields
Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro
MCAS El Toro
by M.L. Shettle, Jr.
In May 1942, LCol. William J. Fox was directed by Washington to select the sites for Marine Corps air stations in California. Since Fox had a degree in civil engineering, he naturally sought the most expeditious and inexpensive method. Therefore, Fox first recommended building three stations at the existing airports of El Centro, Mojave, and Santa Barbara, since the airfields were in existence, or presently under improvement or construction by the CAA. For the forth station, Fox altered his method by suggesting building a station from scratch 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles on a portion of the Irvine Ranch, seven miles from the town of Santa Ana, Orange County. This choice was a prudent selection as well, since the site had been previously evaluated and surveyed for a naval blimp base. In 1928, the Navy considered two fairly level well-drained parcels of the Irvine Ranch for a West Coast blimp base. The owner of the property, James Irvine, was not particularly eager to sell the property, since the sites were the location of two of his most productive bean fields. Irvine had inherited the 107,000-acre ranch from his merchant father who had acquired the property from its Spanish owners in 1860. The Irvine Ranch was originally two ranches: Rancho San Joaquin owned by Jose Sepulveda and the Rancho Lomas de Santiago owned by Theodosia Yorba - names familiar to Southern Californians. Fortunately for Irvine, the Navy built the blimp base at Sunnyvale that became Moffett Field.

The Navy contacted Irvine shortly after Pearl Harbor, in search of a blimp base to provide antisubmarine patrols for the Los Angeles harbor. Irvine offered to lease various parcels of his ranch, including the Santa Ana airport (the Santa Ana airport became an Army airbase during the war) at $1 a year for the duration of the war; however, the Navy chose one of the two previously 1928 surveyed sites for its blimp base. The other location was brought to Fox's attention and he recommended it for a Marine air station. Irvine was paid a total of $100,000 for the 4,000 acres of the two parcels. The Navy and Marines normally named bases after the nearest post office. Since the Navy previously named its base NAS Santa Ana, the Marine air base was designated as El Toro for the small nearby community that had a 1940 population of 130 people.

Ground was broken on August 3, 1942. The prospective commanding officer, LCol. Theodore B. Millard, arrived on September 23. Shortly thereafter, Millard was informed that the first 30 Marines under his command had arrived at the train station. Since vehicles had not yet been provided, Millard spent the next several hours transporting his troops to the site in his private automobile. The Marines had come prepared to set up a tent city, but Millard managed to acquire the use of one of the ranch's bunkhouses. Until messing was set up, the Marines were fed by the ranch's chuck wagons. Initially, El Toro was constructed to provide facilities for two Marine air groups. Symmetrical units were constructed for each group that consisted of an administration building, training building, parachute loft, a 19,500-sq.-ft. hangar, and a messing facility. Enough two-story, 250-man barracks were provided for the station's 3,500 Marines. In general, the uildings were wood framed with redwood siding, concrete foundations and concrete floors. The airfield was provided with three asphalt concrete runways and underground gasoline storage tanks with a capacity of 1.55 million gallons. An additional 1,000 acres were acquired at Plano Trabuco for a bombing range. Construction proceeded at a rapid rate. Some of the minor problems included leaky roofs due to heavy rains that also turned the station into a quagmire before the drainage system was completed. The biggest setback to the project occurred when the cold storage building was set on fire by workers applying tar to the roof.

The Base Headquarters squadron was organized on November 4, 1942. LCol. Millard kept his Curtiss SNC at the Orange County Army Air Field with the traditional intention, as the Commanding Officer, of making the first landing on the station. Millard was beaten to the punch late in November when Maj. Edward Carmichael from Camp Kearney was forced to make an emergency landing amongst the construction equipment. LCol. Millard made the first "official landing" when the runways were opened on December 1. The warm-up platforms were completed by the end of the month. On January 1, 1943, Marine Base Defense Group 41 and VMF-113 commissioned as regular operational flights began. Also in January, VMF-224, VMSB-231, and VMSB-232, all of which had served on Guadalcanal, arrived at El Toro for reorganization, re-equipping, and training. On January 15, the hangars reached completion. Five days later, all of the barracks, including the BOQs, were ready for use.

On March 17, 1943, the station officially commissioned with Marine, Navy, and civilian dignitaries present. The ceremony was marred when 1Lt. Matthew H. Kennedy, a Guadalcanal veteran, was killed during the aerial display. Kennedy was part of a nine-plane demonstration when he crashed within 500 yds. of a bus loaded with civilian sightseers.

