Military & Yuma

Yuma is a big military town, and proud of it.  The United States Military has been in Yuma for over 150 years.  Today, we are home to the Yuma Proving Ground and the Marine Corps Air Station – Yuma.  The military is the second largest industry in Yuma.  In 2014, both bases were responsible for a total of $896 million of Yuma's economy.  With the arrival of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the military’s future in Yuma is bright. 

The U.S. Army first came to the area in 1851, and established Fort Yuma on Indian Hill. The installation overlooked the Yuma Crossing, the aptly named low spot in the Colorado River, and it allowed for the establishment of the town site of what would later become Yuma.  In 1864 the Army put up the Quartermaster Depot along the river. From here the Army oversaw the distribution of supplies to soldiers in the West.


It was 1928 when Col. Benjamin F. Fly persuaded the federal government to lease 640 acres of cactus, brush and desert wildlife from Yuma County.  During the summer of 1928, Fly Field was a stopover point for 25 planes in a New York to Los Angeles air race, which brought some attention to the Yuma area.  After the race, Fly Field was used sporadically by private aircraft until 1941 when the U.S. government authorized an expenditure for permanent runways.


Marine Corps Air Station Yuma Color Guard

An air base was erected not long after the United States entered World War II.  By early 1943, Yuma Army Air Base began graduating classes of pilots and the base became one of the busiest flying schools in the nation.  Pilots were trained for AT-6 single-engine trainers, T-17 multiengine trainers and B-17 Flying Fortresses. 

Once World War II ended, so did all flight activity and the base was slowly reclaimed by the desert.  Another consequence of the base closing was the steady decline of Yuma’s economy.  Local businessmen got together with the Yuma Jaycees and organized the historic endurance flight of the “City of Yuma” airplane.  

Former military pilots Woody Jongward and Bob Woodhouse stayed aloft in a red Aeronca Sedan over Yuma for 47 days, setting the endurance flight record of 1,124 hours of non-stop flying.  This historic flight was to demonstrate Yuma’s optimal flying conditions and, hopefully, convince the military to reopen the base. 

On July 7, 1951, the Air Force reactivated the base and he airfield was renamed Vincent Air Force Base in 1956 in memory of Brig. Gen. Clinton D. Vincent, a pioneer of bombing techniques who died in 1955.

The Department of the Navy signed for control of the base on January 1, 1959.  A few days later, Col. L.K. Davis became the first commanding officer of the newly designated Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station. Then, on July 20, 1962, the designation was changed to Marine Corps Air Station.

MCAS served primarily as a training base, from 1969 until 1987, for pilots assigned to Marine Corps Crew Readiness Training Group 10, flying the F-4 Phantom, A-4 Skyhawk and AV-8A Harrier. In 1978, Yuma became an academic center of excellence for military aviation when Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 was commissioned to assist in increasing combat readiness of fleet aviation units.  During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, virtually every Marine Corps fixed-wing squadron that participated, underwent pre-deployment training on Yuma’s ranges in the fall of 1990. 

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter 

In November 2012, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) became the world's first operational F-35 squadron at MCAS Yuma.  The summer of 2015 saw the arrival of Marine Operational and Evaluation Squadron 22 (VMX-22), for the purpose of providing integrated operational testing. 

Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 (VMU-1) transfered to MCAS Yuma in January 2016.  Also, Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) has begun their transition from the AV-8B Harrier to the F-35, continuing Yuma’s tradition of leading the way in making aviation technology history every day.

Yuma Proving Ground


NASA capsule tested at Yuma Proving Ground

The area that is currently Yuma Proving Ground began as a training site for World War II troops and a test site for combat bridges. Many eventful happenings have occurred at YPG since then.  In 1995, the Military Free Fall School, which trains special forces troops from the nation's military branches in parachuting, relocated from Fort Bragg, N.C., to YPG. 

On the non-military side, General Motors rolled into YPG in 2009 to open the Desert Test Center. YPG has also hosted NASA engineers conducting airdrop tests of the Orion space capsule, the next phase of manned space exploration and follow-up to the space shuttle.

MCAS has the F-35, and Yuma Proving Ground is also has the opening of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.  The purpose of this facility will allow special forces troops to train for air operations requiring free falls from airplanes. The facility opened in January of 2014 and, at 75 feet tall, is the largest in the world.  

Weapons and Tactics Instruction

Twice a year, in the fall and the spring, Yuma plays host to Marines who come for WTI (Weapons and Tactics Instructor course).  This specialized training provides training in advanced aviation tactics, techniques and procedures across all type of aircraft being used by our military.  Yuma’s year-round flying weather makes MCAS Yuma and YPG perfect for WTI.  The close relationship the military has within the Yuma community allows Marines to train in a realistic urban setting that would not be allowed in other communities. 

Yuma’s military roots are extensive, and those traditions will not be slowing any time soon.  


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