During the war, Coast Guard aircraft found one thousand survivors and directed rescue units to the scene. Coast Guard aircrews rescued one hundred survivors additionally by landing in the open sea [below: Hall PH-2 medevac, circa 1942]. On occasion, the aircraft had to taxi ashore because weight of those rescued prevented the aircraft from taking off.
By 1941 the Coast Guard was very interested in developing the helicopter for search and rescue. LCDR William Kossler had represented the Coast Guard on an inter-agency board formed in 1938 for the evaluation of experimental aircraft, including the helicopter. However, World War II interrupted these plans. The Coast Guard, incorporated into the Navy on 1 November 1941, was tasked in early 1943 with developing the helicopter for antisubmarine warfare. Sikorsky HNS-1 and HOS-1 helicopters were ordered and pilot training began at Brooklyn Air Station. Coast Guard personnel trained British pilots who undertook a joint British-American helicopter trial on board the merchant ship Daghestan. In fact, during the war all Allied helicopter pilots were trained by the Coast Guard at Brooklyn Air Station. The Daghestan, fitted with a landing deck and carrying two HNS-1 helicopters, crossed the Atlantic in convoy in November 1943.
A photo of a Coast Guard aircraftAdditional helicopter evaluation tests were carried out on the cutter Cobb. This old coastal passenger ship had been converted into the world’s first helicopter carrier. On 29 June 1944 CDR Frank Erickson made the first landing on its deck in Long Island Sound. A photo of CDR Frank EricksonAs the war progressed and the U-boat threat moved deeper into the North Atlantic and then abated, the service re-oriented its helicopter research from antisubmarine warfare to search and rescue. CDR Erickson pioneered this Coast Guard activity, developing much of the rescue equipment himself and carrying out the first lifesaving flight. He delivered two cases of blood plasma lashed to an HNS-1’s floats following the explosion on board the destroyer USS Turner off Sandy Hook on 3 January 1944.
One of the early helicopter’s most successful rescues occurred in 1945. A Royal Canadian Air Force plane crashed in a remote area of Labrador. Two ski-equipped aircraft tried to rescue the nine survivors; however, one crashed on landing and the other was trapped on the ground by the snow after having successfully flown out two survivors. The only way to rescue the remaining men was by helicopter. A Coast Guard HNS-1 was disassembled at Brooklyn Air Station, loaded into a C-54 transport A photo of a Coast Guard aircraft and airlifted to Goose Bay, Labrador. There, LT August Kleisch flew it 150 miles to a staging station and then on 35 miles more to the crash site. Obstacles such as a frozen engine and skis that would freeze solid to the ground were overcome and all were rescued.A photo of Stewart Graham In 1943 an Air Sea Rescue Squadron was formed at San Diego, Calif. The primary impetus for this was the increasing number of offshore crashes, mostly by student pilots. These were the result of the rapid expansion of military aviation during the war. Initially, the amphibious PBY-5A and high speed rescue craft were chosen as the rescue vehicles and additional squadrons were formed. In December 1944 the Office of Air Sea Rescue was established at Coast Guard Headquarters. By 1945 Air Sea Rescue was responsible for 165 aircraft and nine air stations. During that year, it had responded to 686 plane crashes. The PBY-5As were replaced by Martin PBM-5Gs following the war.A photo of a Coast Guard aircraft
The post-World War II years brought an explosion in the number of recreational boats and created a new search and rescue clientele. The helicopter was ideally suited to this mission. Able to react swiftly, it could lift entire pleasure boat crews from imminent disaster, or in less trying circumstances, deliver de-watering pumps and fuel. Admittedly, during its early years the helicopter had a major handicap–the pilot needed three hands in order to fly it. Soon, helicopters rescuing distressed boaters became a commonplace event.
The versatility of the helicopter was demonstrated during a series of floods which occurred in the United States during the 1950s. To carry out this kind of rescue work, the helicopter had to hover among trees, telephone poles, television antennas and the like. In 1955 Coast Guard helicopters rescued more than 300 people as rivers overflowed in Connecticut and Massachusetts. In December of that year the Coast Guard on-scene commander directed the rescue of thousands in California. Included among the 21 rescue aircraft were Coast Guard helicopters. A photo of a Coast Guard aircraft In one incident an H04S rescued 138 people during a 12-hour period; this was accomplished by two air crews. The helicopter soon grew from a thoroughbred requiring pampering to keep it flying to a reliable workhorse.
The responsibilities of Coast Guard fixed wing aviation also increased following World War II. In 1946, Coast Guard aircraft were used for the first time on the International Ice Patrol, a practice that continues today. A photo of Coast Guard aircraft The primary objective of these Ice Patrol flights is to observe ice floating in the vicinity of the Grand Banks, so that shipping in that well-traveled area can be advised of current conditions throughout the iceberg season. Ice Patrol flight tracks are normally between 1,000 and 1,500 nautical miles long (from six to eight hours’ flight time). Since 1983 the flights have used HC130 aircraft carrying Side-Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) equipment as the primary reconnaissance tool. At the normal altitude of 8,000 feet, the SLAR can cover a swath extending 35 miles on each side of the aircraft.
