1963 – Air Station Savannah Established
HH-65 on the ramp- Air Station Savannah
The Coast Guard Air Station Savannah was commissioned in August of 1963 on what was then known as Hunter Air Force Base. On a grassy open space at the north end of the base were two new house trailers that would serve as office and shop space until a permanent building was completed. In addition there were two large nose docks designed for B-47 bombers and a permanent hangar 200 yards to the east. Construction of the new Administrative building commenced immediately.
The first HH-52 arrived in mid July and training in the new aircraft commenced. The transition training was done by a “transition team” that checked out each unit as they received their new aircraft. The Coast Guard invested much time and effort into developing an HH-52A Pilots Handbook with all the procedures spelled out. Later, standardization teams formed to periodically visit all air stations and insure that all pilots were flying by the book. This lead to the establishment of a special training unit providing flight training graduates their HH-52 checkouts. The Basic Operational Training Unit (BOTU) was established at Savannah in 1964. This function transferred to the Aviation Training Center at Mobile, Alabama when it opened in 1966.
Since 1963, Air Station Savannah has provided search and rescue (SAR) coverage 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for the Atlantic Coast from the northern border of South Carolina to Melbourne, Florida, averaging more than 250 SAR cases a year. Other missions include maritime law enforcement, drug interdiction, aids to navigation, marine safety and environmental protection.
Aircraft are routinely deployed aboard Coast Guard cutters along the East Coast and throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. While not permanently assigned to a specific ship, aviation detachments from Air Station Savannah become an integral part of the Coast Guard team. The capabilities of the deployed helicopters greatly increase the chances of seizing illegal contraband, sighting vessels carrying illegal migrants, and generally maintaining more effective vigilance over patrol areas. The Coast Guard HH-65 is also an important Search and Rescue (SAR) asset while on board. During most deployments, Coast Guard Cutters carried one HH-65 helicopter and an aviation detachment consisting of two pilots and two or three flight Mechanics.
Air Facility Charleston became operational on October 1, 1990, with daylight search and rescue response by crews deployed from Savannah. In 1993, with the completion of a multi-million dollar support facility, aircrews at the facility began providing around the clock SAR response in the northern sector of the Air Station’s area of responsibility.
Siler Hall and the new operations center were completed in 1996, providing the Air Station and local commands, with a state of the art training venue. This, combined with various leading initiatives such as the infrared imaging system, ensured that Air Station Savannah remains at the forefront of Coast Guard Aviation.
In 2000, Air Station Savannah became the first fully operational unit to operate unrestricted with Night Vision Goggles. In 2004, Air Station Savannah pioneered the Rotary Wing Air Intercept (RWAI) program to assist the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Air Force with the air defense of the G-8 summit. The RWAI program continued to expand and Savannah crews participate in the National Capital Region Air Intercept mission, National Special Security Events and for all NASA Space Shuttle launches. The unit also provides airborne security for U.S. Navy Submarines transiting to and from Kings Bay, Georgia.
Most recently, Air Station Savannah received five MH-65D helicopters which replaced the HH-65C. The MH-65D has an updated communications package and allows for future capability of a Heads Up Display and a mounted M-240 automatic weapon.
Savannah brings an outstanding level of professionalism and maritime leadership to the war on terrorism and homeland security much as was done in the conduct of legacy missions. Air Station Savannah was awarded the coveted ATC Mobile H-65 Aviation Standardization Excellence Award, representing the top HH-65 unit out of the Coast Guard’s 16 HH-65 Air Stations, in 2004 and again in 2007.