A Project of the Coast Guard Aviation Association

1962: Coast Guard Aviation Development Master Plan initiated

The Aviation planning process utilized the 1960 Re-Evaluation of the Requirements of Coast Guard Aviation and the Roles and Mission Study of 1961 as the initial basis of the expanded role of Coast Guard aviation over the decades to come. Coast Guard Aviation had evolved into a premier tactical search and rescue organization but like the rest of the Coast Guard was reactive in behavior. This was the first proactive step toward the strategic concepts that would follow Coast Guard wide.

Basically the aviation plan determined the requirements to perform the projected operational missions of Coast Guard aviation and the proposed funding to provide almost concurrently for (1) the continued acquisition of aircraft needed to replace over-age aircraft; (2) the acquisition of additional aircraft to enable the Coast Guard to accomplish the mission into the future: (3) the necessary modification of existing facilities; and (4) the establishment of those facilities required to accommodate the aviation program; (5) the personnel to man them. The initial elements of cost were contained within the “Acquisition, Construction, and Improvement” appropriation but emphasis was placed on the continuance of the program into future budget years to assure a truly modern fleet supported by adequate facilities and personnel.

Aircraft acquired as a result of the initial 1957 “Joint Report on the Requirements of Coast Guard’ had begun coming on board and as of 6-30-60 the number of aircraft on hand was as listed in the following table. The far right column gives the number of aircraft projected at the end of 1996 by the “1960 Re-Evaluation of the Requirements of Coast Guard Aviation” study.

MODEL TYPE NR -6-30-61 NR. –  7-1-66
Long Range Land Plane SC-130





2 *

Long Range Seaplane P5M 11 0
Medium Range Amphibian UF 59 71
Medium Helicopter HUS






Light Helicopter HUL






Medium Range Transport (C ) C-123B 9 9 **
Medium Range Transport (P) RM






* Classification changed to special mission

** Coco Solo Panama not activated- only 8 C-123Bs were obtained

*** Two Martin RM-1Z were retained – A Grumman VC-4A was procured as the third transport

**** 6 HUS helicopters were procured – 3 of these crashed – procurement was discontinued and the HH-52A  was purchased as a Medium Range Helicopter

The Coast Guard was not satisfied with the performance of the HUS and was looking for a replacement helicopter. The HUS was the last of the pistons and as such the choice was turbine power. The Huey was in serious development problems at the time as was the Kaman H-2. Sikorsky had developed the twin engined H-3 (S61) which was a very good machine but the Coast Guard considered it too expensive to be purchased in the quantities needed. Sikorsky had produced a scaled down version of the H-3 for the commercial market but it was not selling. The Coast Guard was not limited to milspec so an arrangement was made whereby the Coast Guard would conduct an evaluation series at Sikorsky’s expense. The aircraft proved to be exactly what the Coast Guard needed. The helicopter remained in service until 1989 and is credited with rescuing more people than any other helicopter. The Coast Guard would again utilize this method of procurement when it selected its jet powered, medium range fixed-wing search aircraft.

The location of additional air detachments, a project assigned to LCDR Dick Penn and LCDR Frank Shelly, was predicated upon the location of existing Air Stations, marine traffic, population centers, the anticipated SAR workload resulting from the explosion in pleasure boating by the public, and the range and performance capabilities of the HH-52 helicopter. A job well done – as of 2006 only one of the initially recommended air detachments has been closed upon reevaluation.  Two others were combined into one air station.

Itemized construction cost estimates were made for (1) Those detachments requiring construction at Civilian Air Fields (2) Those detachments utilizing leased space at civilian fields (3) Those detachments requiring construction at existing Coast Guard units (4) Those detachments utilizing leased space at existing military aviation facilities. 

The required funding for a five year period was spread out into roughly equal annual expenses for budget purposes. The plan was reviewed and updated yearly. This would be a continuing process; Criteria for unit location was amended. SAR statistics were utilized but were found to be the heaviest where the SAR facilities were located and the distance from the SAR facility. For future planning, the SAR statistics were correlated with population data, commerce, marine activity, and the income generated by boating activity. This combination, along with the realization that it was much less expensive to be a tenant on an existing facility, was used for site selection. An Air Detachment was established in Los Angeles in 1962 followed by Savannah and Houston in 1963 and Astoria in 1964. 

A recommendation made in the Re-Evaluation was that at the end of four years a careful evaluation of the effectiveness of new Air Detachments, new aircraft types, and aircraft deployment be made. Miami was moved from Dinner Key to Opa Locka in 1965 because of the limited operational facilities at Dinner Key. At a later date St. Petersburg was moved to Clearwater for the same reasons. This, in conjunction with the commissioning of an Air Detachment at Savannah, eliminated the need for Air Detachments at Cape Canaveral and Ft. Myers. Guam was decommissioned in 1965 followed by Argentia and Bermuda in 1966. Sangley Point was closed in 1977.

With desired aircraft coming on board, Air Detachment locations were again evaluated using the information obtained from previous installations. Both Air Detachments and Air Stations were now designated Air Stations and Detroit was established in 1966. BOTU had been established at Savannah and was moved to the new Air Station at Mobile as was the fixed wing operation at Biloxi. Chicago opened in 1969.  Salem Air Station and the Quonset Air detachment moved to Cape Cod in 1970. San Juan moved to Borinquen in 1971 and North Bend was opened up in 1974.

This process continues today, Changing missions and responsibilities as well as the service life of various aircraft require constant evaluation, planning and responses. The process has been refined and with the advent of Deepwater is more sophisticated. That being said, it is well to remember that these early efforts and the people that made them had a significant impact on Coast Guard aviation and the Coast Guard as a whole.

The Early Years

The Growth Years

Coming Of Age

The Modern Era

The Present Era

Oral History