A photo of CAPT Donald MacDiarmid After the end of World War II, Coast Guard aircraft were also used increasingly to intercept and escort aircraft that were experiencing mechanical problems. The presence of the Coast Guard aircraft was reassuring to both passengers and flight crews. During the 1950s, the Coast Guard developed open-ocean ditching techniques that are still in use by commercial airliners today through the experiments conducted by CAPT Donald MacDiarmid . In 1986 Donald MacDiarmid was enshrined in the Naval Aviation Museum, in Pensacola, Florida. A photo of a Coast Guard aircraftIn 1959 the Coast Guard obtained its first Lockheed HC-130 Hercules . Large, rugged, and extremely reliable, this aircraft could cruise on two of its four engines thereby greatly extending its range. During the Korean War, the Coast Guard established air detachments through- out the Pacific. These detachments, located at Sangley Point in the Philippines, Guam, Wake, Midway, Adak, and Barbers Point in the Hawaiian Islands conducted search and rescue to safeguard the tens of thousands of United Nations troops that were being airlifted across the Pacific. In January 1953 a PBM flying from Sangley landed in 12-foot seas in an attempt to rescue a Navy P2V crew. The Coast Guard amphibian crashed on take off when an engine failed. Five Coast Guard and four Navy men lost their lives.
A photo of LT Jack RittichierAviators were among the 7,000 Coast Guard personnel who served in Vietnam. In April 1968 three Coast Guard helicopter pilots were assigned to the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Da Nang, Vietnam. Pilots were assigned there until November 1972 while their Air Force counterparts were assigned to stateside Coast Guard air stations. One Coast Guard pilot, LT Jack Rittichier , died in a rescue attempt. He was attempting to pick up a downed Marine Corps flier when his helicopter took heavy ground fire, touched down, and burst into flames.
The helicopter continued to be a primary rescue tool into the 1980s and the foreseeable future. In 1980 over 100,000 refugees fled communist Cuba. Many risked their lives in unsafe craft to cross the Straits of Florida. The rescue of those on board the Olo Yumi is illustrative of the situation confronting the Coast Guard. On the morning of 17 May 1980 the pleasure craft Olo Yumi, carrying 52 persons, sank when the people on board panicked because of rough seas, ran to the stern, and caused water to come over the transom. A photo of a Coast Guard aircraft
A Sikorsky HH-52 Sea-Guard on patrol from the cutter Courageous (WMEC-622) sighted the people in the water and began rescue operations. Eleven survivors were hoisted to the helicopter. Other Coast Guard helicopters and Courageous rescued 38 survivors and recovered 10 bodies. The A photo of a Coast Guard aircraft boat had been grossly overloaded. The HH-52, now replaced by the Aerospatiale HH-65 Dolphin, rescued more persons from distress than any other helicopter in the world to that time.
A photo of a Coast Guard aircraftIn October 1980, the Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican, the service’s medium range helicopter, was the primary rescue vehicle when hundreds of individuals, mostly senior-citizens, were plucked from bobbing lifeboats some 200 miles out in the Gulf of Alaska. This followed a fire on board the cruise ship Prinsendam and was one of the most successful maritime rescues in history. The Pelican, the last amphibian helicopter in the Coast Guard’s inventory, was retired from service in 1994.
With the increasing responsibilities in defense readiness, law enforcement, fisheries patrol, and environmental protection, the Coast Guard acquired a new generation of aircraft to replacing its aging fleet. During the 1980s, 1990s, and into the new century, the primary aircraft in the Coast Guard inventory were the HU-25A, HU-25B, and HU-25C Guardian,A photo of a Coast Guard aircraft the HC-130H Hercules, the HH-65A and HH-65B Dolphin, and the HH-60J Jayhawk .A photo of a Coast Guard aircraft The HU-25C Guardian is the service’s first multi-mission jet. It is nearly twice as fast as any aircraft in the inventory and can get to the scene quickly to perform its role. Sixteen new HC-130H Hercules turboprop aircraft have joined the Coast Guard fleet and replaced earlier models. The primary missions of the Hercules are long-range surveillance and transport. A photo of a Coast Guard aircraft
A photo of a Coast Guard aircraft The HH-65 helicopters serve as the Coast Guard’s primary search and rescue aircraft and these twin engine Dolphins can operate up to 150 miles off shore and will fly comfortably at 150 knots for three hours. The HH-65 Jayhawk now served as the service’s medium range helicopter. The Coast Guard also continued its long-standing practice of utilizing surplus aircraft from the other services when it acquired four Grumman E2C aircraft from Navy stocks beginning in 1989. They were used as surveillance aircraft in the drug war and formed Coast Guard Airborne Warning Squadron One (or CGAW-1). Unfortunately, one crashed in 1990 while landing at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, killing all four crewmen aboard.
A photo of a Coast Guard aircraftThe Coast Guard began leasing MH-68 Mako helicopters to outfit a new squadron, HITRON-10, formed to augment the service’s capabilities in the continuing fight against narcotics smuggling. The squadron was developed specifically to combat the drug-smugglers’ use of what are called “go-fast” boats. These MH-68s carry an armed Coast Guardsman who, if needed, could use his .50 caliber sniper rifle to disable a “go-fast” boat that refused a demand to stop and be boarded. This is not the first time Coast Guard aircraft were armed during peacetime; Loening OL-5s carried .30 caliber Lewis guns during the service’s earlier fight to enforce Prohibition.
To assist those in distress and to patrol national waters, the Coast Guard flies some 200 aircraft from 27 air stations, large and small, throughout the continental United States, Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico. The Coast Guard is the seventh largest naval air force in the world. Coast Guard aviation, rotary and fixed wing, moves into the future proud of its past and confident of its future.