The Henry C. Mustin Naval Aircraft Factory was once a base used for the construction and testing of aircraft for the U.S. Navy. Located at the Navy Yard, Mustin was created during World War I as a reaction to the refusal of private airplane manufacturers to build Navy planes. It just wasn’t nearly as profitable as building aircraft for the Army, which needed far more planes. The factory was opened on November 17, 1917 and was named after Henry Mustin, the first pilot who launched a plane off the deck of an American ship.
In 1926, runways and additional land were added to the base and it became known colloquially as Mustin Field. Thousands of planes used in World War II were manufactured there. In 1943, the whole facility was upgraded and renamed the Naval Air Materials Center. This is when a large landmark hangar was built, known as the Seaplane Hangar or Building 653. It was a 302-foot long 49-foot tall steel-framed hangar with a giant concrete dome for a roof.
It was only in use for its designed purpose for a very short time. In 1945, in reaction to complaints from private manufacturers, the Naval Aircraft Factory stopped building planes. The base would continue as a testing ground until 1963, when Mustin Field closed due to problems resulting from its close proximity to Philadelphia International Airport. In that year, the base was renamed the Naval Engineering Center. The Seaplane Hangar was converted to an athletic facility in the early 70’s and then a Commissary Store used to serve the Naval Barracks built on the landfill next to the Hangar in the late 70’s.
The Navy Yard officially closed in 1995, leaving the Seaplane Hangar and Naval Barracks to rot, though rumor has it that both were used it the production of several movies. Today, the hangar still looks as bold and powerful as it did in the 40’s. The huge concrete arch roof remains intact. The Naval Barracks, on the other hand, are almost a complete loss. They are overgrown with plant life and falling apart.
As the Navy Yard Business Center grows, all of the old Mustin Field may someday be gone. If you ever get a chance, drive out there and take a look. Many areas are labeled “No Trespassing” and police patrol area frequently, so be careful where you explore… don’t put yourself in a position to catch federal charges, folks.