Originally the planned site of the Imperial County airport, the Navy leased the facility for use as a Marine Corps Air Station in 1942.
The formal establishment of the installation took place on July 24, 1943. The installation operated as a Marine Corp Air Station until disestablishment and subsequent re-establishment to the Navy in May 1946. In 1979 the facility was designated Naval Air Facility El Centro. El Centro was critical to the development of parachute recovery not only for jet aircraft but the entire space program as well.