Home for Good, Pax River Residents Believe
Military aircraft at Patuxent River Naval
(CNS photo by Sarah Abruzzese)
By Sarah Abruzzese
Friday, May 6, 2005
LEXINGTON PARK, Md.
- Patuxent River Naval Air Museum bristles with Navy achievements
past -- powerful jets, including the joint strike fighter concept planes
X-32B and X-35C -- all maintained by the Navy and berthed just a stone's
throw away at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
But Pax River, as the base is known,
represents the Navy's future.
Behind the base gates, said L.F. "Gus" Eggert, a retired rear admiral and
president of the museum association, is "the one stop for aircraft and
aircraft system research, development, test and evaluation . . . It is all
done here. This is a national asset."
It is inconceivable to the bucolic
farm community surrounding the base, to those at the new stores in
Leonardtown or even to those like Eggert, who are independent, yet
interdependent, on the base that it could possibly close in the upcoming
Base Realignment and Closure round.
The museum, which displays what once were the Navy's greatest aircraft and
which hopes to display its future achievements, is so optimistic about the
base's future that, with the county and state, it is building a new home.
"I certainly don't believe the base
will close," Eggert said.
His museum is housed in temporary quarters, a low-slung building attached
to a large, cavernous warehouse. The association is planning a bigger
facility in front of its current site because its old home was demolished
when the county widened Route 235, which runs parallel to the base.
Pax River has benefited from base
closures before. It was commissioned in 1943, when five bases closed.
in the 1990s, BRAC restructuring brought more units to the base, like the
Naval Air Systems Command, which moved to Pax River from Arlington, Va.,
in 1996. Major facilities were consolidated at the time, like the Naval
Aviation Research, Development, Test and Evaluation unit from Warminster,
Pa., and Trenton, N.J.
"No," said T.L. "Toby" van Esselstyn,
the museum's director, about the possibility of the base closing. "In
their infinite wisdom they have moved things here. . . . Roughly one third
of all astronauts have gone through the (test) pilot school at Pax River."
A lot of businesses sprang up after
the last BRAC realignment when multiple other installations were closed
and the activities were transferred to Pax River.
The California Starbucks near the base is just over three
years old in a relatively new mini-mall, in front of another new mall that
was built just a year before. Shopping choices abound on the 235 strip:
multiple grocery stores, mega-stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Lowe's Home
The businesses are evidence of the
economic symbiosis created by military installations.
"The economic base of the community has really been defense technology,"
said John Savich the director of economic and community development for
St. Mary's County. "I say that because it is not just a military base, it
is a technology base for the Navy with a lot of private-sector firms
outside the base that work with the Navy."
Pax River is the largest employer in
St. Mary's County. Its workers travel from as far away as Virginia, but
most live in St. Mary's and nearby Charles and Calvert counties.
"It would be astonishing if the Department of Defense decided to close
it," Savich said.
Inside the base, a hangar was just
completed to house the evaluation of a new presidential helicopter. The
new strike fighter and Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft, or MMA, are
The base has the ability to manufacture any part and it sports multiple
laboratories that test everything from the composition of paint to impact
studies from crashes. There is a tower that monitors flights, recording
every aspect of the test and presenting the client with results.
The museum shows off a 25-year
collection of Navy innovation -- a tradition that's unlikely to go
"The impact would really be countywide and region-wide," Savich said. "It
is a bigger part of the state economy than the Port of Baltimore, $3
billion in statewide economic impact, just from Pax. Since the base has
been there it has been a really big part of the community."
2005 University of
Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism