1978 – Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento Established
HC-130s on the ramp Air Station Sacramento
Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento was commissioned on the fifth of September 1978. It is located at the north end of the former McClellan Air Force Base. With a complement of 153 officers and enlisted personnel operating four HC-130 “Hercules” aircraft, Air Station Sacramento is under the operational and administrative control of the Commander, Twelfth Coast Guard District.
Air station Sacramento was initially established by moving fixed-wing aircraft assigned to Air Station San Francisco; prompted by an increase in aircraft, limited ramp space and restrictions on Coast Guard operations at San Francisco International Airport.
The primary domestic missions are Search and Rescue, Law Enforcement and Maritime Homeland Security as well as providing short notice logistics support to a wide variety of Coast Guard missions. The area of responsibility encompasses a 73 million square mile area of responsibility and the concept is strategic as opposed to tactical. The Air Station maintains a 24-hour immediate response capability, with a “ready” Search and Rescue crew on duty at all times. Search and rescue coverage is provided for the Eastern Pacific Area, the entire west coast of the United States, areas west of Canada, and south along the Baja California coast.
Marine Environmental Protection and Federal Law Enforcement efforts include fisheries patrols in support of the Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976 and law enforcement patrols aimed at enforcing the 200-mile limit. With the increase in drug trafficking in the Pacific corridor there was a shift in emphasis.
Air Station Sacramento provides a wide variety of short notice support missions such as relief efforts after the Southeast Asia Tsunami, hurricane Katrina, transport of TSA Dart teams as well as FEMA disaster response teams and disaster relief for the wildfire crisis of 2007.
The Coast Guard and its interagency partners have committed tremendous resources to the Counter-Narcotics effort. Eastern Pacific routes from the west coast of Colombia overtook the Caribbean as the primary routes. Sacramento’s strategic location allowed the air station to shift to becoming a prime player for the Joint Interagency Task Force Agency – South (JIATFS), providing a substantial portion of their maritime patrol capacity. The air station deploys an asset approximately 300 days a year to Central or South America. Historical deployment sites have included Belize, Guatemala City and Panama, though the unit now concentrates at the Department of Defense Forward Operating Locations in San Salvador, El Salvador and Manta, Ecuador.
Crews typically deploy an airplane for 28 days with a personnel swap, to avoid exceeding monthly flight hour limits, once during each deployment. Over $2M worth of C-130 parts are pre-staged in El Salvador to increase deployed availability and increase effectiveness. Nearly half of the 3500 programmed hours are flown from these deployed sites, having taken part in the interdiction of 97,700 lbs of cocaine worth over $879 million.
The HC-130 operated by Air Station Sacramento is one of the most versatile and reliable aircraft in the world today. Four powerful turboprop engines enable short field take-offs and landings, as well as a respectable cruise speed of 290 knots. The HC-130’s fuel capacity allows for covering long distances as well as extended on-scene endurance in the event of long searches or emergencies at sea. Visibility, an extremely important factor in any search, is excellent. The aircraft’s high maximum weight allowance and large cargo compartment permit handling of a wide variety of cargo. An aft ramp and door may be opened in flight, allowing aerial delivery of cargo or emergency equipment. All in all, the HC-130 is extremely effective, versatile and well-suited to the multiple mission needs of Coast Guard aviation.