Many people don't realize that Valkaria Airport, despite being a relatively small, recreational community airport, has an interesting history.
Major Milestones in Valkaria Airport History
- Valkaria Airport was built during World War Two as an auxiliary field for the Melbourne Naval Air Station (now Melbourne International Airport.)
- Valkaria Airport helped to train thousands of brave pilots who went on to serve in World War II.
- In 1959, the federal government gave Valkaria Airport to Brevard County, on the condition it be kept open as an airport forever.
- In 1962, land on the south side of Valkaria Airport became the site for the MISTRAM I (MISsile TRAjectory Measurement) tracking station. The MISTRAM system was highly advanced for its day and was able to track rocket trajectories to a still-impressive degree of accuracy... despite being an analog system, MISTRAM could measure velocities from 0 to 50,000 fps at a range from 20 to 1,000 miles... with an amazing accuracy of 0.4 feet in range and 0.02 fps in velocity! In fact, it was more accurate than many tracking systems in use today.
- Part of the 1995 Disney movie Operation Dumbo Drop was filmed at Valkaria Airport.
- Valkaria Airport's official mascot, known as Valkaria Bob (pictured at right), has been an airport resident for many years.
- In February 2007, the first Valkaria Air Fest was held, pleasantly surprising the local pilots who organized it with TEN times the expected attendance! This annual celebration of flight continues to be a popular attraction for the whole family.
- In August 2007, Valkaria Airport got a newly updated Airport Master Plan after fourteen public input meetings and two year's work. This plan provides a great roadmap for the next twenty years of success!
- In 2008, Valkaria Airport celebrated 50 years of being a Brevard County-owned facility.
- In May 2008, a massive outbreak of drought-fed wildfires spread throughout South Brevard including Palm Bay, Grant-Valkaria, Malabar, and other areas, destroying many homes and scorching thousands of acres. During this emergency, Valkaria Airport served as a main base for the many helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft involved in the firefighting efforts, and the airport office served as an emergency command center. Because of the ability to use Valkaria Airport, which was right in the middle of the fire zone, countless homes and businesses were saved. Much of the scrub land on the airport grounds was burned (periodic wildfires are actually a necessary and natural part of the local scrub ecosystem) but there was little other damage to the airport.
Valkaria Airport's Important Place In WW2 History:
The top US Navy fighter ace of World War II, LtCdr Dave McCampbell, was the first Landing Signal Officer assigned to NAS Melbourne, where he set up an LSO training school in 1942. The pilots training at NAS Melbourne would land at Valkaria Satellite Field, on a simulated, full-sized wooden carrier deck (complete with a catapult and arresting gear) which was installed beside what is now Runway 10-28. Just as on a real carrier, an LSO stood beside the runway with paddles in hand, visually guiding the landing pilot in to hit the tiny deck in just the right spot to catch the arresting wire with the tailhook of his F4F Wildcat or F6F Hellcat fighter. McCampbell finished the war with 34 aerial kills, 7 probables, and 21 planes destroyed on the ground, and received the Medal of Honor... this nation's highest award.
Movie actor Wayne Morris (actually Lt Bert DeWayne Morris, later LtCdr) trained in the F6F Hellcat at NAS Melbourne in 1943, in Flight Class #44. Lt. Morris later became an ace with 7 enemy planes shot down as well as several ships damaged and sunk. Morris was the only movie actor to become an ace in any branch of the military during the war. Morris starred in movies before the war including Kid Galahad, I Wanted Wings (1941), and Flight of Angels (1940). After the war appeared in Deep Valley (1947), The Time Of Your Life (1948), Paths of Glory (1957), and the great carrier film Task Force (1959). Morris, already a Naval Aviator, got into fighters after being encouraged to do so and upon the recommendation of his wife's uncle... none other than LtCdr Dave McCampbell.
A very interesting and enjoyable book telling the story of NAS Melbourne and it's satellite fields (including Valkaria Airport) during World War II has been written by our friend Bill Barnett, who has done much to record and preserve the early history of NAS Melbourne and related places, people, and programs. NAS Melbourne played a critical role in training Navy fighter pilots for combat, mostly in the Pacific theater. As mentioned above, many aces and even a Medal of Honor recipient trained there and at Valkaria Airport (then known as Valkaria Satellite Field). Bills' book also covers some of the earlier history of the Melbourne Airport and the very rigorous training process experienced by Naval Aviators. The book is called US Naval Air Station, Melbourne Florida by William R. Barnett (Copyright 2000, ISBN 0-7388-5632-0 hardcover / 0-7388-5632-9 softcover, published by Xlibris). It is available to borrow from Brevard County Public Libraries. We also recommend a visit to the free but fascinating airport museum in the terminal of Melbourne International Airport, which Bill helped to create.