Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Naval Auxiliary Air Station, King City
(King City Airport, Mesa del Rey Fight School)
by M.L. Shettle, Jr.
The Army and the Navy rarely saw eye to eye on the same subject -- this included primary training. While the Navy performed the training in-house, the Army contracted the training to civilian operators that formed Contract Pilot Schools (CPS). In 1940, Palo Alto Airport Inc. won a contract and located a school at King City. An agricultural community, 125 miles south of San Francisco, in the San Antonio Valley, King City had a population of 1,800 in 1940. The airfield was built on a 249-acre tract owned by the Spreckels Sugar Company and leased to the City that in turn subleased the property to the school. Construction took place during the winter of 1940-1941, the wettest in 25 years. The school, named Mesa del Rey, welcomed the first cadets in March 1941.

By May 1941, five barracks, a hospital, administra tion building, mess hall, and two hangars were completed. In the fall, a hangar was added -- the investment totaled over $500,000 with an initial annual payroll over $100,000. In October 1941, the City passed a $16,000 bond issue, bought the property, and renewed the flying school's lease. Mesa del Rey accommodated 280 cadets with a staff of 555 civilians and 35 Army personnel. Ryan Recruits and Boeing Stearmans flew 700 hours a day at the peak. In October 1944, the school closed after putting 10,000 cadets through the primary training course. The Army had 59 other CPSs across the U.S. and paid the contractors approximately $1000 for each cadet that completed training.

The airfield had an unusual layout with a dispersal area and revetments. Perhaps the airfield was intended as an alternate fighter base. At any rate, the cadets played war games and every night the trainers were moved into the revetments in case of a possible Japanese air attack!

In the spring of 1945, the Navy was attracted to the area by the good flying weather and its nearness to Alameda. The Navy took over the field and commissioned the station on April 6, 1945, as an auxiliary of Alameda. The new Navy C.O., impressed by the facility's well-appointed greenery and rose gardens, proclaimed the station "the prettiest NAAS in the Twelfth Naval District." Four days later, VC-10 arrived from Ventura. By the end of the month VC 20 replaced VC-10 that moved on to Holtville. VC 20's 31 aircraft consisted of Avengers, FM-2 Wildcats, and one SB2C. A detachment of Watsonville's CASU 64 supported VC-20 and operated three FM-2s, two Avengers, and one J2F Duck. The station's aircraft was one GH Howard hospital plane. During the summer of 1945, Navy planes encountered problems with the facility's 4500-ft. runway, taxiways, and ramps when the asphalt sur face became soft when hot.

On September 15, 1945, the Navy placed the station on caretaker status and on December 15, 1945, returned the airfield to the City. In 1997, Mesa del Rey, remains as King City's municipal airport. A few of the former base's buildings are in use by a commercial onion and garlic dehydrator.

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


by Justin Ruhge
Mesa Del Rey was one of 62 Army Air Corps primary training fields run under contract to a civilian organization. Plans for a school at King City Airport began in December 1940. Flying instructors were hired from all over the country. They began arriving on January 1941. The post commander, Captain H. Schmid, arrived in February to supervise the construction program for the Army and to organize the instructor's school, teaching the pilots the Army curriculum. His assistant was Lieutenant Richard Alt. Mickey Muzinich was Group Commander.

Buildings began to emerge from the flat farmland in March. As with other bases at the time everything was built from "scratch". Up went the barracks, administration, PX, mess hall, the schoolrooms, and the aircraft hangars as well as the needed runways and aprons. The first set of cadets arrived on March 15, and the first class of 50 started on March 21,1941, Class 41-II. The School began operation with two Stearman PT-17s airplanes borrowed from the Rankin School in Tulare. These were replaced with Ryan PT-21 and 22s used between 1942 and 1944. The Stearman trainer returned with Class 44-H and remained until the School was transferred to the Navy in 1945.