An additional squadron, VMTB-131, formed on May 1. On June 7, W. J. Fox, now a full colonel, returned from duty as C. O. of the airbase on Guadalcanal and relieved Col. Millard as El Toro's C.O. Fox had just recovered from injuries received in a night bombing attack on Guadalcanal. The next month, El Toro dispatched its first squadrons to the South Pacific as VMF-224, VMSB-231, and VMSB 232 completed training. In place of these squadrons, VMF-114 and VMSB-245 commissioned.

In July 1943, construction commenced on a barracks for women Marines. In mid-1943, El Toro began the mission of training replacement pilots and crews. Replacement pilots and crewmen were sent to existing squadrons that had lost personnel due to crashes, illnesses, and other miscellaneous reasons. For this purpose, a Fighter Training Unit (FTU) and a Scout Bomber Training Unit (SBTU) were formed. A similar Torpedo Bomber Training Unit was formed at Santa Barbara. In August, personnel had grown to 6,831 military and 553 civilians. By October, the FTU had 165 officers and 500 enlisted assigned with 36 Corsairs and 24 Wildcats. The SBTU had 278 officers and 500 enlisted with 118 Dauntlesses. Interestingly, 48 of the Dauntlesses carried the designation A-24, the Army's version of the aircraft. Apparently these aircraft were produced for the Army, but the Army had no need for them and turned them over to the Marines who used them for stateside training. At the same time, additional aircraft present showed VMF-114 with 29 Corsairs and 24 Wildcats, newly arrived VMSB-142 with 25 SBD-5s, VMSB-245 with 30 SBD-5s, VMTB-131 with 17 TBM Avengers, and the Headquarters quadron 41 with 48 aircraft, mostly SNJs. The number of aircraft at El Toro totaled 348. Meanwhile, in September and October, VMF-113, VMF-114, and VMTB-133 completed training and transferred to the South Pacific. By the end of 1944, 100 women Marines were on board operating Link trainers and Gunairstructors, teaching recognition, and running a plant nursery to landscape the base.

At the first of 1944, an $18 million project began to essentially double the size of the base. To accommodate the expansion, El Toro's property was expanded to 4,000 acres. Improvements included two additional runways, additional aircraft ramps, a new control tower, an Assembly and Repair Facility, a 2,000-seat auditorium, additional barracks, and other support structures. In February 1944, El Toro was designated as the major supply point for Marine air stations in California - a mission previously accomplished by NAS San Diego. Part of the new construction project created the required additional storage space. A major reorganization occurred on March 1, 1944. MBDAG 46 was commissioned to administer and supervise replacement training. The FTU and the SBTU disbanded with their personnel and aircraft organized into individual squadrons. At this time, El Toro was almost entirely devoted to the training of fighter and scout-bomber replacement pilots. The scout-bomber squadrons began receiving the Curtiss SB2C-lA Helldivers. These aircraft were non-carrier capable aircraft built for the Army as the A-25. When the Army decided it did not want the aircraft, most were given to the Marines for use in training. By September 1944, 155 SB2C-lAs were in use by the replacement training squadrons and another 119 were in a storage pool. Peak utilization of the station occurred in the fall of 1944 with over 500 aircraft on board. In October, torpedo bomber squadrons joined the fighter and scout bomber units. VMTB-144 and VMTB-454 began training for the Marine escort carrier program and VMTB-943 trained replacement pilots. On December 12, Capt. Paul Mullen flew a Japanese Zero from San Diego to El Toro for a flight demonstration. While the Zero was at El Toro, the C.O., Col. Fox had the pleasure of flying the aircraft. The scout bomber units began receiving the SBF and the SBW versions of the SB2C. Built by the Canadian manufacturers, Fairchild and Canadian Car and Foundry, the U. S. Navy ordered the aircraft for the British. When the British later decided they did not want the Helldiver, the Navy took delivery of the SBFs and SBWs. At the end of December the num ber of aircraft present was down to 237.

