Aircraft at the National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California
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U.S. Navy Photographer's Mates at the National Parachute Test Range

U.S. Navy Aircraft at

The National Parachute Test Range

El Centro, California


NPTR T-28B Trojan, BuNo 140006, on the flight line.

National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1975.

Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.

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NPTR T-28B Trojan, BuNo 140006, on the flight line, circa 1975.
National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California. The parachute drying tower is in the background at right.
Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.
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NPTR Skyhawk TA-4J being flown above the desert in Imperial Valley, California, by Lt. Finley with PHAN Richard Blue in the back seat.

Photo courtesy of PH3 Charles 'Chuck' Lohman.
NPTR Skyhawk TA-4J being flown by Lt. Finley with PHAN Richard Blue in the back seat.
Imperial Valley, California.
Photo by PH3 Charles "Chuck" Lohman   www.charleslohman.com

National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1976.

Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.

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NPTR Skyhawk TA-4J, BuNo. 156896
Main Hanger, National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1976.
Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.
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A-4 Skyhawk article at Wikipedia

Skyhawk TA-4J, BuNo 156896, was destroyed in an accident on 28 Sept 1981. The Wikipedia page on foreign object damage describes the accident: "An unusual case of FOD occurred on 28 September 1981 over Chesapeake Bay. During flight testing of an F/A-18 Hornet, the Naval Air Test Center of the United States Navy was using a Douglas TA-4J Skyhawk as a chase plane to film a jettison test of a bomb rack from the Hornet. The bomb rack struck the right wing of the Skyhawk, shearing off almost half the wing. The Skyhawk caught fire within seconds of being struck; the two persons on board ejected."

To see the movie footage of the accident, view the following file: http://alexisparkinn.com/photogallery/Videos/FA18CutsTA4FIREejectOK.wmv

The Aviationbanter.com message board entitled F/A-18 "Shoots Down" A4 -- The Long Version has a discussion of the accident and a link to the movie clip. The aircraft is identified as the Skyhawk TA-4J, BuNo. 156896 in the References section near the bottom of the Wikipedia page in a link to the Aviationbanter.com message board which has a link to the movie clip of the accident. For more information on the Skyhawk TA-4J, BuNo. 156896, see the google.com search results for Skyhawk +156896.


National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1976.

Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.

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From left: Phantom F-4B, TA-4J Skyhawk BuNo 153524 and TA-4J Skyhawk BuNo156896
Main Hanger, National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1976.
Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.
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Google search results for Skyhawk +153524

National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1976.

Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.

CLICK HERE to view a larger copy of this image in a new browser window.
Phantom F-4B, tail number 1473
Main Hanger, National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1976.
Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.
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F-4 Phantom article at Wikipedia

"The NPTR Phantom was a F-4B, but with the more powerful J79-10 motors from the J model. Lt. Bill Powell (1972-1974) and Lt. Bob James (1974-1977) were the designated pilots. With the removal of all cockpit equipment from the NFO back seat, no external racks or pylons, no radar gear, carrying only internal fuel, this was ONE SMOKIN' plane. Lt. Powell once told me that while it was the norm to do an afterburner takeoffs on "fleet models", it was too scary with this one since it was so light. This aircraft was mostly used as an ejection seat testing platform and sometimes as a safety chase for high altitude tests where the A-4 or TA-4 was limited." -- Lt. Peter F. Bartelli, USNR, 17 Sept 2008 e-mail to Jerry Ferrin.


National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1976.

Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.

CLICK HERE to view a larger copy of this image in a new browser window.
T-28B Trojan
The tail of the De Havilland Otter, DHC-3 / NU-1B is at right in the photo.
Main Hanger, National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1976.
Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.
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T-28 Trojan article at Wikipedia

"The Trojan was a T-28B, liberated from the Pilot Training Command at Whiting Field, Pensacola, FL. This was my first Navy prop checkout following my jet training several years prior. Most of the NPTR pilots at the time were prop trained where this aircraft was used extensively, but for me it was a whole new experience. It could be complicated to start, no airconditioning, noisy, slugglish on the (non-hydraulic) controls, vibrated like hell and was a TOTAL BLAST to fly around. It was used mostly as a safety chase aircraft and general flight proficiency. I seem to recall that following a water ditching in the Salton Sea, this aircraft was retired." -- Lt. Peter F. Bartelli, USNR, 17 Sept 2008 e-mail to Jerry Ferrin.


