07 Jan The History of Francis S Gabreski Airport
Located on 1,451 acres three miles north of West Hampton Beach in the Town of Southampton in Suffolk County, Long Island, county-owned Francis S. Gabreski Airport is both a civil and military facility and serves as the gateway to Long Island’s famed Hamptons. It has a rich history.
Constructed in 1943 as a World War II United States Army Air Force sub-base of Mitchel Field, it was later assigned to the First Air Force, whose 437th Army Air Force Base flew anti-submarine patrols. After the war, it was designated a civilian field.
Once again reverting to military application in 1951 because of the Korean War National Emergency, it was renamed Suffolk County Air Force Base. The Air National Guard’s 103rd Fighter-Interceptor Wing, along with the 118th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron and its fleet of Republic P-47N Thunderbolts, was federalized that year and relocated from Brainerd Field in Connecticut to the air base on June 1.
The 103rd Fighter-Interceptor Wing was replaced by the 45th and 75th Fighter-Interceptor Squadrons in November of 1952, which operated North American F-86 Sabre Jets as part of the 23rd Fighter-Interceptor Group.
After three years, the group itself was reassigned to Presque Isle Air Force Base in Maine and replaced by the newly activated 52nd Fighter-Interceptor Wing.
Because of the Vietnam War-caused financial constraints, the Suffolk County Air Force Base was deactivated in 1969 and was once again transferred to Suffolk County for civilian operations for the purpose of “the development, improvement, and operation and maintenance of the airport” under the auspices of the Federal Aviation Administration.
Yet military operations were reintroduced in June of 1970 when the 102nd Air Refueling Squadron of the New York Air National Guard was transferred there from the now-closed Floyd Bennett Field Naval Air Station, basing its Boeing KC-97 Strato-freighters there.
Redesignated Francis S. Gabreski Airport in 1991 after America’s greatest living ace, today it serves as a private, corporate, and air taxi facility and is also home to the 106th Rescue Wing of the Air National Guard, which operates Lockheed HC-130P Hercules and HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, the only fleet of rescue aircraft based in the northeastern part of the country.
With three runways–5,000-foot 01/19, 9,000-foot 06/24, and 5,000-foot 15/33–it offers the longest of any Long Island general aviation field and is only eclipsed by those at JFK. Its facilities include a terminal building with two rental car counters and the Apron Café; Shelt-Air Aviation Services, the airport’s only fixed base operator, with fuel, aircraft parking, and servicing; the Suffolk County police’s Aviation Section, which bases a helicopter there; and the Hampton Business District, whose eventual 400,000-square foot Industrial Park promotes local community growth.
In the 12 months ended on December 31, 2010, it the airport had 107 based aircraft and fielded 83,712 annual movements.