New England's Reserve VP Squadrons
VP squadron is US Navy short-hand for a maritime patrol squadron that operates heavier-than-air aircraft. In the old days there were also ZP squadrons, which were maritime patrol squadrons that operated lighter-than-air blimps. This could possibly happen again in the future since the Navy tests blimps from time-to-time (as recently as early 2009) so the distinction between VP and ZP remains as important today as it was back in the days when the Navy had an active LTA program.
Naval Air Reserve maritime patrol aviation began in New England in July 1946, shortly after the Second World War ended, when VP-919 was formed at NAS Squantum, MA. Although there had been Naval Air Reserve activity associated with Squantum since 1923, VP-919 was the first actual reserve patrol squadron to be formed in the New England area.
VP-919 proved to be a very short-lived squadron. In November 1946 it was re-designated VP-ML-69. The "ML" in the squadron's designation indicated that it flew medium sized patrol aircraft that although they were amphibian types at that time (Consolidated PBY-5A and PBY-6A Catalinas) were considered to be land-based.
In late 1949 the entire reserve program at NAS Squantum was reorganized to fall under a new administrative structure called Reserve Air Wing 91. All the existing reserve squadrons based at NAS Squantum at that time were re-designated to conform to the new Reserve Air Wing 91 unit naming standard, which incorporated the RAW number. Thus, in February 1950 VP-ML-69 was re-designated VP-911. This indicated that VP-911 was the first (actually the only) patrol squadron in Reserve Air Wing 91. Among other things, VP-911 was the first reserve patrol squadron in New England to have its own squadron insignia. Neither VP-919 nor VP-ML-69 had their own insignia.
Due to increasing airspace conflicts between NAS Squantum and the Commonwealth Airport (modern Logan International Airport) and other factors, the Navy decided to close NAS Squantum and move all Naval Air Reserve training activity to NAS South Weymouth, a former Second World War blimp base that had been downgraded and then closed not long after the end of the war. Between 1950 and 1953 NAS South Weymouth was rebuilt so it could assume NAS Squantum's role in the Naval Air Reserve Training Command. Among other things, the reconstruction of NAS South Weymouth involved the demolition of a huge wooden blimp hangar and the construction of three new paved runways and a control tower. NAS South Weymouth was reopened as a reserve base in December 1953 and NAS Squantum was closed a month or two later.
VP-911 moved to NAS South Weymouth flying the same PBY-5A and PBY-6A Catalinas that it and its two predecessors had been flying from Squantum since the end of the Second World War. However, by the early summer of 1954 VP-911 traded in its last PBY for the much larger and more capable Consolidated P4Y-2 Privateer, the Navy version of the famous wartime Army Air Forces B-24 Liberator bomber. The Privateer, unlike the amphibian Catalina, was strictly a landplane.
In November 1956 VP-911 was joined by two new reserve patrol squadrons established at NAS South Weymouth. These were VP-912 and VP-913. All three reserve VP squadrons continued to fly the P4Y-2 Privateer until late 1957, when the Privateers were replaced by Lockheed P2V-6M and P2V-5FJ Neptunes. The various reserve patrol squadrons based at NAS South Weymouth in the years that followed would continue to fly a wide variety of P2V Neptune variants including the P2V-5F (P-2E), P2V-5FE (EP-2E), P2V-5FS (SP-2E), P2V-6 (P-2F), P2V-6T (TP-2F), and P2V-7S (SP-2H) until 1975.
In October 1958, a fourth reserve VP squadron, VP-914, was established at NAS South Weymouth. It was joined by three more squadrons, VP-915, VP-916, and VP-917 that were formed in January 1963 in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Cuban Blockade.
The establishment of VP-915, VP-916, and VP-917 marked the high water mark of reserve patrol aviation in New England. For a time there were seven different Navy Reserve VP squadrons operating from NAS South Weymouth. This situation did not last for long though. By the summer of 1964 VP-916 and VP-917 had been disestablished and by January 1966 VP-914 was gone as well. In January 1968 the four reserve patrol squadrons remaining at NAS South Weymouth, VP-911, VP-912, VP-913, and VP-915, were re-designated as part of a Navy-wide reorganization of the Naval Air Reserve Training Command. These four VP squadrons were re-designated VP-63Z1, VP-63Z2, VP-63Z3, and VP-11Z4.
In November 1970 VP-63Z1, VP-63Z2, VP-63Z3, and VP-11Z4 were themselves done away with. Their personnel and aircraft (the SP-2H Neptune at the time) were folded into a new unit designated VP-92. VP-92 continued to fly SP-2H Neptunes from NAS South Weymouth until 1975, at which time the squadron transitioned to a completely different and much more capable aircraft, the Lockheed P-3A Orion. In later years VP-92 transitioned to the more sophisticated P-3B and P-3C models of the Orion.
In January 1983 a new type of reserve unit, the VP Master Augment Unit of VP-MAU, was formed at NAS Brunswick, but under the administrative control of NAS South Weymouth. Up to this point in time, NAS Brunswick had not had any reserve patrol squadrons assigned to it. The VP-MAU was a new concept in reserve training. Its personnel were actually assigned to fly and maintain aircraft "owned" by the regular Navy units on the base. When VP-MAU personnel came in to drill on weekends they more often than not flew or worked as part of a regular Navy squadron's weekend operations schedule. When they went off on annual training for two weeks, they were assigned to a regular Navy squadron forward deployed somewhere in the world and were integrated into that squadron's regular flight or ground support operations. The VP-MAU was disestablished due to budget cuts in early 1991.
Reserve patrol aviation returned to NAS Brunswick in 1996 when VP-92 was moved from NAS South Weymouth, which was scheduled to be closed in 1997. VP-92 continued to operate P-3C Orions from NAS Brunswick until November 30, 2007, when it was officially disestablished ahead of the impending closure of NAS Brunswick scheduled for 2011. Thus ended the long tradition of reserve maritime patrol aviation in New England!