NAVAL AVIATION COMES TO GROSSE ILE
Naval Reserve Air Base Grosse Ile, MI. was commissioned 7 September 1929, but the air station traces its roots back to July 1925. That is when a Naval Reserve Unit consisting of four men was formed by Navy Lieutenant Robert Bridge at the Detroit Naval Armory. In 1926 the Navy officially designated this unit Torpedo Squadron 31 (VT-31).
Having no aircraft or base of their own to fly from , VT-31 pilots had to go to NRAU Great Lakes to get in a few hours of flight time in an UO-1. On December 7, 1926 the temporary transfer of a NY-1 was authorized to be put loan from NRAU Great Lakes upon the completion of a hanger built at Memorial Park by the City of Detroit. This aircraft was to be returned by summer, in time for student training at NRAU Great Lakes. In September 1927 VT-31 received its first permanent aircraft, another NY-1.
VT-31 now also had hanger space at Mount Clemens Army Air Base. The NY-1 was quite a contrast to the Army P-1 sleek pursuit planes, but at least they were flying their own aircraft now. This would be the same base the reserves would return to over 40 years later after NAS Grosse Ile was decommissioned in 1969. By 1969 Mount Clemens Army Air Base would be known as Selfridge Air Force Base. Even though VT-31 had hangar space at Mount Clemens Army Air Base they used the NY-1 mostly as a seaplane flying it from the Detroit River.
Due to its location it is often mistakenly called NAS Detroit. To add to the confusion when the base was closed in 1969 the function moved to Selfridge Air Force Base and was called NAF Detroit.
The State of Michigan bought 5 acres of land for $100,000 on the
southern tip of Grosse Ile in 1927. This was acquired for the purpose of
building a seaplane base. Negotiations with the Navy gained use of this
facility for the Naval Air Reserves in the area.
|1927 was a busy year for the naval reservist and Grosse Ile. The Aircraft Development Corporation a division of the Detroit Aircraft Corporation owned Grosse Ile Airport, Inc. at the southern tip of the island. This small airport had attracted the attention of the reservist and with the help of the Navy and the State of Michigan, were able to get 5 acres nearby from the corporation to build a hanger including repair shops, living quarters, galley and seaplane base for the Michigan Naval Militia. Curtiss-Wright also located an aviation school just north of the corporation property where they built a hanger. This hanger would become one of the main hangers at NASGI and is still in use today.|
The Aircraft Development Corporation started construction on a 120 foot high, 120 foot wide and 180 foot long hanger in May of 1927 and completed by September. For landing, they cleared a 3000 foot diameter circle north of the hanger. This concrete pad is still there and is the bulls eye between the runways.
This was the beginning of 40 plus years of Naval Aviation at Grosse Ile, Michigan. With this meager beginning, one officer and four enlisted, started training 25 reservist who reported for weekend duty.
1928 saw VN-9RD9 was still flying their NY-1 from Selfridge in the winter and the Detroit River during the summer.
Work continued through 1928. The county paved a 20 foot concrete road (Meridian Circle Road) in a circle around the circular landing field at the blimp hanger. There are still remnants of this road that can be seen from the air at what is now Grosse Ile Airport. The hanger at Memorial Park on the river in Detroit was dismantled and floated down river on a barge and reassembled at the seaplane base on Grosse Ile. Later the hanger would again be moved to just south of the supply building when runway 3-21 was installed. It was still in use as the aviation ground support shop in 1969 when the base was closed and now houses the EPA.
In July 1928 VT-31 was re-designated VN-9RD9 by the Department of
By December 1928 VN9RD9 were assigned their aircraft, one each, NY-1 , NY-2 and a TS-1.
By July 1929 the base was ready and saw all activities and aircraft concentrated and NRAB Grosse Ile and on September 7, 1929 "United States Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Grosse Ile, MI " was commissioned with 8 officers and 30+ enlisted attached from VN-9RD9. They now had a home, that would serve them for next four decades.
On August 19, 1929, the Aircraft Development Corporation would launch the ZMC-2, experimental blimp that was constructed in their large balloon hanger. It was flown to NAS Lakehurst later that year an commissioned. It was flown for 12 years. During its service life there was 752 flights logged for a total of 2256.6 hours. In 1941 the commander of NAS Lakehurst would direct the airship to be scraped and the car complete with its Wright Whirlwind engines to be assigned to the Lighter-Than-Air Ground School at Lakehurst. In spite of its performance the ZMC-2 would be the only one of its type built.
By late October the stock market suddenly crashed. The airship operation, which was now owned by Detroit, Lockheed and Ryan Aircraft, became relatively inactive. Soon the reservist were sharing the field with the Curtiss-Wright Flying Service. At the end of December 1929 saw NRAB Grosse Ile aircraft increase in number. The NY-1 was gone, but they had replaced it with (2) NY-2, (3) TS-1, and (3) N2C-1.
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Revised: January 28, 2010