Thursday, September 22, 2016

Twenty Years Ago: Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP) Norfolk Closes



On September 20, 2016, visitors to National Maritime Center Nauticus get an advance look at a portion of the new Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP) Norfolk exhibit, "Without Us, They Don't Fly" just outside the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM).  The completed exhibit, featuring many of the NADEP artifacts maintained by HRNM, opened the following day. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
On September 25, 1996, the largest employer in Hampton Roads officially closed its doors. The Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) had voted on June 26, 1993, to close Naval Aviation Depot, Norfolk. It became one of 32 major closure and realignment recommendations submitted to President Bill Clinton on July 1. That September, the commission’s recommendations became law, and NADEP Norfolk was tasked with closing within three years.
This would prove to be a formidable task on many different levels.  NADEP Norfolk had in one form or another served the Navy’s aviation community since 17 mechanics belonging to Naval Air Detachment Curtiss Field in Newport News first arrived at the newly-established Naval Operating Base at Sewells Point in October, 1917. Over the next seven decades, through two world wars as well as the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the facility had grown to employ 4,300 civilian mechanics, engineers, and support staff.  By 1976, the facility covered 174 acres and included 175 buildings.  From the 1970s to the 1990s, its workers restored or repaired F-8 Crusaders, A-6 Intruders and F-14 Tomcats, among other aircraft. 

The one war that NADEP Norfolk could not survive without, however, was the Cold War. The general conception among Pentagon analysts that the dissolution of the Soviet Union rendered many of our military installations unnecessary spawned five different BRAC rounds over a 17-year period, resulting in the closing of more than 350 military installations.

Two of the three commanding officers who led NADEP through a process that they called “Closing with Class” during that three-year period, Capt. Bruce Pieper, USN (Ret.) and Capt. Ted Morandi, USN (Ret.), will be speaking during a special event at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum being held at 6 pm on Thursday, September 22.  Dr. William Whitehurst, who as a member of Congress also had a front-row seat to the decommissioning process, will also be speaking.
 

For almost 80 years, the mechanics and engineers of the Naval Aviation Depot kept naval aviators flying with confidence.   Workers here set the standards for aircraft overhaul and repair, aircraft modification, and the manufacture of aeronautical parts.  In 1917, NADEP originated as the Construction and Repair Department of a military detachment at the Norfolk Navy Operating Base. Its first mission was supporting seaplane and dirigible operations during World War I.  The facility became the Assembly and Repair Department in 1922.  Among other duties, the Sailors constructed unassembled aircraft received from manufacturers.  The first civilians, 50 workers from the Norfolk Navy Yard, arrived in 1930.
A functional diagram of the Construction and Repair Department of Naval Air Station Norfolk during the 1940s. (HRNM Collection)

During World War II, the department grew to over 8,000 workers operating seven days a week. In an average month they would process over 300 aircraft, 400 engines, 500 propeller blades, 8,000 instruments, and more than 11,000 accessories.  In 1948, the facility was renamed the Overhaul and Repair (O and R) Department and received the Navy’s first jet aircraft for repair.

As the Korean War heated up in the early-1950s, the Engine Overhaul Division became the Navy’s largest. It performed production prototyping for aircraft modernization, manufactured aircraft parts, and accomplished large emergency repairs.

In 1961, during the Cold War, O and R became the East Coast repair center for the infrared, heat-seeking AIM-9 “Sidewinder” air-to-air missile. To help with military readiness, the workers supported “Operation Compression” with the motto, “Back to the Fleet in 23 Work Days.” 

A-6 Intruders undergo depot-level maintenance at Naval Aviation Depot, Norfolk during the 1980s. (HRNM Collection)

In 1967, O and R became the Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) Norfolk. During the Vietnam War, NARF kept the A-6 Intruders, F-8 Crusaders, P-2 Neptunes, and P-3 Orions in top shape. Unfortunately, the first A-6 reworked by NARF was lost in combat. Its crew is commemorated on the A-6 displayed at Ely Park near Gate Four on Naval Station Norfolk.

NARF’s first chance to work on an F-14 Tomcat came in 1973 when NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, delivered a damaged Tomcat by barge. By 1980, NARF was the designated overhaul point for the F-14 Tomcat, the A-6 Intruder, and the EA6-B Prowler.

Naval Air Station Norfolk's Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) during the mid-1980s. (HRNM Collection)

By 1980, with 4,200 employees, NARF was the largest employer in Norfolk. In addition to onsite work, NARF sent field modification teams to aircraft carriers in every ocean and to sites in North Africa, Europe, Scandinavia, and the Far East. The Naval Air Systems Command also sent NARF’s industrial engineers to installations stateside and to foreign countries to assist in modernization.

In 1987, NARF became Naval Aviation Depot (NADEP), Norfolk. NADEP’s workers, skilled in over 80 trades, became known for award-winning excellence. Among their many accolades were the U.S. Senate Productivity Award, the Secretary of Defense Productivity Excellence Award, and the Action Plus Excellence Award for Quality and Productivity.

During the 1991 Gulf War, many NADEP workers served in the conflict with their reserve military units. At home, they completed 85 Sidewinder missiles in six weeks. Meanwhile the Depot’s voyage repair “Tiger Teams” worked around the clock on aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf to keep catapult and arresting gear running.

In 1992, NADEP opened its 90,000 square-foot Materials and Standards laboratory, the most modern and complete engineering laboratory on the East Coast. The lab is now part of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center.

After the 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to decommission NADEP Norfolk, the employees set about “Closing with Class.” They continued to win awards and completed the F-14D(R) conversion program. In January 1996, they rolled out the first F-14 to complete the F-14 A/B Upgrade Program. This was the first acquisition and design program totally accomplished by Navy field activities.

Although NADEP Norfolk officially decommissioned on September 25, 1996, its legacy has lived on. Its former personnel have continued using their talents at other Navy facilities, and some of the aircraft once maintained by NADEP, such as the EA6-B Prowler, continued to take to the skies until 2015.
 

      

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