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Shore guardian

Aviation roots at Dare County in the Outer Banks

The coastal town of Manteo on Roanoke Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina is peaceful and picturesque, but 80 years ago it was anything but.

Dare County Regional Airport

Dare County Regional Airport The Civil Air Patrol and U.S. Navy operated anti-submarine missions out of Manteo NAAS (now Dare County Regional Airport, North Carolina) before it became a fighter and bomber training base for the U.S. Navy. Dare County Regional Airport Dare County Regional Airport

In the early 1940s, the coast of North Carolina had a front row seat to the Battle of the Atlantic, as strict blackouts were in place, the ground shook with explosions, and wreckage washed ashore from the 90 ships that were sunk here between 1942 and 1945. The country needed aircraft to patrol for attacking submarines—and needed them fast.

Aviation has been present in the Outer Banks since the Wright brothers set foot at Kill Devil Hills, but flourished greatly in part thanks to the efforts of barnstormer and pioneer Dave Driskill, who flew in many capacities for the community and championed efforts to start a hub airport for tourism. First came Skyco Field, which was used by the Civil Air Patrol for coastal protection until 1942 when a Naval Auxiliary Air Station was built in Manteo with the intention of turning it over to the county after the war. The Civil Air Patrol was the first to begin operating from the new field, and in 1943 the U.S. Navy arrived in force to take over anti-submarine patrols and begin training for Naval fighter and bomber squadrons. This became the home training base for the VF-17 “Jolly Rogers,” the Navy’s top fighter squadron in the Pacific—one of whom was Shelton “Ray” Beacham, a native of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. After the war, the air station was decommissioned, turned over to Dare County, and has been a vibrant center of the area’s aviation community since.

Aviation has been present in the Outer Banks since the Wright brothers set foot at Kill Devil Hills.As this year marks the eightieth anniversary of the airport’s establishment, Dare County Regional Airport (MQI) will be hosting a celebratory event featuring reenactors, talks about the airport’s history, and several aircraft static displays, including from the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach exemplifying the type of aircraft that would have been at the airport during its history. Check out the museum in the terminal for photos and artifacts that were used here during World War II, and enjoy food trucks, vendors, aircraft rides, and other activities.

The event will take place Saturday, September 23 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine. Admission is free, and fly-ins are welcome for the event. Dare County Regional Airport has two runways, 5/23 and 17/35, that are 4,305 and 3,300 feet long, respectively. Normally nontowered, there will be a temporary tower for the weekend of the event, with the frequency of 118.55 MHz. Fuel—both 100LL and Jet A—and major maintenance services are available, as well as parking and tiedowns.

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Emma Quedzuweit
Assistant Editor
Assistant Editor Emma Quedzuweit, who joined the AOPA publications staff in 2022, is a private pilot and historical researcher.

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