Into 1945, El Toro continued the training of fighter, scout-bomber, and torpedo-bomber pilots. At the end of March, 266 aircraft were on hand including 21 Convair OY Sentinel artillery spotters in a temporary storage pool. In May, VMF-217 arrived from the South Pacific for reorganization and training for escort carrier duty. By June, the training of Grumman F6F Hellcat replacement pilots had begun. The Navy needed the Corsairs for anti-Kamikaze duty on board Essex Class carriers and gave the Marines the Hellcat for the escort carrier program. In July, VMTB-453 was formed for escort carrier duty. The war ended with almost 400 aircraft pre sent. From a former bean field, El Toro had grown to a station of 4,000 acres, 9.2 miles of roads, 660,000-sq. yd. of runways and taxiways, 139,281 sq. yd. of aircraft ramps, a 10-mile water system, and a 10-mile sewer system.

Following the war, the Marines used El Toro for the decommissioning of squadrons and demobilization of personnel. In October 1946, the headquarters of the Commander of Marine Air West Coast moved to El Toro from Miramar. El Toro was scheduled to close by May 31, 1947, but the plan changed. Miramar closed instead and El Toro was selected to be the center for Marine aviation on the West Coast. The station's runways were extended for jet operations. In 1949, the First Marine Air Wing and the command unit, Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific arrived at El Toro and were consolidated.

The Korean War brought considerable activity as El Toro became the jumping off point for units headed for combat. The 1st MAW moved to the Pacific. In 1951, the Marines established an MCAF for helicopters at the former NAS Santa Ana. In 1970, the helicopter base was redesignated as MCAS Tustin. In 1958, Navy and Marine aviation went through a major reorganization. With the closing of MCAS Miami, the Third Marine Air Wing moved to El Toro where the wing remained for the next 40 years. The Vietnam War brought a growth of activity as El Toro once again became the debarkation point for Southeast Asia. Thousands of Marines from Camp Pendleton and El Toro departed for Vietnam on military and commercial transports.

During an airshow in 1985, an SNJ crashed into the base chapel, completely destroying the structure and killing the aircraft's two occupants. The mid-1980s also saw the beginning of the El Toro Aviation Museum. Meanwhile, the urban growth of Orange County began encroaching on El Toro and Tustin. What began as isolated bases in an agricultural area were slowly but surely being surrounded by a sea of subdivisions. Anti-noise legal suits would ultimately lead to the closure of both bases. The situation became so bad that people had to sign airport-noise disclosure forms before purchasing homes. Finally, the 1993 Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission or BRACC recommended the closing of El Toro and Tustin. The recommendation finally came to pass on July 2, 1999. The majority of El Toro units, including the museum, have moved to Miramar. The citizens are now engaged in a legal battle as to the use of the bases. The Orange County government wants to make El Toro into an international airport, but this proposal is embroiled in more legal disputes.


MCAS El Toro's Outlying Fields
MCOLF Camp Pendleton

Following the United States entry into the war, the Marines began looking for a site for a divisional training camp on the West Coast. In February 1942, the 122,798-acre Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores was chosen. The camp was named in honor of MGen. Joseph H. Pendleton who died in San Diego on February 4th. Located 40 miles north of San Diego at Oceanside, the ranch had 17 miles of coastline for amphibious training. Construction began in April. Camp Pendleton bore a similar resemblance to Camp Lejeune in size, layout, and purpose. Unlike Camp Lejeune, constructed to permanent specifications of brick, steel, and concrete, Camp Pendleton, considered a temporary facility, was built to minimum standards of wood-frame construction. Camp Pendleton was officially dedicated on September 25, 1942 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in attendance.

To permit the training of ground troops with aviation units, an airfield, consisting of one 6,000 by 400-ft. runway, an operations building, and a 50,000 gal. aviation gasoline-storage facility was provided. Quonset hut type barracks were later added. The airfield opened for operations in November 1942 as an outlying field to El Toro. In February 1944, the airfield became an OLF of MCAF Gillespie. Although squadrons undoubtedly operated from the field for training and exercises, it was not until early 1944 that records indicate squadrons assigned to the field. VMO-5, a Convair OYs artillery spotting squadron, trained with the 5th Marine Division from April to September. VMF-323 was also present with 21 Corsairs and one SBD from May to June. From July to December, a detachment of VMF-471 was aboard with as many as 31 Corsairs and three SBDs at one time. In addition, VMO-1 trained with the 4th Marine Division beginning in December 1944 and VMO-6 trained with the 6th Marine Division in January 1945. In early 1945, MAG 35 began using the field for parking of spare Curtiss R5C and Douglas R4D transports due to overcrowding at El Centro.

Located only 75 miles south of Los Angeles, the motion picture industry made several Marine movies at Camp Pendleton beginning with Guadalcanal Diary in 1942. Over the years, additional productions filmed here included Tarawa, Sands of Iwo Jima, The Flying Leathernecks, as well as the television series Black Sheep Squadron.

