1938 – Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn Established
On February 3, 1928, the decision to build a municipal airport to serve New York City was made. Up until this time, New York did not have an airport. The Newark, N. J. Airport was fast becoming the world’s busiest airport with most cargo and passengers destined for New York. The site chosen to build the airport, which would become Floyd Bennett Field, was Barren Island, a 387 acre marsh with 33 small islands located in Jamaica Bay on the southern tip of Brooklyn. Six million cubic yards of sand were pumped from Jamaica Bay to connect the islands and raise the site to 16 feet above the high tide mark.
The City of New York spared no expense on the field as they were trying to convince the U. S. Postal Service to designate the field an Official Airmail Terminal. A seaplane base was built on the southern waterfront and sections of Flatbush Avenue were rerouted and widened to create a more direct route for trucking mail to Manhattan. On March 22, 1936, in a crushing blow the U.S. Postal Service rejected Floyd Bennett Field’s application for the Air Terminal. New York City slowly turned its attention to the new LaGuardia Field which was much more convenient than either Newark or Floyd Bennett Field.
Mayor LaGuardia announced on January 22, 1936 that the City of New York had executed a 50 year lease to the U. S. Coast Guard for facilities at the field. The Coast Guard was to occupy 9.7 acres (650 ft. X 650 ft.) on Jamaica Bay and construct a $250,000 base. On April 23, 1938, The Coast Guard Air Station, Floyd Bennett Field was established.
From 1938 until the outbreak of war in December of 1941, the primary mission assignment for the Air Station was the preservation of life and property at sea and the adjacent areas. On May 22, 1941, the U. S. Navy leased Floyd Bennett Field from the City of New York. By May 26, all private and commercial flying at the field was discontinued. On June 2, Naval Air Station Floyd Bennett Field was commissioned. The airfield complex was expanded in size from 387 acres to 1288 acres by reclaiming additional portions of Barren Island. The Coast Guard aviation unit became known as Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn. In the early days of World War II, when the submarine menace was acute and anti-submarine aircraft were unavailable, the existing Coast Guard patrol and utility aircraft attached to the station were armed with depth charges and served well. These aircraft were supplemented by OS2Us during 1942 and 1943. The submarine menace off the East Coast subsided during 1943 but the mission of Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn was expanded. By a directive from the Chief of Naval Operations, dated November 19, 1943, the station was designated a helicopter training base.
Three Sikorsky HNS helicopters were assigned. Shortly after this the British Admiralty requested that the Coast Guard train a number of pilots and mechanics for them. Four British helicopters were assigned for this purpose. A number of pilots were also trained for the USAAF, the U.S. Navy, and the C.A.A. CDR. Frank A. Erickson was placed in charge of the helicopter training and became Commanding Officer of the Air Station from December 1943 until February 1945. The task of organizing the training unit was completed on June 1, 1944
Regular production trainers were now available in sufficient quantities to start the training of regular classes. By the end of the first year of operations over one hundred pilots and one hundred and fifty mechanics had been trained to fly and service these aircraft. Over 3000 hours had been flown by the HNS helicopters attached to Air Station Brooklyn.
In addition to training activities there was one mission for which the aircraft was ideally suited. The Brooklyn Navy Yard requested that tests be run to determine the feasibility of using helicopters as targets for radar calibrations of vessels undergoing overhaul in the Navy Yard. The tests proved so successful that the Navy Yard requested of the Chief of Naval Operations that helicopters be assigned for this work on a permanent basis. The trainers were used on several occasions for rescue and relief missions. Blood plasma was flown to the wreckage of the U. S. S. Turner after it exploded in New York harbor; a youngster was rescued from a sandbar in Jamaica Bay and firefighting equipment was dropped to firemen fighting a blaze on a railroad trestle when other means failed to reach the firefighters.
In April 1945 a Canadian PBY-5A was forced down 189 miles south of Goose Bay Labrador. An Air Station Brooklyn HNS helicopter was disassembled, loaded on a C-54 and flown to Goose Bay. When it was reassembled, Lt. August Kleisch, USCG, flew the helicopter to a base camp that had been set up at Lake Herr about 146 miles south of Goose Bay, which could be supplied by ski planes. Kleisch had to make 9 trips into the crash site, each trip averaging an hour and a half, bringing out one man at a time. This rescue mission demonstrated the versatility of the helicopter.
The mid-fifties were busy ones. The station operated no less than 18 aircraft of various types in 1956. To facilitate maintenance, a new ramp and new hangar were constructed. The new nose hangar was used primarily for maintenance on the PBM- 5 Martin Mariner and the main hangar for helicopters and other fixed wing aircraft. By the mid-sixties the only aircraft operated by the station were the HU-16E Grumman Albatross and the new HH-52A Sikorsky Seaguard Helicopter. The U. S. Navy at Floyd Bennett Field was quickly shutting down its operations a section at a time. In 1971 the Naval Air Station, New York, was decommissioned and the control tower and runways were closed. The Coast Guard elected to make the Brooklyn Air Station an all helicopter unit.
In the 1970’s, the air station operated Sikorsky HH-52A and HH-3F. The 1980’s saw the retiring of the HH-52A helicopter, making way for the newer HH-65A Dolphin helicopter. Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn was decommissioned in May 1998 and its resources transferred to the newly established Group-Air Station Atlantic City, which opened June 8, 1998.
A First and Only
During the period January 1967 to July 1968, LCDR Walter R. Goldhammer and Ensign Stephen E. Goldhammer, father and son, flew together as Coast Guard Aviators at the Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn. Research has shown that this was the first and only time this has occurred in Coast Guard Aviation. It is no longer allowed.
Walter entered the Coast Guard in 1939 and in 1943 became an Enlisted Pilot flying Search and Rescue and ASW patrols during WWII. He was commissioned in 1945, reverted to CPO after WWII, and commissioned again in 1951. He retired in 1975 as a Commander having served 35 years and logged in excess of 8,800 hours.
Stephen enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1965. He went through the Coast Guard Aviation Cadet Program (CGAVCAD) and was commissioned and winged in January 1967. At the time of Stephen’s retirement in 1996, he was the last Coast Guard AVCAD on active duty. He retired as a Captain (O-6), flew 5,775 hours, and had a career spanning 31 years.