The United States Navy comes to town

Published 9:23 am Friday, January 27, 2017

January 27, 1942
Work began last week on a $208,856.40 project under which the Franklin Municipal Airport will be developed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for use as an auxiliary U.S. Navy flying field. The contract for the aforementioned project has been awarded to W.H. Scott Construction Company of Franklin.

The work includes paving and lengthening the existing runway and building a new runway; the two runways will be constructed/reconstructed using 69,000 yards of concrete and both will be 100 feet wide and 3,000 feet in length. The runways must be capable of supporting heavy planes in all kinds of weather and allowing for a long sweep for takeoff and landing.

In addition, necessary clearing, drainage, grading and seeding of the airfield proper will be done. 

The field will be graded for 4,000 feet so that the runways can be extended later, if found desirable.  The field will also be covered with turf for a width of 500 feet adjoining the runways, and the whole field will be laid out in such a way that a third runway can be added later, if needed.

A large hangar is now under construction, and is expected to be finished possibly within two weeks. Several barrack buildings and mess halls are now under construction.

A contract for lighting of the field is in the process of being awarded. This work will include the building of a revolving beacon about 60 feet high near the Suffolk Highway (Route 58 East). 

Officials with the Town of Franklin are in the process of acquiring several tracts of land adjacent to the present field. Additional space is needed. The largest piece of land to be acquired is a 41.3-acre tract belonging to Chesapeake-Camp Corporation and Camp Manufacturing Company. Other tracts are 12.8 acres from Walter White and 5.97 acres from Henry Ruffin, besides three smaller parcels. The town is spending about $1,000 on acquisition of this land.

Conversion of the Franklin Airport to an air station has been, and is, a major priority national defense project; thus, the rapid timeline.

A spokesman for the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and Hunter Scott of W. H. Scott, Inc. both have given absolute assurances that completion will be in April.  Upon completion, the airfield will be designated as “NAAS Franklin” (Naval Auxiliary Air Station), an auxiliary to Norfolk Naval Air Base and Oceana Naval Air Station in Princess Anne County.

The U.S. Navy mission at Franklin includes acceptance of new aircraft and overhauled and repaired aircraft from Norfolk’s Assembly and Repair Department. NAAS Franklin will be responsible for maintaining an aircraft pool, and transference of that aircraft from that pool when and to wherever it is needed. As needs arise, aircraft will be ferried to awaiting operational squadrons, based on awaiting aircraft carriers or to other strategic airbases.

Projections indicate that during the course of NAAS Franklin’s existence, depending on the duration of the war, the station could handle close to 12,000 aircraft, mostly “F6F Hellcats” and “SB2C Helldivers.” At the height of its operations, it is estimated that over 500 aircraft, at any given point in time, will be on the ground at Franklin Field.

Figures on the ultimate number of Naval enlisted men to be stationed at NAAS Franklin Field are barred, as coming within the category of restricted military information. It can be surmised, though, since there are several barracks being built to house enlisted men, several hundred could be based here. Family men among the personnel, both officers and enlisted men, are trying to find homes in and around Franklin.

Discussing the housing situation, which has not been so acute as was earlier feared, Lt. Lyons and Lt. Wilkinson, both U.S. Navy spokesmen, wish to thank the people of Franklin and vicinity for their cooperation in providing rooms, apartments, and houses.

The Franklin Chamber of Commerce, of which Dr. Morgan B. Raiford is president, and Mrs. Frances Parker Bradford, executive secretary, is working closely with the Navy on the housing situation and is rendering valuable aid. Town Manager T.J. Crooks has worked tirelessly on various problems affecting the establishment of the station here. Both the Chamber of Commerce and the Town Office have kept up a registry of available living quarters for the Navy’s use.

“The Shack,” a log-house on the Courtland Highway, belonging to Sol W. Rawls, which previously was used as a restaurant, has been offered, and accepted, as the quarters for Base Commander Reid Irving and his family.

The field and its facilities will revert to the Town’s possession after the Navy’s lease expires, and it is felt that the Town will then acquire a genuine asset for the air-minded world of the future.

While the United States Navy will have the use of the airport for the duration of the war, and military flying will take precedence over civilian flying whenever necessary, the agreement concluded with Town of Franklin provides that improvements become the property of the Town. Franklin may use the new facilities, after the war is over, in development of civilian and commercial aviation.

It is felt that Franklin is fortunate in being able to make such a deal, since the war (increasingly being referred to as World War II) situation has made the development of the airport a necessity.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is