In September 1944, Camp Pendleton was designated as a permanent establishment. Following the war, the Camp's airfield once again became an OLF of El Toro. In the mid-1980s, the airfield was modernized with permanent structures resulting in the commissioning of MCAS Camp Pendleton on March 24, 1987. Two helicopter squadrons moved here when Tustin closed. Today, the station is home to MAG 39 and its ten helicopter squadrons. A reserve helicopter squadron is also stationed here. Camp Pendleton is home to the 1st Marine Division.


The Army and the Navy rarely see eye to eye on any subject. During WW II, this included primary training. While the Navy performed primary training "in house," the Army utilized civilian contractors to complete the task. Contract Pilot School (CPS) operators built facilities with government loans and employed civilian pilot instructors. Army aircraft were used and a few Army representatives oversaw the operation. The Army reckoned this method was cheaper. In the long run, however, taxpayers paid for the facilities built by the contractors, so it is debatable if this method was more economical over all. The Cal-Aero Corporation of Glendale, California established a CPS at Chino, 27 miles north northeast of El Toro, in 1940. In October 1944, the school closed. The facility was then taken over by the Defense Plant Corporation (DPC), an institution of the Federal government, for the storage and disposal of surplus Army aircraft. In December 1944, the Marines were given permission to use Chino for landing practice. One officer and 20 men were housed here to provide air traffic control and refueling. Chino was far from an ideal site. The field was crowded with surplus Army aircraft whose numbers reached 1,500. In addition, the Marines were not allowed to install a catapult and arresting gear system necessary for carrier training, so in April 1945, the Marines moved to Hemet. Today, Chino is a general aviation airport and home to the Planes of Fame Museum. Of the Museum's 150 aircraft collection, 30 are flyable World War II warbirds including the world's only airworthy Japanese Zero.


In September 1940, a CPS operated by the Ryan School of Aeronautics, an affiliate of the Ryan Aircraft Co., began training at Hemet, 40 miles east of El Toro. When the school closed in December 1944, 6,629 of the 8,907 cadets who started the pro gram were completed - a 74% graduation rate. In April 1945, the DPC loaned Hemet to the Marines for an OLF of El Toro. Seabees installed a catapult and arresting gear system for carrier training. The detachment of Marines at Hemet numbered about 60. In October 1945, Hemet was closed and the men returned to El Toro. Today, Hemet is a general aviation airport.

Copied with the permission of the author from United States Marine Corps Air Stations of World War II.


MCAS El Toro
by globalsecurity.org
The Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro was officially closed in 1999. MCAS El Toro was a master jet air station supporting the operations and combat readiness of Pacific Fleet Maine Forces. MCAS El Toro provided materials and support for aviation activities of the United States marine Corps (USMC).

MCAS El Toro is located in a semiurban agricultural area in Southern California. The station is situated about 8 miles southeast of the city of Santa Ana and 12 miles northeast of the city of Laguna Beach. Most of the land northwest of MCAS El Toro is used to grow oranges and other agricultural crops. Land to the south and northwest of the station have been developed as commercial, light industrial , and residential.

Marine Corps Air Station MCAS El Toro consists of approximately 4,700 acres in central Orange County adjacent to the convergence of Interstate Freeways I-5 and I-405 and the Eastern Transportation Corridor Most of the MCAS El Toro site is in unincorporated territory over which the County of Orange has direct land use planning and development authority The southernmost portion of the MCAS El Toro site approximately 342 acres south of the existing Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad tracks which border the base is within the incorporated boundary of the City of Irvine. El Toro has two 10,000 ft. and two 8,000 ft. runways.

During World War II combat pilots received their training at MCAS El Toro. The construction of MCAS El Toro began in July 1942 on a parcel of land purchased from The Irvine Company. The facility was initially built as a wartime expedient air station for the purpose of aircraft squadron formation and unit training prior to overseas combat deployment. It was commissioned on 17 March 1943. The station includes runways, aircraft maintenance and training facilities, housing, shopping facilities, and other support facilities. The Department of the Navy's Marine Corps began construction of the air station on 2,319 acres of land. An additional 2,379 acres were acquired between 1944 and 1977 to bring MCAS to its present size of 4,741 acres.

