Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, California
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|MCAS El Toro|
MCAS El Toro in 2011
|IATA: NZJ – ICAO: KNZJ– FAA LID: NZJ|
|Operator||United States Marine Corps|
|Location||Orange County, California|
|In use||1943 - 1999|
|Occupants||3rd Marine Aircraft Wing|
|Elevation AMSL||383 ft / 117 m|
|Coordinates||33°40′34″N 117°43′52″W / 33.67611°N 117.73111°W / 33.67611; -117.73111|
|Source: Federal Aviation Administration|
Marine Corps Air Station El Toro (IATA: NZJ, ICAO: KNZJ, FAA LID: NZJ) was a United States Marine Corps Air Station located near Irvine, California.
Before it was decommissioned in 1999, it was the 4,682 acres (19 km) home of Marine Corps aviation on the West Coast. Designated as a Master Jet Station, its four runways (two of 8,000 feet (2,400 m) and two of 10,000 feet (3,000 m)) could handle the largest aircraft in the U.S. military inventory. While it was active, all U.S. Presidents in the post-World War II era landed in Air Force One at this airfield. The El Toro "Flying Bull" patch was designed by Walt Disney Studios in 1944. It survived virtually unchanged until the close of the Air Station.
The land area originally taken by the air station is planned to be converted into a large recreational center, the Orange County Great Park.
The site is currently used as a filming location, including the test track for the United States version of BBC's Top Gear franchise.
In May 1942, Lieutenant Colonel William Fox was directed to select the sites for all of the Marine Corps' West Coast air stations. Fox sought the most expeditious and low cost option and thus chose the already existing airports of El Centro, Mojave and Santa Barbara. For the fourth station he chose land that had previously been looked at by the Navy for a blimp base. The Marine Corps gave the owner of the land, a farmer named James Irvine Sr., $100,000 for 4,000 acres (20 km) including 1,600 acres (6.5 km) designated for a blimp base. Construction of MCAS El Toro began on August 3, 1942 on land previously owned by the Irvine Company. The company greatly resisted the station's construction at this site, which at the time contained the largest lima bean field in North America, which was the company's prime source of revenue. The name El Toro came from the nearby small community which in 1940 only had a population of 130 people.
The base headquarters was established on November 4, 1942 and the first landing occurred in late November when a Major Micheal Carmichael, flying from Camp Kearny, was forced to make an emergency landing among the construction equipment. January 1943 saw the first operational units arriving at MCAS El Toro. First aboard were Marine Base Defense Aircraft Group 41 and VMF-113. They were followed later in the month by VMSB-142, VMF-224, VMSB-231 and VMSB-232, who were returning from fighting during the Battle of Guadalcanal in order to re-organize, re-equip and train. Soon after its opening, El Toro was handling the largest tactical aerodrome traffic on the Pacific Coast.
Already the largest Marine air station on the West Coast, in 1944, funds were approved to double its size and operations. By the end of 1944, the base would be home to 1,248 officers and 6,831 enlisted personnel.
In 1950, El Toro was selected as a permanent Master Jet Station for the Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific. To support this new role, the aviation infrastructure at El Toro was again expanded significantly. For most of the ensuing years, El Toro served as the primary base for Marine Corps west coast fighter squadrons. During the 1960s, many US Marines left for and returned from Vietnam at El Toro MCAS. In 1958, Marine Corps Air Station Miami was closed which brought the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing to El Toro.
During the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, MCAS El Toro was used for flights to and from his "Western White House" at San Clemente, California.
The land originally surrounding the base was mostly at agricultural use when it first opened, but it the late 1980s and early 1990s, residential development started to begin in the area; most of it was directly in the path of the base's runways, which proved to be a major problem as the constant loud noise produced by jets and helicopters passing overhead was very irritating to those living in the area. Few desired to move there because of this, causing the new neighborhoods to struggle.
In 1993, MCAS El Toro was designated for closing by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and all of its activities were to be transferred to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. The station officially closed on July 2, 1999.