1966 – The Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Established at Mobile Alabama
The Basic Operational Training Unit (BOTU) formed at Coast Guard Air Station Savannah, Georgia, to provide standardized pilot/aircrew training for the HH-52, had been an unqualified success and Coast Guard Headquarters wished to extend the program to other aircraft. Air station Savannah was located on Hunter Air Force Base. The facility was being transferred to the Army to be used as a helicopter flight training facility. Due to the increased helicopter training requirements, directly related to the Vietnam conflict, the availability of space to accommodate a Coast Guard air station expansion at Savannah was problematical. A search was undertaken to find a suitable location for an expanded training unit. An Air Force Reserve facility, in care-taker status, was located on the north side of the municipal airport at Mobile Alabama. The facility consisted of a large main hangar, an Administration Building, and a Public Works Building on 232 acres.
During this same period the Air Force increased training activity at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. This was the location of Coast Guard Air Station Biloxi, charged with providing fixed-wing Search and Rescue resources for the Gulf of Mexico from Cape San Blas, Florida to Sabine Pass, Texas. The Air Station had to be relocated.
A feasibility study addressing funds required and time-phasing for accomplishment was prepared and approved. The proposed facility would accommodate the current training requirements, support a relocated Biloxi Air Station with its search and rescue responsibilities, and have room for expansion. The Commandant approached the Chief of Staff of the Air Force with a request that the facility be transferred to the Coast Guard. The Air Force was receptive to this and on 17 December 1966, Air Station Mobile was officially commissioned with the transfer of HU-16E aircraft from Air Station Biloxi and the establishment of the fixed-wing and rotary-wing pilot training units.
The Air Station had a Training Division and a SAR Division. The SAR Division provided fixed-wing support and was under the operational control of the Eight Coast Guard District for all non-training missions. The HU-16E aircraft were placed in a pool which supported both the SAR and Training Divisions. The primary mission of the Training Division was to transition newly designated aviators to the HU-16E and HH-52A respectively and then send them to their units as designated co-pilots. Additionally fixed wing aviators were transitioned to helicopters (HH-52A) and helicopter pilots were taught to fly fixed wing aircraft (HU-16E). Instructors were sent to operational units at varying times to conduct standardization flights for unit aviators.
There had been various programs for the introduction of Coast Guard Academy Cadets to Coast Guard aviation beginning in 1952. In 1958 a formal two week Cadet Aviation Training Program was initiated and took place at the Elizabeth City air station. Over a period of two months cadets entering their third year at the academy received class room instruction and a flight experience. In 1967 the program was transferred to the Aviation Training Center at Mobile. During the summer months the HU-16E training section conducted the Cadet Aviation Training Program for USCG Academy Cadets. In 2010 this program was again in Elizabeth City.
In 1967 the HH-3F began entering the Coast Guard inventory and a HH-3F training section was established at Mobile. A year later an Icebreaker Support Section was established. Expanded messing facilities and a Barracks/BOQ complex was constructed. In July 1969 Air Station Mobile was renamed the United States Coast Guard Aviation Training Center which was designated a headquarters unit. This placed the training center under the direct control of the Commandant, a move necessary to facilitate and coordinate the movement of several hundred pilots in and out of Mobile each year.
Note: Further and more complete information on the Icebreaker Support Section is located under “1969 – Icebreaker Support Section (IBSEC) established at Aviation and Support Center Mobile.” The IBSEC evolved into the Polar Operations Division (POPDIV).
A study of Coast Guard aviator training requirements was also commenced in 1969. The study included a detailed analysis of costs and procedures. It was determined that a revised training program taking advantage of new concepts and technology could increase training effectiveness while simultaneously reducing costs. This was the starting point. It lead to the first full motion simulators in the country and revolutionalized Coast Guard flight training. The Coast Guard became the first military service to authorize instrument ratings strictly on simulator time.
Note: Further and more complete information on the simulator program is located under “1969” – Simulator Training Program Established at the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center”
As of December 2009, the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center (ATC) in Mobile, Alabama is a multi-mission unit, acting as the Coast Guard’s aviation and capabilities development center, as well as an operational air station. Training is conducted to qualify Coast Guard pilots in the HU-25 “Guardian “, the HH-60 “Jayhawk”, the HH-65 “Dolphin” and HC-144 “Ocean Sentry.” All pilots initially trained at ATC return once a year for a one week proficiency course in their designated airframe. ATC Mobile evaluation center is responsible for ensuring that Coast Guard aviation forces are using the best equipment and tactics to successfully complete all required missions. Operations Division, flying the HU-25, is a segment within the ATC command that conducts traditional Coast Guard air station missions including search and Rescue, Homeland Security, and Environmental Protection. The Operations Division operates under the tactical control of the Eighth Coast Guard District and has area of responsibility that extends from the Louisiana/Texas boarder to the eastern edge of the Florida panhandle.
With well over 400 active duty military, civilian and contract personnel, and a payroll of over 17 million dollars, the Aviation Training Center is one of the larger air units in the Coast Guard and is one of the largest non-industrial employers in the Mobile area.