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CFB Namao

With the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese on 7 December 1941, an urgent need arose to increase the defences of the North American West Coast against potential Japanese invasion. The United States and Canada quickly negotiated an agreement permitting the U.S. to use Edmonton’s Blatchford Field as their aeronautic jumping-off point in the protection of Alaska.

Busy Blatchford Field, now known as City Centre Airport, eventually ran out of room and was not able to expand. It could no longer handle the requirements of the U.S. military’s heavy fuel tankers, and so in 1943, the Americans rushed to build a second airfield at Namao, 11 kilometres north of Edmonton.

Although local contractors constructed the buildings at the base, only the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had the heavy-duty machinery to build the airstrip with the requisite alacrity. They built two runways, each 2,100 metres long, composed of steel and concrete 2.1 meters thick, giving the new airfield the longest, most durable tarmac in Canada. It boasted the longest runway in the Commonwealth: the fourth longest runway in the world.

Namao was a 16-month, seven million dollar project that was completed 27 September 1944. The first landing at the air harbour was on 23 October: a C-47 bound for Russia.

The airfield was run by the Americans until the end of the war in 1945, when it was turned over to the Canadian Government to be used as a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) base. The United States continued to use RCAF Station Namao as a refuelling point on their way to Alaska.

During the cold war of the 1950’s, determination to guard the Northern territories had not diminished, only shifted as Western eyes moved to the former Soviet Union. At this time, Namao was used for the United States’ Strategic Air Command (SAC). The airfield was lengthened and strengthened between 1954 and 1957, then again in 1959 and 1960, to compensate for the increasing weight of tankers used to refuel nuclear bombers patrolling the arctic. The massive aerodrome then measured 60 meters wide -and 4,200 metres long, with two 180-meter over-runs: a match for any plane.

The airfield also served many altruistic purposes during its tenure. The Armed Forces Rescue and Co-ordination Centre was located at Namao, the airstrip serving as home base for search and rescue flights patrolling the Rockies and the Arctic. United Nations’ Food Aid flights departed from Namao, delivering aid desperately required in Ethiopia, Somalia and Bosnia.

The base was also designated a NASA emergency space shuttle landing site.

In the mid 1990s, Edmonton’s ceaseless airport debate once inspired the possibility that Namao could become Edmonton’s International civilian airport, rather than continue with the (ailing at the time) International Airport south of Edmonton near Nisku. The city concluded that the cost of converting the military airfield would be in the range of 220 million and did not consider the Namao option again.

In 1994, due to federal government budget cuts, command of Canadian Forces Base Namao transferred from air to army, and with it the end of an aviation era in Alberta.

 
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