Article Courtesy, NAS Lemoore
Aerial view of NAS Lemoore Operations Area 61 years ago.
Aerial view of NAS Lemoore Operations Area 61 years ago.
Photo Courtesy U.S. Navy

Naval Air Station Lemoore officials announced a major anniversary this month. The air station, a staple of Valley and Lemoore life, is celebrating its 60th anniversary. The base will mark the occasion with a celebration on July 1 at 1 p.m. on the base.

Technically, 2022 marks the base’s 61st birthday, but Covid restrictions forced a year’s delay.

The Navy base was commissioned on Saturday, July 8, 1961, before a crowd of thousands of thrilled personnel, local residents, and distinguished guests. At the time, the base was considered the U.S. Navy’s largest and most modern Master Jet Base in the nation. It originally, in 1961 dollars, ended up costing $100 million. In modern bucks, that’s nearly $1 billion today.

It was the first base designed solely for light-attack fighter jets – in 1961 that meant the A4D Skyhawk. In 2022, local residents will see F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and the Navy’s most advanced aircraft, the F-35C Lightning II, soaring in the skies above.

Program photo of Saturday, July 8, 1961 NAS Lemoore commissioning.
Program photo of Saturday, July 8, 1961 NAS Lemoore commissioning.

The base’s main function – to train fighter jet pilots and crew – remains the same today as it did in 1961. And it is still the U.S. Navy’s premier Master Jet Base.

When Navy brass chose – in the mid-1950s – the remote location in the San Joaquin Valley, it served several strategic purposes. The location was close enough to the Navy’s seaport facilities for logistical support, but far enough from major population centers to allow for unencumbered operations and likely future expansion. The remote location also provided flexibility in use and infrastructure to accommodate rapidly advancing jet technology. The adjacent lands were sparsely populated and were primarily used for agricultural production, thus minimizing potential land-use incompatibilities.

When commissioned in 1961, the base covered 28 square miles and employed more than 5,000 people with salaries that totaled more than $30 million annually ($280 million in 2022). Today, the base hasn’t grown much in land size, but it has more than doubled its workforce, with roughly 11,800 jobs boasting an annual payroll of $478 million.

The base’s economic impact on the San Joaquin Valley cannot be understated. In the fiscal year 2019, the base generated $947 million in total economic benefit to its local region of influence, which includes Kings, Tulare, and Fresno counties. The base is truly a partner with its neighbors.

Currently, NAS Lemoore is just as busy as ever. On average, more than 210,000 flight operations are flown annually. And more than 3,700 students are trained each year.

Lemoore Naval Air Station, nation's premier Naval jet training base, celebrates its 60th year in the Valley