In 1945, Congress made it the permanent West Coast Marine Corps Air Station. In 1950 MCAS El Toro was selected for development as a Master Jet Air Station and the permanent center of Marine aviation on the west coast of the United States. Its mission was to support the operations and combat readiness of Fleet Marine Forces. In 1955 the Third Marine Aircraft Wing Headquarters relocated to El Toro from Miami Florida to become the primary tenant. After 1971 the Marine Air Reserve under the command of the 4th Marine Air Wing conducted reserve training operations at El Toro.

The station became one of 15 Department of Defense installations assigned as "Model Installations", to act as a test site to reduce bureaucracy and inefficiency. In 1985, El Toro was awarded the Commander in Chief's Award for Installation Excellence for its efforts in improving the quality of life aboard the station. In 1986, the station received the award again, the only installation to receive the award twice. MCAS El Toro was a showcase for Marine Corps aviation and a reserve mobilization site.

Bachelor housing is provided for 3250 marines in barracks on the main facility of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Family housing for 1256 marines and 4000 dependents is provided in housing facilities on the east side of Irvine Boulevard. There are 2950 military personnel who work at the facility, but live off station. MCAS employs 1750 civilian personnel, with the majority of personnel living in the towns of Lake Forest (El Toro), Irvine, Santa Ana, and Anaheim, California, between one mile and ten miles from MCAS.

The station was used for aviation activities for almost 50 years. Activities at the base have generated waste oils, paint residues, hydraulic fluid, used batteries and other wastes. In the past, there were few environmental rules and regulations and disposal technologies were limited. During those times, some wastes produced at station were disposed on the station. Recent recognition that these waste products may be harmful to people and the environment has resulted in new laws and regulations governing disposal.

Soil and groundwater contamination at MCAS El Toro is a result of several past operations that were accepted practices. example, in the 1940s, aircraft refurbishing included the use solvents during degreasing activities. Between 1943 and 1955, municipal-type solid waste was generated by station housing (typical residential activities). Early disposal activities included incineration. Later, solid waste disposal was conducted at cut-and-fill landfill sites. Four landfills received solid waste, paint residues, oily wastes, industrial solvents, and incinerator ash. Fire-fighting training exercises were conducted at two burn pit areas and included the use of various flammable liquids such as jet fuel, aviation gasoline, and other waste liquids.

MCAS is situated in a semi-urban, agricultural area of Southern California. The majority of the land immediately surrounding MCAS is used to raise oranges, strawberries, asparagus, and other agricultural crops. Portions of the station are leased for nursery use and agriculture use. The University of California, Irvine, has an agricultural field station directly north of MCAS. Located just northeast of the MCAS is a large nursery where fruit trees are grown. Until 10 years ago, the entire area surrounding MCAS was agricultural land; since then, urbanization has brought development closer to MCAS. New housing developments lie about one-half mile to the northeast of Site 1. About one-half mile northwest of the MCAS boundary are the main residential areas of the city of Irvine. The land farther north and northeast of MCAS in the Santa Ana Mountains and the San Joaquin Hills remains essentially undeveloped

The closure of MCAS El Toro as a military facility is a result of the federal 1993 Base Realignment and Closure [BRAC] process. MCAS El Toro is one of 30 California military bases placed on the closure list during or after 1988. The 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Committee (BRAC) slotted MCAS El Toro for closure. The base was revisited with the 1995 BRAC and slotted for closure in 1999. Operational closure of MCAS El Toro was implemented in July 1999.

In addition to being part of the Installation Restoration Program, MCAS El Toro is included on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List of hazardous waste sites requiring cleanup. The Marine Corps/Navy and state and federal environmental regulatory agencies work in cooperation as the Base Realignment and Closure Cleanup Team to ensure compliance with environmental laws, rules, and regulations.

The County of Orange was designated by the Department of Defense DOD Office of Economic Adjustment OEA as the Local Redevelopment Authority LRA for El Toro on 05 April 1995. The LRA is responsible for planning the reuse of MCAS El Toro. Under federal law and implementing regulations a three tiered series of screening processes was undertaken in 1994-95 to identify interest in obtaining buildings and property at closing military installations. First priority was given to the DOD and other federal agencies under the federal screening process. Property not granted to the DOD and other federal agencies was then made available to state local agencies and homeless service providers under the state and local screening process. Under the screening process state and local entities apply to a federal agency requesting sponsorship for a public benefit conveyance of property at no cost or a reduced cost.

