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Pitcairn Field

Pitcairn Airfield

The following is taken from The History of Horsham by Craven.

In 1926 Harold Pitcairn of Bryn Athyn purchased 191 acres of land off of Route 611 in Horsham Township. He needed space to continue his experiments with the autogiro, the forerunner of the helicopter. The autogiro had a standard biplane frame, tail, engine and forward propeller. On each side was a single projecting stub of a bent up wing, and on the top was a free-spinning overhead propeller. His autogiros were, for a brief time, an official experiment of the U.S. Post Office, which used them as interurban mail carriers which would land on skyscraper rooftops.

The Pitcairn Field was the site of numerous air shows in those early days of flying, when barnstorming and stunt flying were popular. After the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, a search was begun by the Navy for land that would be suitable for use as a Flight Training Center. At this time all training of pilots in the East Coast’ s Fourth Naval District took place at Mustin’ s Field located at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. The search led to the Pitcairn Field property, and in 1941 576 acres were purchased.

By October 1942, 250 officers and enlisted men of the U.S. Navy resided at the new Naval Air Station in Horsham. The first fleet of airplanes consisted of 30 "Yellow Perils” - N3N biplanes which were used in the training of new pilots. Their distinctive yellow color served as a warning that they were being flown by an inexperienced pilot. In January of 1943 the official commissioning of the “U.S. Naval Air Station, Horsham, Pa.” was held. Six months later, because of postal service arrangements, the name was changed to the ‘Willow Grove Naval Air Station.”

After the end of the war, veterans who had opted to remain in the Navy set up a Naval Reserve Center at the Station. The center trained part-time civilian Naval Reservists on Saturdays and Sundays. With them since 1963 are hundreds of men of the U.S. Air Force Reserve and the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

A Liaison Committee composed of residents of Horsham Township appointed by the Township Supervisors was set up to meet with representatives of the Navy for mutual information and cooperation.

In April 1957 Welsh and Margaret Strawbridge sold 42 acres of Graeme Park to the United States of America for the expansion of the Willow Grove Naval Air Station. see Graeme Park Timeline

Land on the east side of Easton Road was released by the Naval Air Station in 1958 for use by the Army as a Reserve Center. The 157th Infantry Brigade moved its headquarters from Oxford Circle, Philadelphia. On May 16, 1960 the new building was dedicated and named the “Horsham Memorial U.S. Army Reserve Center" on the recommendation of the Liaison Committee.

(from In 1994, the air station's name was again changed to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base (NAS JRB) Willow Grove to more accurately reflect the integration and joint operations of the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army Reservists, as well as the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

NAS-JRB Willow Grove is one of the bases on the BRAC 2005 list for realignment and closure. The Navy and Marine Corps squadrons/units are scheduled to move to McGuire Air Force Base by 2011. The 111th Fighter Wing of the PA Air National Guard will remain at their present site along with Army Reserve and Army National Guard units on the former U.S. Air Force Reserve Center facility. The U.S. Army Reserve, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and Pennsylvania Army National Guard units will be located on the approximately 200-acre base that is located near the intersection of County Line and Easton Roads. The name of the new installation will be "Horsham Air Guard Station".

A "Base Disestablishment Ceremony" was held March 30, 2011 to formally commemorate the closure of NAS-JRB (Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base) Willow Grove. More than 500 guests bid farewell to a Naval Air Station that throughout the last 68 years has been the home to thousands of military men and woman and their families. As a final symbol of closure, the flag was lowered for the final time and aircraft took off after the ceremonies for the last time.

The HLRA, Horsham Township Authority for NAS-JRB (Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base) is a corporation established on November 7, 2005 under the authority of the Pennsylvania Authorities Act.

The mission of the HLRA is to provide leadership and work on behalf of the affected communities to facilitate the economic redevelopment of the former Willow Grove NAS-JRB.

Support the Future of Horsham's History!

Horsham Preservation and Historical Association (HPHA)
900 Governor Road
Horsham, PA 19044 USA
© 2000- Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
A Community Benefit Organization

Horsham Preservation and Historical Association (HPHA)
900 Governor Road
Horsham, PA 19044 USA
© 2000- Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
We are A Community Benefit Organization
Horsham Preservation and Historical Association Logo
215-343-0659 | Email