1965 – Air Station Miami Moves from Dinner Key to Opa-Locka Airport
In November of 1965 the Coast Guard Air Station Miami relocated to the Opa-Locka airport located fourteen miles northwest of downtown Miami. The Air Station had been at Dinner Key since first established in June of 1932. The move was necessitated because of the dramatic increase in mission workload and the lack of runway facilities for land based aircraft. Opa-Locka was originally built as a naval air station during World War II. The Navy moved out and left the facilities to the US Marine Corps. The Marine Corps Air Station closed in 1957 and the airport came under the control of the Dade County Airport Authority.
The Search and Rescue mission continued to grow climbing rapidly to over six hundred search and rescue cases per year. Marine Environmental Protection Patrols came into being and in the late 60’s law enforcement duties became significant. In 1973 the foundation was laid which lead to the Coast Guard becoming a dominate force in drug interdiction. The air station had a helicopter deployed almost continually on one or more Coast Guard Cutters engaged in drug interdiction.
By 1976 both the HU-16E and the HH-52A were requiring increased maintenance due to their age. The HU-16E faced a mandatory retirement at the 11,000 hour mark. The HH-52A required greater effort in corrosion control due to the significant increase in shipboard deployment time. In July of 1977, the air station’s seven, twenty six year old, HU-16s were replaced. In their lifetime they had logged over 10,000 hours each, flown 13,800 Search and Rescue missions and given aid to 108,000 people. The interim replacement aircraft was the HC-131A Convair, a twin engined medium range transport. These were in turn replaced by the HU-25A medium range, twin engined jet, search aircraft. It would be 1984 before the HH-65 started to come on line.
In April of 1980 the government of Cuba opened the Port of Mariel to any Cuban who cared to depart the island. Thus began a massive civilian boat lift. In two months over 100,000 refugees crossed the 100 miles of open sea to Florida. Air Station Miami became the focal point of the Coast Guard’s air-sea rescue response. Coast Guard aircraft and crews from all over the country were repositioned in South Florida. 1981 saw the start of another boat lift, this time from Haiti. Alien interdiction continues to the present.
In February 1982, Vice President Bush announced that a joint federal task force would be formed in South Florida to combat the increasing flood of narcotics. The Coast Guard rapidly developed a lead role and Air Station Miami was into drug interdiction in a big way. This also continues to the present.
As a result of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the Coast Guard was transferred to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security in November of 2002. As the name implies the air station, in addition to all previous responsibilities, is very much involved in the nation’s security,
The present facility covers 51 acres and includes aircraft maintenance, mission planning, logistics, administration, medical, physical plant, security and food services facilities. CGAS Miami also plays host to five tenant commands: Tactical Law Enforcement Team (TACLET) South, Seventh District Tactical Law Enforcement Training Team, Leadership and Management School Detachment, Safety and Environmental Health Detachment and a CG Exchange.
CGAS Miami works hand-in-hand with the 76 members of the Miami Coast Guard Auxiliary Air Squadron. The Miami Squadron is made up of 27 pilots and 49 observers flying 11 privately owned aircraft. In 2007 this force multiplier flew 1460 hours of SAR and LE missions resulting in 2 lives saved, 48 lives assisted and 4 migrant vessels interdicted.
During 2007 CGAS Miami with six HU-25D Falcon Jets and five HH-65C Dolphin helicopters provide air coverage for a 1.8 million square mile area of responsibility that encompasses the Southeastern United States and the Caribbean Basin. This was accomplished by a highly-trained and motivated crew of 359 military and civilian personnel from across the United States. The men and women of CGAS Miami flew over 8,000 mission hours which included 544 Search and Rescue (SAR) cases, resulting in 72 lives saved and 329 lives assisted.
In October of 2010 Air Station Miami took delivery of its first HC-144A Ocean Sentry. This is a medium range search and surveillance aircraft. The HC-144a was purchased as the replacement for the HU-25s.