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
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
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
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.