Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Naval Air Warfare Center: Aircraft Division

Though little more than a field, the land was originally referred to as the Skillman Airport. It would be several decades before it was developed into a traditional, more modern facility. In 1938, the General Motors Inland Fisher Guide Plant started operations near the airfield. The plant was originally constructed to manufacture cars, but in 1941 it began making torpedo bombers for the United States Navy. The "Avenger" bombers were built at the plant and then tested at the airport. Before being shipped out to the navy. One such plane would go on to be flown by George H.W. Bush when he was shot down over the Pacific.

In the mid 1940's, right after World War I came to an end, the airport was given to Mercer County. "Skillman Airport" as it was known became "Mercer County Airport". Several buildings were constructed on the north side of the runway, which appeared to be a barracks of some sort. The only other properties in the area were farms and the GM plant.

As the US quickly slipped into the Cold War, the need for more advanced and efficient aircraft was becoming paramount for the US Navy. In the late 1940's, several footprints were laid near the airfield. By 1953, the Naval Air Warcraft Center: Aircraft Division opened. Sitting on a parcel of over 500 acres, the new facility would soon be testing new aircraft technology which could be immeairable useful if a conflict arose.

The Nawcad campus featured some of the most advanced testing technology available at the time. The facility featured several test cells, a warehouse with a large gantry crane, and a massive power plant  with 16 turbines.

As one might expect, not much was ever reported about the operations at NAWCAD.  In the late 1960's and early '70s the barracks on the north side of the airport were demolished one by one, until only one building from this cluster remains standing today.

The late 80's brought a lot of  pressure on the US military. With the largest budget of any government agency, they understood and began a systematic closure of dozens of their facilities. In 1993, the Base Reallignment and Closure Act reccomended the NAWCAD campus be closed.

Just four short years after the army recommended the facility be closed, they did just that. Just one short year later, the GM plant closed and was subsequently demolished. This wouldn't be the case with NAWCAD however, as the facility would remaining standing for nearly two decades after it's closure.

The heavily contaminated NAWCAD property doesn't have much of a bright future. The buildings are heavily contaminated, dangerous from years of neglect, and patrolled frequently due to it's proximity to the airport. All we can do now is wait and see what will become of this large property.

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