North Island has commissioned a naval air station in 1917. The station, which was originally called the Naval Air Station, San Diego until 1955, was granted official recognition as the “Birthplace of Naval Aviation” by a resolution of the House Armed Services Committee on August 15, 1963.
The Navy’s first aviator, Lieutenant Ellyson, and many of his colleagues were trained at North Island starting in 1911. At that time, North Island was an uninhabited sand flat. It had been used in the late 19th century for horseback riding and hunting by guests of J. D. Spreckels’ resort hotel, the now famous Hotel Del Coronado.
North Island derived its name from the original geography. Up until the early 20th century, it was referred to as North Coronado Island, due to the fact that the Spanish Bight separated it from South Coronado Island until the early 1940s.
In 1886, North and South Coronado Islands were purchased by a developer to become a residential resort. South Coronado became the City of Coronado, but North Coronado was never developed. Instead, Glen Curtiss opened a flying school and held a lease to the property until the beginning of World War I. Other aviation milestones originating at North Island included the first seaplane flight in 1911, the first mid-air refueling and the first non-stop transcontinental flight, both in 1923.
One of history’s most famous aviation feats was the flight of Charles A. Lindbergh from New York to Paris in May 1927. His aircraft, The Spirit of St. Louis, was built in San Diego, and his flight originated at North Island on May 9, 1927, when he began the first leg of his transatlantic journey.
Forefathers of today’s “Blue Angels”, the three-plane “Sea Hawks” of VF-6B, the “Felix the Cat” squadron, were thrilling audiences with flight demonstrations as early as 1928. They demonstrated the training skills of Navy fighter and bomber pilots on many occasions and even flew their aircraft information with the wings tethered together.
Even the base’s first commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Earl W. Spencer Jr., USN, added a degree of celebrity to North Island. His wife was Wallis Warfield, a prominent socialite who remarried twice, and became better known as Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson Windsor, the late Duchess of Windsor, for whom King Edward of England gave up his throne in 1936.
During the Second World War, the Spanish bight was filled with dredge from San Diego Bay. This newly recovered land connected the North and South Islands became a part of the base where most of the administrative and recreational buildings now stand.
Many other significant events have occurred at North Island, including 1967, the last Navy Seaplane departed NASNI; Aug. 1969, the Coronado Bay Bridge opened; Feb 1974, the first S-3 Viking Squadron stood up; Jan 1983, HSL-41 received the first SH-60B helicopter; Nov 1985, the first C-2 Greyhound aircraft arrive at NASNI.