Get to Know Southern Maryland’s Navy Base: Naval Air Station Patuxent River

Kimberly Bean
Kimberly Bean
Published on July 28, 2016

Talk to just about anyone who lives in Southern Maryland, and they likely have a connection in common: Naval Air Station Patuxent River. You’ll find that nearly everyone knows someone who currently worked there, used to work there, or is stationed there. Located in Lexington Park, NAS Pax River is the largest employer in St. Mary’s County, and growth on the base over the years has meant growth for Southern Maryland.

Commonly referred to as “Pax,” the base is home to the majority of the U.S. Navy’s ground and flight test operations. It is the headquarters for the Naval Air Systems Command, and it is home to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division and the Navy’s Test Pilot School. (Kind of like having a nerdy “Top Gun” right in our backyard!)

In 1937, the Navy decided that it wanted to consolidate its aviation test programs. It chose a peninsula at the mouth of the Patuxent River between the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. The land was once prime farmland and was home to several plantations, tenant and sharecropper properties, and vacation homes. In fact, some of those homes are now used as quarters for Navy personnel who are stationed at Pax River. The base was commissioned in April 1943.

Why was this location chosen? When you’re looking for a place to test aircraft and weapons, it really couldn’t be more perfect. The peninsula has a remote coastline location, large overwater restricted airspace, and plenty of space to conduct weapons testing. Plus, it’s close to the nation’s capital.

The base has grown over the years, starting with an initial growth spurt because of World War II. Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions have favored the base, moving more testing and evaluation operations to the base as the Navy further consolidates operations. These days, nearly 18,000 people work on the base: 9,800 civilian employees, 5,700 contractors, and 2,400 active duty service members.

Pax River is more than just the main base in Lexington Park. Its 14,500 acres includes the Webster Field Annex in St. Inigoes, the Solomons Recreation Center, and the Bloodsworth Island Range. On the main base, you’ll also find a movie theater, golf course, recreational activities like camping and a beach, and exercise facilities. Miles of roadways make it a great place for biking and running.

You need access to get on the property, so you can’t just drive on the base to see airplanes and helicopters take off and land or to use the facilities. But that doesn’t mean the community can’t learn about Pax River, its history, and its future. The Patuxent River Naval Air Station Museum is located just outside one of the base’s gates, and its mission is to tell the story of naval aviation and its associated technology. The museum opened in 1978, moving into a brand-new facility in May 2016. The museum is one of 10 official Navy museums.

And in October, the base will open its doors for the NAS Pax River Air Expo 2016. Taking place Oct. 29 and 30, the airshow will be open to the public for aviation shows and displays.


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