The School had about 500 cadets at any one time. The number of trainers quickly rose to over 120 aircraft. The School's staff was 20 military officers and 35 enlisted men, 20 civilian flight commanders and 100 civilian flight instructors each flying five cadets daily. The support staff consisted of 260 civilian men and women who included the 120 aircraft mechanics, ground school instructors, office employees, mess hall attendants, PX, flight line and grounds keepers. Hired guards and cadets provided security. All the flight instructors had to undergo military training, wore military uniforms and were sent to flight schools elsewhere. There was no control tower. Aircraft were signaled to land or go around again by an instructor with a light on the ground - green for land and red for go around.

At any one time some 100 Ryan PT-22 aircraft were in the air. There were four flights in the morning of 60 airplanes with instructor and cadets, and 60 upper-class cadets soloing and in the afternoon 60 lower class cadets soloing. In the afternoon there were four flights of 60 airplanes with cadets flying dual. Each airplane flew 3½ hours morning and afternoon for a combined total of 700 hours daily. Mesa Del Rey Cadet Charles Watry, author of Washout! stated the following: "We would be flying the Ryan PT-22 Recruit, which had tandem open-cockpits, low wings, metal fuselage, and was powered by a five-cylinder radial Kinner R-540-1 engine of about 165 horsepower. Dubbed the "Maytag Messerschmitt," the PT-22 had a fighter-plane look about it and handled as well as a fighter, too. The engine had a distinctive "pockata-pockata" sound to it, giving the impression of a slow-turning engine, which it was.

Even on takeoff, the engine sounded as if it were not turning up enough revs to get the trainer off the ground." Numerous auxiliary fields were developed to provide space for pilots to practice landings and take-offs. Each cadets' class was nine weeks long. With this intensive training schedule, the School trained 10,000 Army Aviation cadets between 1941 and early 1945 as well as numerous ground crews. Many cadets went on to distinguished careers in the Army Air Corps during the war and after.

In the spring of 1945, the Navy was attracted to the King City Airport for the good flying weather and its nearness to NAS Alameda. As a result the Navy took over the field and commissioned the station on April 6,1945 as an auxiliary of Alameda. Four days later, the composite squadron VC-10 arrived from Ventura. By the end of the month VC-10 moved on to Holtville and was replaced by VC-20. VC-20's 31 aircraft consisted of Avengers, FM-2 Wildcats, and one SB2C Curtiss Helldiver. A detachment of NAAS Holtville's Carrier Aircraft Service Unit 64 supported VC-20 and operated three FM-2s, two Avengers and one J2F Duck.

In a short five months some 800 fighter and torpedo bomber pilots were trained at the Naval Station. Navy blue replaced the Army khaki uniforms during those last months of the war.
In September 1945, the Navy placed the station on caretaker status and on December 15, 1945 the Mesa Del Rey Palo Alto Airfield was returned to the City of King City.

In 1957, 35 acres of the airport were sold to Basic Vegetable Products for $55,000.

Auxiliary Fields

Benard Auxiliary Field (36°08'39"N 121°05'35"W)
Hanson Auxiliary Field (36°20'14"N 121°14'58"W)
Sorenson Auxiliary Field (36°09'21"N 121°07'27"W)
Trescony Auxiliary Field (36°03'40"N 120°59'3"W)

Army Units Assigned to King City Airport

 Data Source


   7 December 1941  Air Corps Training Detachment (AC)
 Army of the United States Station List  1 June 1943
 3nd Army Air Forces Flying Detachment (AAF)
Medical Detachment (AAF)
Contract Flying School (Primary) (AAF)
 Air Service Command Station List 1 September 1943  Air Depot Detachment (AAF)
 Air Service Command Station List
 1 December 1943
Detachment, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron Sacramento Air Service Command (AAF)
AAF - Army Air Forces, AC - Air Corps

Extract, January 1945 Airfield Directory

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Updated 8 February 2016