In May of 1942 the Navy felt the need for additional naval air training facilities. It selected a site in Sanford, Florida as a base for the Naval Air Operational Training Command. A municipal field was already in existence west of the town. Sanford deeded 865 acres to the Navy, who then purchased an additional 615 acres to complete the project. The base was commissioned on November 3, 1942 while still under construction. The base was to be used to train two bomber squadrons. Only one squardon was actually established.
OTU VB2 #1 was the first unit to report to the base. It had been formed a short time earlier in Jacksonville. The unit was responsible for pilot checkout in the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura. The unit operated 34 PV-1s, 4 Lockheed PBO Hudsons, one PV-3 and 21 SNBs. In late 1943 VB2 #1 transferred to NAS Beaufort, S.C. OTU VF #6 replaced them and began training pilots in the General Motors FM-1 Wildcat. By April 1944 221 Widcats were stationed at Sanford. They were soon replaced by the new improved version of the Wildcat, the FM-2.By the end of the war training of pilots for the Grumman F6F Hellcat had begun. NAS Sanford trained approximately 50% of all the Navy's carrier based bomber and fighter pilots.
After the war, in 1946 the base was decommissioned. The City of Sanford acquired the base and renamed the facilty Sanford Airport. As the Sanford Airport it accommodated several tenants at the field. Between 1946 and 1950 these tenants included the New York Giants American Baseball Training Camp, a retirement home, a hospital and a clothing company. After the Korean War began in 1951 the Navy once again acquired the airport as an auxilliary air station to provide a training facility for the Navy's carrier based pilots. In June 0f 1955 the base became home to Reconnaissance Attack Wing One. January 1957 saw the arrival of the first A3D Skywarriors, the Navy's largest carrier based bombers. They were followed in 1960 by the North American A-3J know as the Vigilante. The first RA-5C Vigilante arrived in Sanford in December of 1963. This aircraft was designed as a nuclear bomber but was later converted to a reconnaissance aircraft and played a major role in the Vietnam conflict.
NAS Sanford eventually became home to ten Vigilante squadrons and their families. In 1968 congress once again closed the base and relocated the squadrons to NAS Albany, Georgia. The base was returned to the City of Sanford and now operates as the Orlando-Sanford International Airport.
Visit their Website Naval Air Station Sanford Memorial