The base opened in August 1940 and is named after LTJG Richard C. Saufley, USN, Naval Aviator #14. Saufley was killed 9 June 1916 in the crash of a Curtiss Model E hydroplane, AH-8, off of Pensacola during an attempted long-endurance flight.
The installation was originally commissioned in 1943 as Naval Auxiliary Air Station Saufley Field and was redesignated Naval Air Station Saufley Field in 1968. Saufley Field's historical role was the initial primary training of student naval aviators. It continued in this mission through 1 December 1976 , when it was home to Training Squadron ONE (VT-1) and Training Squadron FIVE (VT-5), flying the T-34B Mentor and T-28C/D Trojan, respectively. With the introduction of the T-34C Turbomentor version of the T-34 Mentor in 1976, VT-1 and VT-5 were disestablished, Saufley Field's control tower was closed and its status as an active Naval Air Station was changed to that of a Naval Outlying Field (NOLF) supporting NAS Pensacola and NAS Whiting Field.
In 1979, Saufley Field was redesignated as both OLF Saufley Field and Naval Education and Training Program Development Center (NAVEDTRAPRODEVCEN) Saufley Field following the latter activity's relocation from the nearby NETPDC Ellyson Field (formerly NAS Ellyson Field), Florida. With NETPDC's relocation. In 1996, NETPDC was redesignated as the Naval Education and Training Professional Development and Technology Center (NETPDTC), a major shore command. As the host command for Saufley Field, NETPDTC supports 10 major DoD and Navy tenant commandss and has a total base population in excess of 1,000 personnel.
Among the tenant commands represented at NETPDTC Saufley Field are the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) and Navy Operational Support Center Pensacola (NOSC Pensacola), the latter of which supports several colocated Navy Reserve surface and shore-based support units, as well as providing Reserve-specific administrative support for Reserve Component Naval Aviator flight instructors, Naval Flight Officer flight instructors and other Selected Reserve and Full-Time Support (FTS) Reserve Component personnel physically assigned to Training Air Wing FIVE at NAS Whiting Field and Training Air Wing SIX at NAS Pensacola.
In its concurrent role as OLF Saufley Field, the installation currently operates two active uncontrolled 4000 foot runways in support of Naval Aviator and Naval Flight Officer training by Training Air Wings FIVE and SIX using T-6A Texan II, T-34C Turbomentor and TH-57B/C Sea Ranger aircraft. The installation also has a permanent crash/fire/rescue detachment from the NAS Pensacola Fire Department and in excess of 34425 sqft (3198.2 m2) of hangar space which can support these same aircraft. and has frequently done so when airfield construction projects have necessitated temporary relocation of flight operations. The Saufley VOR is also located on the installation in the center of the airfield proper.
In 1988, Federal Prison Camp Pensacola was established at Saufley Field by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide minimum security inmate manpower to various components of the Pensacola Naval Complex. The agreement between the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Navy is similar to existing ones with the U.S. Air Force in the establishment of minimum security Federal Prison Camps at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama and Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Saufley Field's prison camp has a fluctuating population, but can house up to 600 inmates, with over half always dedicated to provide manpower to the Navy. Inmate labor is primarily used statutorily for ground maintenance and for other Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs. The prison camp has a staff of about 85 personnel.
In September 2004, the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency designated Saufley Field as a temporary Logistical Staging Area (LSA) for Federal, State and non-governmental agencies in response to Hurricane Ivan, considered one of the worst storms ever to hit the United States until that point.