When the film “Testport” was produced in 1971, Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, or Pax River, had been in operation since 1943. Pax River is located in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, where the waters of the Patuxent River and Chesapeake Bay meet. Located about 90 miles from Norfolk, Virginia, and 65 miles south of the nation’s capital, the 14,500-acre complex includes the main air station in Lexington Park, Webster Outlying Field in St. Inigoes, Navy Recreation Center Solomons in Calvert County, and Bloodsworth Island Range in the Chesapeake Bay. Enjoy this retrospective about Pax River uploaded to YouTube by AIRBOYD.
“Where the future of Naval aviation begins” is Pax River’s slogan. Today, Pax is host to the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) headquarters along with some 50 other tenant activities. The U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS), Air Test and Evaluation Squadron ONE (VX-1) Pioneers, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron TWO ZERO (VX-20) Force, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron TWO ONE (HX-21) Blackjack, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron TWO THREE (VX-23) Salty Dogs, and Scientific Development Squadron ONE (VSX-1) Warlocks all call Pax River home.
The film is primarily centered on spin testing of the Vought A-7 Corsair II. Lots of other Navy aircraft appear in the film, including Douglas A-3 Skywarrior, Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, and Grumman A-6 and KA-6 Intruder attack aircraft, Grumman S-2 Tracker and Lockheed P-2 Neptune and P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, Vought F-8 Crusader, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, and Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighters, Lockheed C-130 Hercules tankers, Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star airborne early warning aircraft, and Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King, CH-53 Sea Stallion, and Bell AH-1 Super Cobra helicopters. There are also glimpses of North American OV-10 Bronco light attack aircraft and Schweizer X-26A Frigate gliders!
Also featured in the film is the Tactical Support Center for submarine surveillance. Astronaut and USNTPS graduate Pete Conrad narrates a portion of the film. Appearing in supporting roles are the United States Coast Guard Cutter Gresham (WAVP-387), the Gearing-class destroyer USS Gearing (DD-710), and plenty of the thousands of support personnel who made, and still make today, a place like Pax River function.
Here’s a detail you might have missed. The helicopter that executes the water pickup of the simulated downed pilot is a HH-3A Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) Sea King. Isn’t it funny how so often helicopter footage is accompanied by the wrong audio?