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Brown Field Municipal Airport
Brown Field Municipal Airport diagram.png
Airport type Public
Operator City of San Diego
Serves San Diego, California
Elevation AMSL 526 ft / 160 m
Coordinates 32°34′20″N 116°58′49″W / 32.57222°N 116.98028°W / 32.57222; -116.98028
Runway Length Surface
ft m
08L/26R 7,972 2,430 Asphalt/concrete
08R/26L 3,180 969 Asphalt

Brown Field Municipal Airport (IATA: SDMICAO: KSDMFAA LID: SDM) is in the Otay Mesa neighborhood of San Diego, California, United States, 13 miles (21 km) southeast of Downtown San Diego and named in honor of Commander Melville S. Brown, USN, who was killed in an airplane crash in 1936. Its main runway is 7,972 feet (2,430 m) long. Its FAA/IATA airport code is SDM. Formerly Naval Auxiliary Air Station Brown Field, it is now a civilian reliever airport and a port of entry from Mexico. It is sometimes staffed by the U.S. Customs Service, but only upon request of incoming pilots to the Federal Aviation Administration.


Brown Field is 1.5 miles north of the US/Mexico border in the Otay Mesa Community of the City of San Diego. The airport, originally named East Field in honor of Army Major Whitten J. East, opened in 1918 when the U.S. Army established an aerial gunnery and aerobatics school to relieve congestion at North Island. Major East completed flight training at the Army Signal Corps Station, Rockwell Field on North Island before flying over the front lines in France during World War I. He was killed in an auto accident in 1918 while in command of Mitchel Field in New York at the age of 25. From 1918 - 1919, pilots flying the Curtiss JN-4D Jenny trained at East Field. After World War I the military maintained control of East Field for touch and go landings and radio controlled target drone experiments.

In 1943, the U.S. Navy took over the airfield and changed the name to NAAS Otay Mesa; later that year the name was changed again to NAAS Brown Field in honor of Commander Melville S. Brown, USN, who was killed in a plane crash near Descanso, CA in 1936. CDR Brown was the Commanding Officer of the USS Truxtun (DD-229) when the ship was commissioned in 1921, and later was Executive Officer of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2). Between 1943 and 1946, the U.S. Army Air Forces, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps used NAAS Brown Field for training in various aircraft, including the USAAF Lockheed P-38 Lightning, and the USN and USMC Grumman F4F Wildcat/General Motors FM-1 Wildcat, Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger, Grumman F6F Hellcat, and Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer.

In 1946, the Navy decommissioned NAAS Brown Field and turned it over to San Diego County. The county ended up renting portions of the former base for use as a chicken farm and Chula Vista High School was established on the airport property in 1946.

In 1951, the Navy reopened the airfield as NALF Brown Field, a naval auxiliary landing field, due to increased military activity stemming from the Korean War and the Cold War. In 1954, Brown Field was again commissioned and redesignated as a Naval Auxiliary Air Station, with facilities to support regular operations of Fleet aircraft, assigned missile programs, and field carrier landing practice. In 1955, NAAS Brown Field was home to one utility squadron (VU), two air antisubmarine warfare squadrons (VS), a fleet aircraft service squadron (FASRON), and a Regulus air missile unit. The following year, the base was home to two utility squadrons, VU-3 and VU-7, the headquarters for Commander, Utility Wing Pacific (COMUTWINGPAC), a FASRON 4 detachment, and a ground control approach unit. Aircraft that operated at NAAS Brown Field included the F6F Hellcat, F9F Cougar, SNB, R4D Skytrain, JD-1 Invader, P2V Neptune, and FJ Fury. On November 2, 1954, the Convair XFY-1 Pogo made a transitional flight from vertical takeoff to horizontal flight, then back to a vertical landing at NAAS Brown Field. In 1957, NAAS Brown Field was selected as a site for one of the Vanguard Earth Satellite Tracking Stations.

On September 1, 1962, the Navy decommissioned NAAS Brown Field again and transferred ownership of Brown Field to the City of San Diego with the condition that it remain a public airport. During the mid to late 1960s, Pacific Southwest Airlines, an airline based in San Diego, trained its pilots at Brown Field using Piper Arrows, Comanches, Aztecs, and Beechcraft Bonanzas. PSA also had a contract to train Lufthansa pilots at Brown Field. In 1970, Lufthansa training moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where it remains today.

Neighboring facilities

Tijuana Airport, an airline airport, is just over 1 mi (1.6 km) to the south across the Mexico-United States border, with a similar length and a slightly different runway orientation (09 / 27).


A precision approach is not possible to either runway end due to rising terrain (elevation 3,600 feet) less than six miles (10 km) east of the airport. There have been several crashes due to pilots not maintaining sufficient altitude over these mountains (often flying VFR at night).

Incidents and accidents

On March 16, 1991, seven members of Reba McEntire's band and her road manager were among 10 people who died in the crash of a plane that departed from Brown Field. The aircraft hit Otay Mountain northeast of the airport.

On August 16, 2015, five people were killed when a twin-engine North American Sabreliner jet and a single-engine Cessna 172 Skyhawk collided midair about 2 miles northeast of Brown Field. The Cessna's pilot was performing touch-and-go-landings when the aircraft clipped wings above Otay Mesa, located just north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Both planes caught fire when they hit the ground and broke apart. Pieces of the fiery wreckage fell about a quarter-mile from each other and sparked fires in the remote, brushy area, east of state Route 125. The Sabreliner was carrying four people and was registered to military contractor BAE Systems, whose employees were aboard the aircraft. The pilot of the Cessna was on a cross-country trip.

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