Under the federal screening process for MCAS El Toro units of the DOD and other federal agencies submitted applications to the Department of the Navy DON requesting transfer of property and facilities at MCAS El Toro. Requests from the Department of Interior and FAA and a later request from the FBI are expected to be granted by transfer of approximately 970 acres of the base northeast of Irvine Boulevard from the DON directly to these federal agencies. The County is not expected to request or be involved in the conveyance of this area . A federal screening request from the Air National Guard is proposed to be accommodated on the site through a no cost lease with the LRA.

The question of how to use the 4,700 acres of publicly owned land is one of the most controversial issues facing Orange County today. The City of Irvine has a strong vested interest in the conversion of the former MCAS El Toro site from military use to civilian use because 4,298 acres of MCAS El Toro are within the Sphere of Influence of the City of Irvine and 440 acres are already within the City’s boundaries.

Advocates for redevelopment of the facility as an airport have cited the projected growth in regional air traffic demand, and the increasing difficulty in providing efficient surface transportation to existing airports (specifically LAX and Ontario) as reasons for proceeding with the development of El Toro as a civil airport. Opponents cited a combination of factors: aircraft noise, regardless of the operational concept adopted; incompatibility with the existing Long Beach airport, and most frequently, inconsistent and misleading data from airport advocates that imply that to accommodate noise concerns, the new airport's traffic flow would be towards the east and north, a direction of flight that ignores both terrain effects and the prevailing westerly winds. Airline and pilots' organizations are on record as considering east or north operations at El Toro unacceptable, and some comments have endorsed an entire new airport layout, with primary runways laid out northwest-southeast. Not surprisingly, the issue of re-using El Toro is the basis of at least one lawsuit in local courts.

The former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro facility is under consideration for reuse as a commercial airport. El Toro Air Base and surrounding no-home buffer zone contains 18,450 acres. With the closure and realignment of several military bases in the ASA air carrier passenger and cargo services could potentially be initiated at several other facilities. These include in addition to MCAS El Toro the following: joint use of March Air Force Base MAR in Riverside County, joint use of the Naval Air Weapons Station Point Mugu PMG in Ventura County, San Bernardino International SBI formerly Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino County, and Southern California Logistics Airport SCLA formerly George Air Force Base in San Bernardino County.

Numerous studies over the past approximately 30 years have addressed the inadequacy of John Wayne Airport [JWA] to handle the long term commercial aviation needs of Orange County. In most of these studies MCAS El Toro was identified as a potential civilian airport facility. However each of these studies concluded that since El Toro would continue to be maintained as an active military base and because of the historic and consistent opposition by the Marine Corps to joint use of El Toro it would not be available for any civilian aviation uses. Those studies also generally concluded that JWA could never be developed to a level adequate to serve all of the Orange County generated air transportation demand and that no feasible alternative airport site to serve Orange County could be identified and successfully implemented.

Implementation of the Proposed Project will entail the reuse of two existing MCAS El Toro runways 16R 34L and 7R 25L and the construction of two new runways 16L 34R and 7L 25R each of which will parallel its existing counterpart. Construction of new runways is required because the centerline separation between both pairs of existing parallel runways is 500 feet which is 200 feet less than the FAA standard for conducting simultaneous visual operations by large aircraft. Because the separation distance between the existing MCAS El Toro parallel runway pairs does not meet current civilian airport standards for independent simultaneous aircraft operations in clear weather conditions each new runway will be constructed at an offset distance from its parallel twin sufficient to meet FAA requirements for operation under these conditions.

The Navy interest in the development of this facility lies primarily in its potential effects at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Pendleton. An "all north" or "all east" flow at El Toro could potentially be accommodated with few effects on Camp Pendleton. However, examination of the competing proposals for the airfield's use (with or without flight operations) indicates that should air carrier operations be allowed, airlines and pilots' organizations would force use of more optimum (and presumably safer) westerly or southerly departure procedures. Should a southerly departure be adopted it would impact the northern parts of Camp Pendleton's airspace, and potentially impact the SUA overlying the installation itself. This potential has been identified by airport proponents, without any indication that those proponents would accept status quo operations at Camp Pendleton as a constraint to redevelopment of the airport.

