It was 1942, and most Americans were unaware that German U-boats were sinking American ships up and down the East Coast with frightening regularity. Even Glynn County was affected when a U-boat sank two merchant ships off the coast of St. Simons Island in April 1942.
To counter the threat, the U.S. Navy had a valuable surveillance tool at its disposal: lighter-than-air airships, or blimps. In August of 1942, the Navy began building NAS Glynco, an air base for blimps on 2,400 acres in north Glynn County. In 14 months, workers built two enormous wooden hangars, measuring 1,058 feet long, 297 feet wide and 182 feet tall, to house a six-ship fleet and to provide maintenance for blimps from other bases.
And so the naval air station became the forerunner of what is today Brunswick Golden Isles Airport.
Eyes in the Sky
Throughout the remainder of World War II, blimps from Glynco flew thousands of hours on convoy escort duty, protecting vulnerable ships delivering essential war materials. The blimps could fly for hours, carrying state-of-the-art electronic submarine detection systems. Their convoy escort duty became known as one of the most successful defense operations of the war.
NAS Glynco also developed significant advances in communications and electronics equipment, as well as new search and rescue procedures. NAS Glynco was slated for decommissioning in 1949 when tensions in Korea prompted the Navy to turn to blimps once again for anti-submarine warfare. So the blimps returned, and by 1953 all Navy blimp training had moved to Glynco.
The Navy retired its blimp program in 1959. The mammoth blimp hangars ultimately succumbed to the effects of time and climate, and the unique landmarks were demolished in 1971. But Glynco thrived by offering air traffic control instruction for all armed forces, as well as other highly specialized military courses.
One Era Ends, Another Begins
The entire community was stunned when plans were announced to close the base at the end of 1974. The community was proud of NAS Glynco, which had strongly supported the local economy for 31 years.
A group of 19 community leaders went into action and launched the Glynco Steering Committee to attract new users to the facility. By 1975, their venture paid off. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) selected the former Glynco site for a training academy for federal law enforcement personnel. The Navy's 8,001-foot runway became the heart of the official Glynn County municipal airport.
The economic impact of both successes continues to this day. The FLETC's contributions to the local economy have exceeded even the Navy's considerable impact, and the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport has been an important community asset.
To manage and develop new opportunities for both the Brunswick and St. Simons Island airports, the Glynn County Airport Commission was established in 1980. Originally called Glynco Jetport, the Brunswick airport was renamed Brunswick Golden Isles Airport in 2003. The beautiful passenger terminal, completed in 2005, reflects the local tradition of hospitality and welcome for airline passengers.
Click here to read more about "Project Glynco".
A History of NAS Glynco Brunswick, Georgia
(By Leslie Faulkenberry)
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Historic Photo Collection