"The T-28B did end up in the Salton Sea. It was being flown by CMDR Taylor and a "first time in any military aircraft" Air Force LT whose name escapes me. CMDR Taylor was the Range Director and he was hotdogging doing low level rolls. He tipped a wing and splashed the Trojan. If I remember right he didn't fly after that. I was the plane captain on that bird. I flew many times with Captain Chew in the Trojan and I remember him chain smoking Lucky's with his O2 mask off to one side - they sure burned hot! I'll find the original photo of the A-3B and get it scanned along with some other stuff. I think I have the newspaper clipping of the T-28 crash - one wing was sticking out of the water." -- Mark Schneider, 19 Sept 2008 e-mail to Jerry Ferrin.


De Havilland Otter, DHC-3,  military (Navy) designation is NU-1B. Main hanger at the National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California.

Photo by Pat 'Smitty' Smith.
De Havilland Otter, DHC-3, military (Navy) designation is NU-1B
Main hanger, National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California.
Photo by PHAN Pat "Smitty" Smith, circa 1976.
De Havilland Otter article at Wikipedia

"Oh...you wanted the info on the "tail-dragger". It's a De Havilland Otter, DHC-3. The military (Navy) designation is NU-1B. It was sure a "throw-back" to simpler times for me following all of my jet hours. I had a blast flying it, especially with the balloon tires which allowed landings in the desert to pick up jumpers. I would fly it around at 90 knots with the pilot side window open and my arm out getting tanned. I remember one particular mission when Master Chief Picard and 6 jumpers were to do a "test" jump at 10,000'. I was flying the Otter in a slow circling climb over the jump zone leaning out the fuel mixture every thousand feet or so to keep the engine running smooth. I guess I was a bit too aggressive with the leaning 'cause at about 9600' the engine coughed and quit! Master Chief Picard looked at me...along with all the "wide-eyed" jumpers...and said..."close enough LT...see ya!" as he and the 6 jumpers bailed out....

I nosed over the Otter, established a shallow glide and circled the jumpers all the way to the ground. I was laughing so hard, Picard swore he heard me through the open Otter window. I'm laughing now just thinking about the looks on those kids faces when the engine quit.

-- Excerpt from an e-mail from Lt. Peter F. Bartelli, USNR to Jerry Ferrin, 8 Sept 2008.


NPTR T-28B Trojan, BuNo 140006, on the flight line.

National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1975.

Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.

CLICK HERE to view a larger, uncropped copy of this image in a new browser window.
NPTR T-28B Trojan, BuNo 140006, on the flight line, circa 1975.
National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California.
Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.
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Skyhawk TA-4J.  BuNo 153524

Photo courtesy of the Collings Foundation.
Skyhawk TA-4J, BuNo 153524,
at the Davis Monthan AFB Aircraft Storage and Rework Facility, Tucson, Arizona.

Photo courtesy of the Collings Foundation.

E-mail from Rick Harris to Jerry Ferrin, 30 Jan 2008:
Hi Jerry, I got your website and contact info from Capt. Peter Bartelli who was at El Centro with you. We have liberated Skyhawk BuNo 153524 from the Navy and are currently flying her at airshows and special events. We have a photograph of her at every duty station she was assigned to, except, for the NPTR. Peter thought that you might have some photos of the aircraft. If so, that would complete the set. After NPTR she was assigned to Pax River with a Strike Test squadron who handed her over to the Test Pilot School. They took her to the boneyard in August 1994.

I've attached a couple of pictures of her as we found her at Tucson in 2000 and as she looks now, representing a Viet Nam Marine Fast FAC unit called the Playboys, 1969 DaNang.

Thanks for any any help on this,

Rick Harris
Collings Foundation
281-961-1062
rickhcf at swbell dot net


The USN's Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, popularly known as the Blue Angels

National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, California, circa 1976.

Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.

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A-4 Skyhawks flown by the USN Blue Angels
NAF El Centro, winter home of the Blue Angels, El Centro, California, circa 1976.
Photo by PHAN Pat 'Smitty' Smith.
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Blue Angels official website   *   Blue Angels article at Wikipedia  *   Blue Angels: Losses & Ejectees

Crashes and accidents involving Blue Angels at NAF El Centro

The following list was compiled from information in the Blue Angels article at Wikipedia and at the Blue Angels: Losses & Ejectees web page. The base name is given as NAF El Centro in this list although it had different names over the years. For diagrams of the manuevers mentioned, see aerobatic maneuvers.