Previously known as the community of El Toro, the area now called the city of Lake Forest is less than one-half mile from the southeastern boundary of MCAS. Its estimated 1990 population was 62,685. The population break-down consists of 94.2 percent Caucasian, 7.0 percent Hispanic, 4.1 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 1.1 percent African-American, and 0.6 percent American Indian. There are 16,508 persons less than 18 years old, and 46,177 persons 18 years and older. The median education is 13.9 years of school. The median household income is $40,411 compared to the median household income of all of Orange County of $40,248. Approximately 48 percent of the households earn more than $50,000 per year. An estimated 71 percent of employed residents work in "white-collar" jobs, 18 percent in "blue-collar" jobs, 10 percent in services, and less than 1 percent in agriculture and fishing. The 1990 unemployment rate was 3.1 percent.

The city of Irvine, located in central Orange County, less than one mile west of MCAS, covers 43.6 square miles and has a total population of 102,418 with a median age of 29.8 years. There are 29,445 persons less than 18 years old, 65,129 persons between 18 and 60 years old, and 7844 persons over 60 years old. Approximately 74 percent of the city's population is Caucasian, 18 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 6.3 percent Hispanic, 1.7 percent African-American, 0.19 percent American Indian, and 0.11 percent other. The median education is 14.4 years with 34.7 percent of all residents being college graduates. Over 19 percent of the population falls into the $75,000 and above annual income range. There was an estimated four percent unemployment rate in 1990.

Copied with the permission of the author from globalsecurity.org
MCAS El Toro
by ordnance.org
Over the last five decades, MCAS El Toro has seen many changes: in aircraft, from the F4U Corsairs that were flown in the stations early years, to today's F/A-18 Hornets, KC-130 Hercules and CH-46 Sea Knights; in population, from its original two officer and 32 enlisted to today's 5,000 Marines; and in the addition of tenants, buildings and services over the years, leading, finally, to the announced closure of the station and squadrons' transition to Naval Air Station Miramar.

Located 50 miles south of Los Angeles in the San Joaquin Valley, the site for construction of the air station was found in July 1942 on the 107,000-acre Irvine Ranch. The station was discovered by Col. William Fox, a member of the "Installation Site Search Team" and future commanding officer of MCAS El Toro.

Construction began in August, while crops were still being harvested. By December, three asphalt runways and a looping taxiway were complete. Over the course of that first year, more than 27 miles of roadway were also added to what was then believed to be a temporary wartime installation.

In a relatively short time, the 2,300-acre section of bean fields and orange groves designated for government use was converted from the production of agriculture to the production of Marine combat pilots.

Colonel Theodore B. Millard, the station's first commanding officer, reported for duty September 23, 1942, to supervise the construction and eventually take command of the new station.

Colonel Millard, who had been keeping his aircraft at the Orange County Army Air Field near Santa Ana (not the Orange County Fairgrounds), had planned to be the first to land and take off from the new station. However he was beaten to the punch by Major Edward W. Carmichael from NAS Miramar, who made an emergency landing while the station was still under construction in November.

On March 17, 1943, the station was formally commissioned in the presence of southland civic and military dignitaries, as flights of F4F Wildcat fighters and SBD Dauntless dive-bombers made the first official flyover.

Before the commissioning, Walt Disney Studios was asked to design a fitting insignia for the new station. The studio combined the concept of an airplane and the station's name, which is Spanish for "the bull," and came up with the "flying bull" we see today. Its first appearance was in the December 1944 issue of National Geographic.

During the last days of World War II, El Toro gained prominence as an aircrew training facility and grew to accommodate a full aircraft wing, and thus more aircraft like the F6F Hellcat and one of the Marine Corps' favorites, the F4U Corsair.

After W.W.II, El Toro was seriously considered for closure. In 1946, however, Headquarters Marine Corps put El Toro on its list of seven installations to be retained.

Shortly after, Major General Luis E. Woods, commander of Marine Air Base West Coast, moved his headquarters here from NAS Miramar. Not long after, the Marine squadrons from Miramar followed the commanding general north.

The first jet squadron stationed at MCAS El Toro, Marine Fighter Squadron 311, arrived in 1948 and flew the TO-1 (F-80C) Shooting Star, the military's first stock production jet fighter. An original Shooting Star is currently displayed at the Jay W. Hubbard Aviation Museum at MCAS El Toro. Two years later in March 1950, VMF-311 transitioned to the F9F Panther and later that year departed for Korea.

Throughout the Korean War, El Toro continued to train and prepare Marine Corps aviation units for duty overseas. Two years after the end of combat operations in Korea in 1953, the station saw another significant population increase when the entire 3d Marine Aircraft Wing moved from southern Florida, where it had been stationed since 1952.

