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Whidbey base captain addresses Outlying Field concerns

Capt. Gerral David, commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, speaks with Carol Moliter after his July 9 talk in Coupeville. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Capt. Gerral David, commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, speaks with Carol Moliter after his July 9 talk in Coupeville.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

A Coupeville audience queried about Outlying Field and the security at the Seaplane Base during a state of the Naval base address Thursday.

The speech was delivered by Capt. Gerral David, commanding officer of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, at the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting.

The first question fired off by audience members concerned Outlying Field and the newly added concrete blocks and no-parking signs surrounding parts of the airfield.

For decades, portions of Patmore and Keystone roads bordering Outlying Field were popular with thrill seekers, who parked their cars near the airstrip to watch the Navy's EA-6B Prowlers practice landings.

In April, Navy officials requested the county put up no-parking signs because of safety concerns. The concrete barriers were part of the addition.

"We had cases of teens drag racing on the runway. Last year, we had a drunk who took out several of the lights which needed to be repaired," David responded.

He added that placing a fence around the airfield is unsafe because the planes fly too low. The airstrip is meant to replicate an aircraft carrier and the clearance is about five feet.

"If people want to watch the airplanes, by all means," David said. "But it's dangerous to be directly underneath the planes. We don't want to crease cars with the wheels."

In his speech, he recognized noise-related community complaints about the flight schedules on the field.

"I recognize that this time of year they are out there really late," David said. "Sorry, but that is a fact of life." Night flying requires late hours in the summer months.

An audience member asked about the security on the Seaplane Base. The gate personnel were removed earlier this year, and placed at other locations.

"I pulled the guards," David said. "Over the year I convinced enough people we needed to change the security level. There's nothing operational there."

The magazines by Polnell Point are enclosed and have security monitors, and a guard is still posted when the fuel barge facility is in use.

David discussed the wide-scale construction projects on base in anticipation of the new aircraft, including the EA-18G Growler. The base is building additional hangars and creating new electrical lines for the changing power requirements.

"We're changing almost every plane we've got. Everything is old," David said. The venerable P-3 Orion is also scheduled to be replaced, by the P-8A Poseidon.

The captain boasted about both the base's environmental record, announcing that 81 percent of their solid waste is recycled, and the base's economic impact. NAS Whidbey employs about 10,000 people.

"We are helping to recession-proof the island. We're not firing people or changing their salary," David said.

During the speech, David walked around the room to respond to questions and greet audience members rather than use a podium. The two-hour talk took place at 8 a.m. at the Coupeville Rec Hall.

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