Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Naval Air Station, Imperial Beach
(Aviation Field, Oneonta Gunnery School Field, Ream Field, Naval Auxiliary Air Station Ream Field, Naval Auxiliary Air Station Imperial Beach, Outlying Field Imperial Beach)
Naval Air Station Imperial Beach
by M.L. Shettle, Jr.
An SH-2F Seasprite of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 31 hovers over a practice landing pad at Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Imperial Beach, California, while an SH-3 Sea King operates behind it. This image was taken on April 7, 1975.

During World War I, the Army took over North Island at San Diego for primary training. The Army then established an auxiliary named Aviation Field, 11 miles south at San Ysidro. Once the Army changed North Island to pursuit and gunnery training, the facility was renamed the Oneonta Gunnery School Field. On October 5, 1918, the name changed to Ream Field, in honor of Major William Ream, killed in an aircraft accident during a Liberty Bond drive in Indiana. Major Ream was the first Army flight surgeon to be killed in an aircraft accident. The Army investment at the field totaled $148,000 including several hangars. Following the war, the Navy leased the field's 140 acres from the civilian owners for an OLF. The property remained in use as an OLF through the 1920s and 1930s. In October 1942, the Navy allocated $1.2 million to develop an auxiliary air station at the site. Initially, San Diego maintained administrative control of the station. Commissioning eventually occurred on July 17, 1943, with the completion of construction. Surprisingly, the Navy retained the designation, Ream Field -- previously named for an Army officer.

From July 1943, to June 1944, a total of 13 VC squadrons based at the station with CASU 17 in support. A detachment of San Diego's CASU 5, later replaced CASU 17. In July, the station embarked on an expansion project including installation of an HE 5 catapult and arresting gear system -- the only one in the San Diego area. In October, CASU 65 commissioned remaining at the station to the end of the war. In late 1944, and early 1945, units on board included the light CAGs 32 and 38 as well as VT-9, VF-12, and VBF-12. After the expansion program had been completed in early 1945, the station hosted large carrier air groups. CAG 14 trained at Ream in the spring and the war ended with CAG 80 on board. Meanwhile, a Fleet Airborne Early Warning Training Unit also operated from the station in June.
Ream had expanded from the original 140 to 630 Navy-owned acres. The airfield had one 5,000 and three 2,500-ft. x 500-ft. asphalt runways. In March 1944, personnel stood at 324 officers and 2567 enlisted men while barracks existed for only 254 officers and 1800 men. Station aircraft usually consisted of a GH Howard or a GB Staggerwing Beech and a J2F Duck.

In June 1949, the Navy inactivated the field making it an ALF of San Diego. The Korean War brought renewed activity as the first helicopter squadron arrived in October 1950. Ream eventually became home base for all helicopter squadrons of the Pacific Fleet and was known as "Helicopter Capital." The station was redesignated NAAS Imperial Beach in July 1955. The Vietnam War brought modernization with additional construction including a new hangar and a 500-man barracks.

On January 1, 1968, the Navy upgraded the station to an NAS. The end of the Vietnam War caused Imperial Beach to be disestablished on December 31, 1974, and the facility became an ALF once again. Today, Outlying Landing Field Imperial Beach is used by helicopters from North Island and as a Navy Supply Center.

Updated 8 April 2014. Copied with the permission of the author from United States Naval Air Stations of World War II.
Extract, US Army Air Forces Directory of Airfields (January 1945)
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Extract, US Navy and Marine Corps Installations - Domestic (1985)
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Updated 8 February 2016