MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. - Two kite balloons started it all. In July 1918 those balloons lifted off to aid the location of artillery fire. Ninety-five years later, as Marine Corps Base Quantico celebrates the anniversary of the Marine Corps Air Facility which has developed from two balloons into a critical part of the Marine Corps aviation mission.
“The Marine Corps Air Facility traces a long history of aviation service to Quantico and the Marine Corps,” according to www.globalsecurity.com. “It was the first Marine Corps Air Station. In 1919, a flying field was laid out and the land leased to accommodate a squadron returning from World War I combat in Europe. The present site was selected in 1931, when larger and faster aircraft brought recognition of the limitations of the original field.”
The air field evolved into an official air station in 1941, and then into an official air facility in December 1976, the differences being the size and services offered.
The facility has been home to Marine Helicopter Squadron One since its birth in 1947. HMX-1, considered to be one of the elite units in the Marine Corps is responsible for transporting the president of the United States.
“The primary mission of MCAF is to provide air traffic control, communication, weather, logistics, fuels, transportation, firefighting, facility and aerodrome support to Marine Helicopter Squadron One,” said 2nd Lt. Gabriel Walton, adjutant at MCAF. “Additionally, we provide support to Department of Defense operations, transient aircraft and Marine Corps Base Quantico.”
The location has held different names throughout the years, including Brown Field and Turner Field, with the current name of Marine Corps Air Facility. According to www.quantico.usmc.mil, airfields of MCAF have also gone through changes throughout the years because of restrictions and unsafe characteristics on Brown Field such as: “its single, crosswind runway, trees, hills, swamp, a high tension line and railroad.”
In the 1930s, those changes include alterations to the Chopawamsic Creek and surrounding marshes playing a part in the development of a new airfield, Turner Field.
Besides its changes, MCAF is a unique air facility in other ways.
“MCAF Quantico is located on the southern border of Washington, D.C.’s Special Flight Rules Area,” said Walton. “Aircraft entering into or launching from our air facility are required to obtain special clearance to operate in the airspace in the vicinity of the National Capital Region.”
Walton also noted that some misunderstand the relationship between MCAF and HMX-1. HMX-1 is a unit of Marines that receive specific missions and deploy from base. MCAF is the facility where HMX-1 resides. MCAF is the support unit for HMX-1 and other units when needed.
Two little balloons, with a basic mission, have come a long way in almost a century.