Highlights since then include the 3d MAW's participation in Vietnam and President Richard M. Nixon's repeated visits to the "Western White House" in the late '60s and early '70s. Also, during Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Restore Hope, MCAS El Toro served admirably as a strategic jumping-off point for trans-Pacific flights and a VIP reception area. Three years ago El Toro served as the primary support installation for President Nixon's burial.

In August 1994, VMFA(AW)-121 and VMFA-134, a reserve squadron from Marine Aircraft Group 46, were the first F/A-18 squadrons to move to Miramar. Currently a total of seven fighter squadrons have completed the transition.

Six CH-46 squadrons from MCAS Tustin have relocated to MCAS El Toro.


El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (2005)
by Justin Ruhge
El Toro was the largest of the five Marine Corps Air Stations (MCAS) on the west coast. The others were El Centro, Santa Barbara (Goleta), Mojave and Miramar. The Marine Auxiliary Air Stations were Gillespie, Chino Field, Ontario, and Ryan Field, Hemet.
Construction on the El Toro MCAS began on August 3, 1942 at a site eight miles southeast of Santa Ana at an elevation of 331 feet on 2,400 acres, which was planted in beans. On the Irvine Ranch an additional 1,000 acres was available at Plano Trabuco for dive-bombing target practice.
The first base commander was Lieutenant Colonel Theodore B. Millard who reported on board on September 23, 1942. In October the site became the nucleus of Base Headquarters Squadron 23 and 41. The men lived for a time in the bunkhouses once used by Irvine Ranch cowboys.
By December 1942 the runways, taxiways, and warm-up platforms for two symmetrical units were ready for use and by the end of January 1943 men could move into barracks or BOQs. Marine flyers recently in action against the Japanese served as instructors. The station was commissioned on March 17, 1943.
In July 1943, construction began on barracks for a contingent of WAVES and by August 1943 there were on board 6,831 military men and women and 553 civilians.
In early 1944 an $18 million improvement program allowed a 100% expansion in structures and operations. A new control tower, aircraft parking space, mess halls, bakery, photography laboratory, a 2,000-seat auditorium, a major assembly and repair plant, a major supply depot, roads, walks, additions to the water and sewage systems, and other facilities were completed. From a bean patch had grown an aerodrome including 52 structures, 9.2 miles of roads, 660,000 square yards of runways and taxiways, 139,281 square yards of warm-up platforms, 10 miles of water system, and a 10-mile sewer system, all at a site now increased to 4,000 acres.
Departments included operations, physical conditioning, Link training, gunnery, supply, recognition, quartermaster, ordnance, communications, aeronautical publications center, chaplain and Red Cross. Types of planes included fighters, scout bombers, torpedo bombers and observation craft. By January 1945 El Toro was the largest of the Marine Corps activities within the Eleventh Naval District in addition to the various auxiliary fields. On October 30, 1946 the Commander, Marine Air West Coast, moved his headquarters to El Toro from MCAS Miramar.
El Toro was to have been decommissioned effective May 31, 1947. However in 1950 it was selected as the permanent center of Marine aviation on the west coast and for Aircraft Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. Throughout the Korean and Vietnam Wars, El Toro provided a training, storage and distribution point for Marines on their way to the battlefronts. A third Marine Air Wing (MAW) was formed to support these expanded activities.
In 1960 El Toro had on board 8,000 men and women Marines and 2,000 civilians. Its value was placed at $72,347,892 and its payroll at an annual $58 million. During the 1960s it was visited frequently by President Lyndon B. Johnson and then by President Richard M. Nixon, when he was on his way to his San Clemente "White House".
During the Vietnam War, Continental Air Lines 707s and Air Force Stratolifters took off from El Toro with ground troops bound for Vietnam and returned with those leaving the war zone. During the evacuation of Vietnam in 1975, one flight departed from El Toro each day of the year to bring back refugees. By the mid-1970s El Toro had expanded to 4,700 acres and kept almost a hundred jets in the air each day.
In 1985 El Toro served as home for the Third MAW and for MAG 46. The MAW had hundreds of aircraft and 5,000 Marines, the largest of the tenant commands. In addition, El Toro was responsible for Sub Unit No. 1 at Marine Corps Air Facility, Camp Pendleton.
El Toro Marine Base was closed in 1997 as a result of the decisions of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

Extract, January 1945 US Army Air Forces Directory of Airfields


Additional Online Histories

Extract, US Navy and Marine Corps Installations - Domestic (1985)
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Updated 8 February 2016