A Project of the Coast Guard Aviation Association

1966 – Air Station Detroit Michigan Established

cgas detroit dolphin - 1966: Air Station Detroit Michigan Established
HH-65C “Dolphin” helicopter from Air Station Detroit over the Detroit River with the Renaissance
Center and downtown Detroit in the background.

Commissioned in June 1966, Coast Guard Air Station Detroit is located twenty miles north of Detroit on Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan. Air Station personnel first occupied an excess Air Force hangar until construction on the current facility could be completed in July of 1967. Two years later, the hangar was dedicated in memory of LT Jack C. RITTICHIER, an exchange pilot with the Air Force 37th ARRS Jolly Green Giants during the Vietnam conflict. LT RITTICHIER, an Air Station plank owner, was killed in action when his HH-3F helicopter was shot down while attempting to rescue a fellow aviator on 9 June 1968. Rittichier was awarded the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Air Medals and the Purple Heart posthumously.  His remains were not recovered for 37 years and when they were he was interred in Arlington National Cemetery on Coast Guard Hill.

The original complement of ten officers and twenty-nine enlisted people, equipped with three Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguard amphibious helicopters, quickly became an integral part of the Coast Guard’s National Search and Rescue (SAR) effort and the aviation hub for the Ninth Coast Guard District, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Since it’s commissioning, the unit’s prime area of responsibility has been the maritime environment of the Eastern Great Lakes Region. This area has over one thousand miles of shoreline and encompasses: Lakes Ontario, Erie, St. Clair, and Lake Huron south of the 44th parallel. In SAR emergencies these boundaries are not recognized, and assistance is rendered to any person in peril, regardless of location.

The Air Station supports and works with, 30 Coast Guard shore units, five cutters, as well as other federal, state, local, and Canadian government agencies. There are two distinct SAR seasons: Winter with the popular ice fishing activities and summer with the largest concentration of boaters per square mile in the world. During this period the Muskegon Air Facility is operational.

Twenty-seven officers and 72 enlisted personnel, equipped with five HH-65C Dolphin helicopters maintain a 24-hour Search and Rescue (SAR) and Law Enforcement (LE) alert. The HH-65 Dolphins are sophisticated SAR helicopters, fully IFR capable. Detroit averages over 320 SAR/LE missions annually that save an average of more than thirty lives and provide assistance to over two hundred others. Air Station Detroit has received two Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendations

In addition to SAR and LE missions, Air Station Detroit conducts flights in support of domestic icebreaking operations, Marine Environmental Protection or MEP, and mission support for over two hundred local, state, and federal agencies. The most visible of these missions include response to flooding on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Ship-board deployments combating illegal drug/migrant activities in the Florida Straits and Windward Pass and crew augmentation for the Rotary Wing Air Intercept Missions charged with airspace security of the National Capital Region and a variety of other high profile security events are also part of Air Station Detroit’s responsibilities.

Shipboard operations are self deployments using a Detroit helicopter. The deployment is via Miami where TACON is then shifted to a cutter. The deployment may be entirely on the cutter or in combination with land based facilities.  The National Capital Region deployment is a 16 day TAD assignment, crew only, to supplement the Rotary Wing Intercept operations out of Reagan Airport serving Washington DC.

The unit’s multi-mission capability plays a crucial role in public safety, navigability of waterways, pollution prevention, and compliance with Federal laws, and exemplifies the Coast Guard’s motto: “Semper Paratus” (Always Ready). Flying approximately 3200 hours annually, the station aircrews have enabled the unit to amass an unprecedented record of over 60,000 accident-free flight hours.

Coming Of Age