THE PENTAGON — The Navy is in the process of securing aircraft stationed on the Florida panhandle as the Department of Defense monitors Hurricane Michael’s track into the Gulf of Mexico, officials told USNI News on Tuesday.
Naval Air Station Pensacola and Naval Air Station Whiting Field are both located on the Florida Panhandle and are within the area the National Hurricane Center expects Hurricane Michael to make landfall on Wednesday. As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, Michael had sustained winds of 110 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“The Navy is in the process of tying down, hangering, or evacuating aircraft,” Cmdr. Dave Hecht, a spokesman for Naval Air Forces Atlantic, told USNI News.
NAS Pensacola plans to send all non-essential personnel home at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Other base activities and will be shut-down throughout the day. The base will remain closed Wednesday but expects to be fully open on Thursday, according to a message on the base Facebook page.
Both NAS Pensacola and NAS Whiting Field are primarily home to training aircraft. Whiting Field is home to Training Air Wing Five where more than 60 percent of all primary flight training occurs. Also, every Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps helicopter pilot receives initial rotary training at Whiting Field, according to the base.
Pensacola is home to Naval Aviation Schools Command, the Naval Education Training Command, Naval Air Technical Training Center, and the Marine Aviation Training Support Group 21 and 23, according to the base.
The Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, is also based at Pensacola. The Blue Angels just wrapped up an appearance in San Francisco, Calif. and are now preparing for a show this weekend in Lake Tahoe, Nev., far from the expected hurricane path, according to their schedule.
The decision to evacuate personnel from bases is one being made by individual base commanders, according to Navy and Pentagon spokespeople. As of noon on Tuesday, both NAS Pensacola and NAS Whiting Field have posted alerts to their base Facebook pages warning Navy and civilian personnel to prepare for the storm.