Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Air Station is located in Charlestown, Rhode Island. It was a satellite airfield to the nearby Quonset Naval Air Station. It is located within the boundaries of Ninigret Park.
Atlantic Airport, as it was then known, was founded around 1931. In 1942, the site of the Atlantic Airport was reused by the Navy to construct Charlestown NAAS. It was constructed with three runways. It then became a satellite of the nearby Quonset Naval Air Station
. Former US President George Herbert Walker Bush
aviation trained here before going to Japan in World War II
and named his airplane Barbara for his girlfriend Barbara Walker who became his wife Barbara Bush
. The airport was used for the Navy Air Navigation Project, which developed & tested navigation aids & traffic control systems. It was host to a CASU (Carrier Aircraft Service Unit) and later to a NACTU (Night Aircraft Training Unit. The runways were used for drag racing between 1958 and 1959. In 1974, the base was disestablished. It probably closed in conjunction with Quonset Naval Air Station
, which closed around the same time that it did.
Reuse as a Park
In 1976, there was talk of using the site for the first nuclear power plant
in Rhode Island
. This idea was shot down by local residents and it remained unused until it was incorporated into the nearby Ninigret Park & Wildlife Refuge. Until the 80's, the hangers remained at the airport. In the late 90's, the runways and taxiways were torn up and native grasses and plants were planted. Recent aerial photos show an automobile test track at the northern portions of runways In 2002, a memorial was built at the site commemorating the use of the field. According to a recent New York Times
A parcel of 172 acres of the deactivated Charlestown Naval Auxiliary Air Station on the South County coast, complete with a freshwater pond, it was opened as a park by the town of Charlestown last year and forms a gateway to the older wildlife refuge and the barrier beach beyond. The park is to be developed with bathhouses but for now it remains rugged and inviting.
To keep motorists from going in hopeless circles on vast runways, routes of sorts were denoted by sweeping furrows plowed into the tarmac, an almost perfect enactment of the biblical notion of beating swords into plowshares. At a certain point on the runway, most people park their cars and go walking in the company of wildlife, wind off Block Island Sound and the whisper of tall grasses.
Being used in the time before the modern day environmental movement, the site has had its share of cleanups over the years. Removal of of contaminated soil, at a projected cost of $426,938 has been proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
. The soil would be removed from an area that used to contain five 25,000-gallon underground storage tanks reportedly used to store leaded, high-octane aviation gasoline had been previously removed. The area, known as site 8 and located some from residential areas, was formerly used for flight-line fueling operations in the early 1940s.