Thursday, December 6, 2012

NAS Sanford: Its History and Importance (Luke Bohmer)

         How important was the Naval Air Station to the city of Sanford, Florida? Historically, NAS Sanford was integral in the Korean and Vietnam Wars by training pilots for over half of the US Navy’s carrier-based strike craft. The airbase was integral to the Cold War on a military level, but also on a demographic level that heavily impacted Sanford as a city. As the 1950s and 60s wore on, Sanford, a historically black community of celery farmers and river-based transportation, became a hub for white middle class enlisted men and their families. After it was decommissioned in 1968, NAS Sanford dealt a massive financial blow to Sanford that the city is still recovering from.  Today, the community is returning to its predominantly African American roots, but the importance of NAS Sanford cannot be ignored.
            This is the photo of the control tower at NAS Sanford. From here, all incoming and outgoing flights are coordinated. Even though today Orlando Sanford Airport is fairly small, during the 1950s and 60s, the control tower was responsible for coordinating drills and exercises to train pilots. This was one of the only structures still standing from the days of NAS. 
In terms of location, NAS Sanford occupied prime real estate in a field just south of historical downtown Sanford. It was far removed from the actual city proper, separated by about three to five miles of open countryside. Most of the field and surrounding swampland were later occupied by housing communities for enlisted men and their families. This saw to a massive demographic change in the latter years of NAS Sanford’s life.
These parking garages used to be either open fields or military hangers while NAS was in service. Once it was repurposed in 1968, more civilian structures were constructed to accommodate the larger volumes of people on site. Most of the structures such as the parking garages and terminals are of 1970s construction.
This is the terminal to Orlando Sanford Airport. Like with most of the other structures on the property, the terminal was built in the 1970s or 80s after the base was decommissioned. Its relatively small size is indicative of the small amount of commuters going through the airport on a daily basis. Today, it is dwarfed by the much larger Orlando International Airport. 
The most indicative image of NAS Sanford’s impact on Sanford is that of the sheer number of old suburban housing communities located right next door to the airbase in the adjacent swampland. These communities were built almost exclusively during the twenty-five years when NAS was in service, with their primary purpose being housing the families of enlisted men and pilots.
This photo shows an areal view of Orlando Sanford International Airport as it stands today. Originally, the base consisted of the two main runways, along with roughly half a dozen hangers and a control tower. Today it is substantially bigger, with added runways and a terminal, but still much smaller than most commercial international airports.
Through its twenty-five years of service during the Cold War, NAS Sanford was an integral part to the United States war effort in Korea and Vietnam. This, however, paled in comparison to the effects it had on the city proper to the north. Even though the facilities themselves were small, the subsequent residential buildings brought in a whole new demographic of people. More money poured into the small farming community as the city grew to accommodate the growing white population. However, when the base was decommissioned, the white population seemed to move out of Sanford, as well as a large number of businesses that had initially followed them. Today, Sanford is a small peripheral city twenty miles north of Orlando with a sizable African American population. Undoubtedly, Sanford would have remained a small community had it not been for the Cold War and the base that so drastically changed Sanford’s demography.

Primary Source “RVAH-9 RA-5C Vigilante at NAS Sanford, Fl 1966”
Secondary Sources
NAS Sanford History, January 1, 1995, (accessed November 25, 2012).
Metzger V, Lewis W. FROM CELERY CITY TO NAVY TOWN: THE IMPACT OF NAVAL AIR STATION SANFORD DURING WORLD WAR II (Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida, 2010).           
University of Virginia, Historical Census Browser, 2007, (accessed November 25, 2012). “Orlando Sanford Airport”

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