A Project of the Coast Guard Aviation Association

1958: Air Detachment Naples, Italy Established

In October of 1957 the USSR launched the first man made satellite. This expedited the requirement for a long range, highly accurate radio-navigation system for use with the satellites and missiles the United States was developing. There were three contenders; Omega, Decca, and Loran C (then called CYTAC). CAPT Peter V. Colmar, USCG, believed strongly in the value of Loran C as a long range precision navigation system and convinced the Navy to fund testing. The controlled test convinced Admiral Hyman G. Rickover USN, the father of the nuclear submarine, to go operational with it. The Coast Guard coordinated with Sperry Corporation in the design and building of the system and it was operational in a year and a half.  The first stations to be established in what would become a global network were in the Mediterranean. This would be followed by construction of stations in the north-eastern Atlantic.

Coast Guard Air Detachment Naples was established in mid 1958 to support this effort. It was a tenant activity, co-located with the U.S. Navy at the US Naval Air Facility Naples on the Italian joint military and civilian airport Capodichino. Two C-123B aircraft were obtained from the Department of Defense and used to provide logistic support for the construction and operation of Loran C Stations being built at Marble Arch, Libya; Rhodes, Greece; Simeri Crichi, Italy; and Corlu, Turkey. Additionally many hours were spent performing in-flight calibrations of the Loran C signals. Upon completion of the calibration bottom surveys of the Mediterranean Sea were conducted. Even more significant, the Fleet Ballistic Missile submarines were equipped with sophisticated Loran C receivers. The submarines had an inertial navigation system but it had to be regularly updated. They had a low level orbital satellite navigation system also. The problem was that this system required an antenna above water to receive it. Since both the submarine and the Soviets knew the satellite schedule the submarines position could be compromised.  Loran C on the other hand could be received at 60 or more feet below the surface anywhere in the coverage area at any time the need arose. The submarines used Loran C regularly to update their Inertial Navigation System. It also served as a primary navigational backup.

Airborne site surveys that resulted in the construction of additional Loran C stations in the northern arc of Europe on Germany’s Fresian Islands, Jan Mayen Island in the Norwegian Arctic, Sandur Island and Estartit, Spain were conducted. These stations were in support of the Defense Department navigation requirements also. As the chains were completed the Air Detachment, now referred to as an Air Station, continued logistic service.

The operational control of the Mediterranean, Norwegian and North Atlantic Chains were combined in 1966 into activities Europe and the Naples Air Station became an Activities Europe unit. In 1972 the Air Station was closed and the Loran Stations received support from other military units and civilian sources. The Coast Guard withdrew its personnel from the Loran Stations in the 1993-1995 timeframe. 

The Early Years

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Coming Of Age

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Oral History