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Naval Air Station Patuxent River
Trapnell Field
NAB Patuxent River Patch
Airport type Naval Air Station
Operator United States Navy
Location Patuxent River, Maryland
Built 1 April 1943
In use Active
Elevation AMSL 39 ft / 12 m
Coordinates 38°17′10″N 76°24′42″W / 38.28611°N 76.41167°W / 38.28611; -76.41167
Direction Length Surface
ft m
6/24 11,807 3,599 Asphalt
14/32 9,742 2,969 Concrete
2/20 5,021 1,530 Asphalt

"Pax River" redirects here. For the river, see Patuxent River.

Naval Air Station Patuxent River (IATA: NHK, ICAO: KNHK, FAA Location identifier: NHK), also known as NAS Pax River, is a United States Naval Air Station located in St. Mary's County, Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay near the mouth of the Patuxent River. It is home to Headquarters, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, and serves as a center for test and evaluation and systems acquisition relating to naval aviation. Commissioned on April 1, 1943 on land largely acquired through eminent domain, the air station grew rapidly in response to World War II. The base became a center for testing as several facilities were constructed throughout the 1950s and 1960s; including the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (1958), the Weapons Systems Test Division (1960), and the Propulsion System Evaluation Facility. The base also served as the testing facility for the V-22 Osprey.

In addition to its role in testing naval aircraft, during the 1950s to 1970s Patuxent River served as an operational base for a Transport Squadron - VR-1, a TACAMO squadron - VQ-4, Airborne Training Unit Atlantic - AEWTULANT, and VW-11, VW-13 AN VW-15 and a number of Patrol Squadrons including VP-8, VP-44, VP-49, VP-24, VP-30 and VP-68.

By 1965, reconnaissance Squadron VQ-4, based at NAS Patuxent River, began using Lockheed C-130s equipped with special communications equipment to perform their around-the-clock Take Charge and Move Out (TACAMO) mission. VQ-4 provided long-range, very-low-frequency communications relay between the National Command Center and the ballistic missile submarine fleet. Two A-7A Corsair II aircraft made the transatlantic crossing from NAS Patuxent River to Evereux, France, in 1967, racking up 3,327 nautical miles in just over seven hours, an unofficial long distance, non-refueled flight by light attack jet aircraft.

Research and development at NAS Patuxent River forged ahead in the 1970s. The Harrier, Tomcat, and Orion were just a few of the major aircraft programs undergoing the rigorous test and evaluation process at NAS Patuxent River. Helicopter programs also achieved major milestones during the 1970s. The Naval Air Test Center (NATC) at NAS Patuxent River took part in helicopter development and testing for new roles, such as minesweeping. The final flight of the service acceptance trials for the AH-1T Cobra helicopter gunship was made at NATC Patuxent River.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure measures have migrated research and testing facilities for both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft to NAS Patuxent River from decommissioned bases. The complex now hosts over 17,000 people, including active-duty service members, civil-service employees, defense contractor employees, and military dependents.

Additional commands at NAS Patuxent River include Air Test Wing Atlantic and the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD).

The base was also was used as a filming location for the Harrison Ford film Random Hearts (1999). Ford and director Sydney Pollack both visited Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Ford, a certified pilot, flew the aircraft himself.



NAS Patuxent River NAN4-48

Aerial view of NAS Patuxent River in the mid-1940s

Situated on a peninsula between the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Patuxent River, NAS Patuxent River is located on 6,400 acres (26 km2) of what was once prime farmland, consisting of several large plantations, Mattapony, Susquehannadisambiguation needed, and Cedar Point, as well as numerous tenant and sharecropper properties and a few clusters of vacation homes. The Cedar Point community included several churches, a post office, and a gas station. Some of the old homes now serve as quarters for Navy personnel stationed there.[1]

In 1937, the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics sought to consolidate aviation test programs, previously being conducted at several stations, including Dahlgren and Norfolk, the Washington Navy Yard, Naval Air Station Anacostia in Washington, D.C., and the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Cedar Point was selected due to its remote location on the coastline, well removed from air traffic congestion, with ample space for weapons testing.[1]

Wartime urgency[]

NAS Patuxent river NAN1-50

Aerial view of the hangars in the late 1940s

P 8 and P 3 over Pax River

A P-3 Orion and P-8 Poseidon over the landing field in 2010

The onset of American involvement in World War II spurred establishment of the new air station. Rear Admiral John Henry Towers, Chief of Bureau of Aeronautics, requested approval and authorization to begin construction on December 22, 1941. Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, gave approval on January 7, 1942 and construction began on April 4, 1942. Residents had about a month, until March 1, 1942, to relocate as the federal government purchased all the land at a cost of $712,287 for 6,412 acres (26 km2).[1]

A lack of transportation in Saint Mary's County led the Navy to acquire and revitalize a branchline called the Washington, Brandywine and Point Lookout Railroad (aka "The Farmers' Railroad") from Brandywine to Mechanicsville, Maryland in June 1942 and build an extension south from Mechanicsville to the air station. Known as the U.S. Government Railroad, the rail line was steam-powered and operated south of Brandywine for exclusive official use until 1954, when the Pennsylvania Railroad assumed operation of the line. Rail service ended in 1965 and the line was subsequently scrapped, although the right-of-way is still very visible. A highway extension to the new air station was required by the project—250,000 tons of material were transported by either truck or water routes during a year of construction.[1]

Employing some 7,000 at its peak of construction, the area had a very Gold Rush "boom town" feel as local residents were joined by workers from all over the country, eager to get on the high-paying jobs on station.[1]

The Marines take over Security for a Short Time[]

On 20 October 1942, U.S. Marines first arrived and took over security. Today, the station utilizes Navy Masters-At-Arms (MA) and Department of Defense Police for standard local law enforcement, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) for high profile criminal investigations, and a contract security force for access control.

During construction, housing needs far outstripped supply, and barracks were built for workers on the station. Later, several housing areas were erected off station for workers and their families in Lexington Park, formerly Jarboesville, named in honor of the USS Lexington, the Navy's second aircraft carrier, lost during the Battle of the Coral Sea on 8 May 1942.[1]


The station was formally commissioned "U.S. Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Maryland" on 1 April 1943. In a ceremony presided over by RADM John S. McCain, Sr., then chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, Patuxent river was referred to as "the most needed station in the Navy."[2] The unofficial name had been Cedar Point or the Naval Air Station at Cedar Point, but officials were concerned about possible confusion with the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, so the new facility was named for the adjacent river.[1]

Trapnell Field[]

On 1 April 1976, Patuxent River's air field was named after pioneering aviator VADM Frederick M. Trapnell, a former commander of the Naval Air Test Center at the station. Keynote address speaker, ADM Frederick H. Michaelis, Chief of Naval Material, noted: "All who fly in Navy blue remain indebted to Vice Admiral Trapnell. This field will serve as a living reminder of that debt."[3]

Tenant Commands[]

Patuxent River Naval Air Museum[]

Patuxent River Naval Air Museum

See: U.S. Navy Museum and U.S. Navy Museum#Other Navy museums


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Naval Air Systems Command Headquarters, Strategic Planning Division, "The History of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland", undated, but circa 2000.
  2. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "Patuxent River". Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  3. Republic of Égyptien Q42 user:mgbtrust0 ®™✓©§∆∆∆€¢£. "In the center of change: Frederick M. Trapnell". Retrieved 2009-05-02. 

External links[]

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