Site now home of Walmart, housing development, St. Vincent’s Clay County

Middleburg’s Branan Field was original home for Blue Angels training

By Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 4/21/21

MIDDLEBURG – A Walmart, a hospital and suburban homes now reside on top of Blue Angel history, but most people don’t know it.

That’s because one of the Blue Angels’ first …

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Site now home of Walmart, housing development, St. Vincent’s Clay County

Middleburg’s Branan Field was original home for Blue Angels training

Posted

MIDDLEBURG – A Walmart, a hospital and suburban homes now reside on top of Blue Angel history, but most people don’t know it.

That’s because one of the Blue Angels’ first practice spots was located at the Branan Field during the 1940s and early 1950s. The Blue Angels were born out of NAS Jacksonville, just outside of Clay County, but the birthplace of their flight formations, tricks and demonstrations was in Clay County.

“It’s because of NAS JAX,” Clay County Archives historian Vishi Garig said. “They were born and stationed at the base, but they needed a new place to practice where they weren’t interrupted by other flight lines. When you can fly three minutes down the road and have clear air space, why not do that?”

The official name for the Middleburg-based practice field was the Navy’s Branan Field Outlying Landing Field, or OLF, and it was named after the Branan family whose property was acquired by the military. The northwestern area of Middleburg was used for many different purposes during World War II, but after the war was over, it became the demonstration practice field for what are now the most-popular flying jet groups in the world.

The OLF wasn’t a standard airfield runway. It looks more like a wagon wheel from above, with the individual spokes being the runways. Each runway was about 4,000 feet long and the halfway point of each of the four runways met at a central point in the wagon wheel design.

“This OLF’s unique geometry made it particularly suitable for training Blue Angel pilots,” according to the archives. “The large symmetrical shape [an octagon or eight-sided polygon] of Branan Field OLF with its convergence of multiple 4,000-foot runways facilitated visualization by pilots approaching a single central spot from various compass points in their jet aircraft.”

“Having no based units or aircraft and minimal facilities, an outlying landing field is used as a low-traffic location for flight training, without the risks and distractions of other traffic at a naval air station or other airport.”

Not too far from the OLF, about a mile south in Middleburg, a rectangular piece of land was used as the Spencer Bomb Range for “target practice for mainly inert, powder-filled bombs.” The design was simple: a large rectangle with a circle in the middle. The circle was the target.

Despite the site’s history, the U.S. Navy sold the land in 1953, unfortunately with no care of historical preservation although who knew back then how big of a deal the Blue Angels would become decades later.

“For a while there, you could still see the spokes of the field, but obviously that’s not possible anymore,” Garig said.

What used to be the OLF training field eventually became subdivisions of homes, a Walmart, Ascension St. Vincent’s Clay County and other businesses likely are unaware they’re sitting on history.

According to archives, “Their original reputation was built over the skies of Clay County and on the runways of Branan Field OLF, in Middleburg Florida.”

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