The abandoned Naval Air Station South Weymouth has become one of the most famous urban exploration spots in Massachusetts. Explorers enjoy tracking down the two control towers which have remained standing over the years while many other structures of the base have been destroyed and re-developed into condo buildings. These control towers once played significant roles at the airfield, but they now sit in decay at the end of an abandoned runway. The base was officially closed in 1997 and parts of it are currently open to the public while other parts are private. The old aircraft runway and control towers are open to the public for exploring!
History during WW2
The history of Naval Air Station South Weymouth dates back to 1938 when the site was first surveyed as a potential location for a municipal airport. The 1,444-acre property was located about 15 miles Southeast of Boston, Massachusetts, and was relatively flat. An airport was never built on the land but when World War 2 began, the government decided it would be the perfect site for a Navy airfield.
Construction of Naval Air Station South Weymouth began in September 1941. The Navy built out the site to primarily support anti-submarine blimp operations. Runways, taxiways, two gigantic blimp hangers, control towers, and many other support structures were built. The base officially opened on March 1, 1942.
During World War 2, the station operated as the headquarters for the US Navy’s anti-submarine blimp (non-rigid aircraft) division. The operators of the base were known as ZP-11 or Blimp Squadron 11. The squadron operated up to twelve K-class blimps at a time which were sent out on patrol and convoy escort missions around Massachusetts Bay and up the coast of Maine. Most of the missions were standard, but there is one that has gone down in history as being controversial.
The controversial mission involved blimp K-14 which was operated by ZP-11 and stationed out of Naval Air Station South Weymouth. On July 2, 1944, the K-14 blimp was surveying the waters off of Bar Harbor, Maine when it surprisingly dropped from the sky and crashed into the water. 6 of the 10 crew members died from the crash, while the remaining 4 were eventually rescued after they clung on to pieces of the blimp that floated. They were rescued after 6 hours in the ocean. The Navy told none of the men onboard to talk about the crash and the Navy officially reported this crash as being caused by “pilot error.” Many historians and Navy Veterans say that the blimp was actually shot down by a German submarine. They claim that bullet holes were found on the blimp envelope (balloon) and the gondola. Locals on the coast and other Navy members in the area reported hearing gunshots during the time of the crash. It remains a mystery what actually went down on July 2, 1944.
Blimp Squadron 11 was also in the news in 1944 for another major event. This event was the first non-rigid airship (blimp) transatlantic trip. The trip occurred on June 1, 1944, when two ZP-11 operated blimps took off from South Weymouth and flew to Naval Station Argentia in Newfoundland. The flight took nearly 16 hours.
It should also be noted that during World War 2, Blimp Squadron 11 was not the only one using Naval Air Station South Weymouth. The base was utilized by other squadrons from around the country, primarily airship patrol squadron ZP-12 based out of NAS Lakehurst in New Jersey and airship utility squadron ZJ-1 based out of Meacham Field in Key West, Florida. The ZJ-1 detachment participated in aerial photography missions, flew airships in support of MIT electronics research programs, and assisted in the recovery of test torpedoes for the Navy torpedo station in Newport, Rhode Island.
As World War 2 ended, the station was officially downgraded from a naval air station to a naval air facility. On August 9, 1945, the base was now focused on storing surplus naval aircraft as they awaited their next assignment. South Weymouth made for a great naval aircraft parking station due to the two massive blimp hangars and the vast amount of surrounding land. The need for the station dwindled and it was shut down in June 1949 and remained inactive until the beginning of 1951.
In 1951, the government began looking for a location to create and evaluated air defense and anti-submarine systems. The previous Naval Air Station South Weymouth was believed to be the optimal location and in 1951 Congress approved funds totaling over $5 million to re-develop the station. Runways, hangars, buildings, fuel storage areas, the orange striped control tower (which currently stands), and other necessary infrastructure were built. The large wooden blimp hangar, known as Hangar Two, had to be razed due to the changes. The re-development project was expansive due to the fact that the previous blimp station was not built to support heavier-than-air aircraft. The reserve training base and naval air station at South Weymouth went into operation on December 4, 1953.
NAS South Weymouth housed an unusual Navy unit between 1953 and 1961 while being primarily designated as a reserve post. The Naval Air Development Unit, or simply “NADU,” was this covert research and development organization. The NADU was charged with supporting flight operations for research studies connected to the MIT Lincoln Laboratories and other defense contractors. The NADU was somewhat descended from the Special Project Unit (SPU) CAST, which was stationed at Squantum Naval Air Station during World War II. These research programs primarily focused on the use of experimental electrical devices like radars connected to air defense and anti-submarine warfare systems.
For the next 30 years, the station primarily served as a reserve post. It was also a host for Navy Weymouth Aero Club from 1961 until the club’s closure in 1984. Several new structures were added and removed during these years including the second air traffic control tower. This tower was built during the mid-1990s right before the closing of the station. This white traffic control tower was never actually used. It currently remains on the land and it is abandoned.
The 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission proposed that South Weymouth’s final squadrons be relocated and the base be closed in 1997. Before the site was formally deactivated and shuttered by order of the 1995 BRAC, some of the fleets that were still in operation relocated to NAS Brunswick, Maine. It received the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation ribbon for the years 1993 through 1995.
- Year Established: 1941
- Year Abandoned: 1997
- Original Function: Naval Air Station