February 1, 1967 -- Lt Frank Gallagher dies when his Grumman F-11F-1 Tiger stalls during a practice flight on a 1/2 Cuban 8 maneuver at low altitude and spun into the ground at NAF El Centro, CA.

February 18, 1967 - Capt. Ronald Thompson, in a Grumman F-11A Tiger, dies during a formation loop mid- air during practice at NAF El Centro, CA.

January 14, 1968 - Opposing solo Lt. Bill Worley dies when his Grumman F-11A Tiger crashes during a double immelman in a practice flight at NAF El Centro, CA.

January 8, 1972 -- Lt. Larry Watters dies when his F-4J Phantom II strikes the ground while flying inverted at NAF El Centro.

February 22, 1977 -- Blue Angels Opposing solo Lt. Nile Kraft died when his A-4F Skyhawk flew into the ground during practice at NAF El Centro.

February 22, 1982 - Lt. Cmdr Stu Powrie, 34, Blue Angels Lead Solo (#5) is killed in a training crash of his A-4F Skyhawk at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, during Blue Angels Winter training. He had just completed a dirty loop when his aircraft crashed.

February 12, 1987 -- Blue Angels Lead solo Lt. Dave Anderson survives when his F/A-18A Hornet engine fails during practice at NAF El Centro. He ejected safely.

January 23, 1990 - Mid-air collision between two Blue Angels F-18A Hornet aircraft during a practice session at NAF El Centro. Marine Corps Major Charles "Chase" Moseley was faulted for the collision with team leader Commander Pat Moneymaker. One airplane was destroyed and the other badly damaged. Both pilots survived unharmed; Major Moseley ejected and Cmdr. Moneymaker landed safely.


Message boards at military.com:

National Parachute Test Range - “Welcome to El Centro... 30 miles from water... 2 feet from Hell!!!!”
As of 23 Jan 2008, the members of this message board are Peter F. Bartelli, Frank Devance, Jerry Ferrin, Charles Lohman and John Walker. The board was created and is maintained by Mark Schneider.

Naval Air Facility: El Centro, Calif.
The message board has 98 members as of 23 Jan 2008.

Naval Aerospace Recovery Facility, El Centro CA
The message board has 15 members as of 23 Jan 2008.

OPS Department NavAeroRecovFac, El Centro,CA
The message board has 1 member, Richard B. Tucker, as of 23 Jan 2008.


USGS Aerial Photograph & Topographical Map:

El Centro Naval Auxiliary Air Station, California, formerly the National Parachute Test Range, USGS aerial photograph taken 6 June 2002.

CLICK HERE to view the image on Terraserver. Photo: El Centro Naval Auxiliary Air Station, California, 6 June 2002

Map: El Centro Naval Auxiliary Air Station, California, 01 July 1989


Further Reading:

National Parachute Test Range, current search results at google.com

Crew Systems - National Parachute Test Range

Naval Air Facility El Centro: "Naval Air Facility El Centro was commissioned on May 1, 1946, as a Naval Air Station. Prior to that, the base was a Marine Corps Air Station. Through the years, Navy El Centro has had several names: Naval Air Facility, Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, Naval Air Station, and the National Parachute Test Range."

Naval Air Facility, El Centro (Marine Corps Air Station, El Centro; Naval Air Station, El Centro; Naval Auxiliary Air Station, El Centro; Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, El Centro; National Parachute Test Range)

NA-3B Skywarrior, NA-3B Skywarrior, BuNo 142630, National Parachute Test Range markings.

Naval Aviation Chronology 1970-1980

National Parachute Test Range, El Centro, CA, a collection of technical papers on tests conducted at NPTR and Joint Parachute Test Facility, El Centro, CA from The Dave Gold Parachute Collection at Wright State University Libraries.


Disclaimer: This is an unofficial website which has no connection with the United States Navy or the U.S. Department of Defense.


This RootsWeb website is being created by Jerry Ferrin with the able assistance of many Contributors. Your comments, suggestions and contributions of historical information and photographs to this site are welcome. Please sign the Guest Book. This page about aircraft at the National Parachute Test Range was created 14 Sept 2008.

The url of this page is: https://sites.rootsweb.com/~kscomanc/nptr_aircraft.html


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