Word that Whidbey Island Naval Air Station will be receiving twice as many P-8A Poseidons than expected comes as music to Oak Harbor’s ears.
Instead of the expected 24 planes, the Navy now says 49 are coming. Poseidons are submarine hunting jets manufactured by The Boeing Co. The aircraft are based on the 737-800 airframe and is the Navy’s planned replacement for the aging P-3C Orions turbo-prop planes.
Congressman Rick Larsen, representative for the Second District, made the announcement last week.
“The additional basing of P-8As makes Naval Air Station Whidbey Island the preeminent maritime patrol, electronic warfare and surveillance site in the Pacific,” said Larsen. “The additional P-8As will bring hundreds of new military families and will create hundreds of local jobs in the next few years as the base constructs new facilities.”
Pending completion of an environmental impact review process, NAS Whidbey will be home to all seven Pacific squadrons of the P-8A Poseidons, Larsen said.
The additional aircraft are coming to Whidbey because plans were scrapped to base three fleet squadrons in Hawaii.
The additional squadrons will certainly be a shot in the arm from which the community as a whole stands to benefit.
It’s slightly reminiscent of a tense time in Oak Harbor a little more than 20 years ago.
In 1991, I was a Whidbey News-Times assistant editor covering a threat to close NAS Whidbey by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.
Anxiety was high in military communities across the country. Nobody knew which installations would go on the chopping block.
After word came down that NAS Whidbey had escaped closure, we ran with one of two pre-designed pages. The Extra edition we published blared in huge type, “NAS Whidbey spared.”
Nobody could recall any other time in its history that the News-Times published an Extra edition.
The relief throughout the community at the time was palpable.
There were some other anxious moments.
As the A-6E Intruder was being phased out during the 1990s, its replacement, the McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger, was scrapped because of budget overruns.
It was also about that time that the P-3 Orions started coming to Whidbey, diversifying NAS Whidbey’s mission and, as it appears, quite possibly increasing its longevity.
For the time being, it appears that Oak Harbor again a degree of certainty.
Perhaps there will be some other anxious moments in the years to come, but last week’s Poseidon announcement is certainly a welcome breather for the North Whidbey community.
Keven R. Graves is executive editor and publisher of the Whidbey News-Times. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org