Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod
Air Station Cape Cod crews fly both HH-60J "JayHawk" helicopters and HU-25 "Falcon" jets to perform a variety of Coast Guard missions. Our primary mission, Search and Rescue (SAR), involves the protection of life and property in the offshore areas from the Canadian border to Long Island.
Commissioned on August 29, 1970, Air Station Cape Cod traces its roots back to the 1920s. In its infancy, Coast Guard aviation was conceived as a life-saving arm of the cutter fleet. In 1915 a Curtis flying boat was utilized by the service to explore the possibilities of aerial patrol and rescue. The experiment was so successful, Congress authorized the Coast Guard to establish ten air stations. However, funding was not forthcoming, and the project fell by the wayside.
World War I did allow service aviators at naval air stations to get practical experience in patrol work and operations. An air station was established in 1920 in North Carolina, utilizing flying boats on loan from the Navy. Despite this early success locating distressed mariners, Congress voted no monies for the fledgling air service, and the station was closed in 1921.
The passage of the Volstead Act in 1919 would give the service the boost it needed to get its aviation program airborne. Suppression of liquor smuggling during Prohibition became the major mission of the Coast Guard in the 1920s. CDR Von Paulsen, Coast Guard Aviator number 5, flew a borrowed Navy seaplane on daily patrols from the naval air station at Squantum, MA. The flights proved to be so effective against rum runners that lawmakers appropriated $152,000 for five aircraft.
In May of 1925 three of these seaplanes flew out of Gloucester, MA at Ten Pound Island. This essentially became the Coast Guard's first operational,air station. Two more aircraft were added in 1932 as a result of the success in the law enforcement mission. In addition to its patrol mission, Ten Pound Island became a training facility for pilots and a laboratory for communication between aircraft and ship or shore stations.
Since there was no room to expand the Gloucester base, a new air station was established at Salem, MA in 1935. Boasting state of the art communications and modern repair facilities, it was designed to handle the larger flying boats. In 1941 air crews from Salem began to fly neutrality patrols along the coast, and in November the Coast Guard was transferred to the Department of the Navy. The War years saw the air station roster increase to 37 aircraft, making it the second largest station on the east coast.
On October 21, 1944 Air Station Salem was officially designated as the first US Air-Sea Rescue service on the eastern seaboard. After the war the service found itself with a varied inventory of helicopters, multi-engined patrol planes, and flying boats. With no runways to handle dry landings at Salem, the Coast Guard sought to expand its facilities. In 1950 Air Detachment Quonset Point, Rhode Island was established as a sub unit of Air Station Salem.
During the 1950s the Cosat Guard employed the helicopter with a great deal of success as a rescue platform. With the development of the HH-52A, an amphibious helicopter, the need for a flying boat was lessened. Therefore, air stations having only water landing capabilities, such as Salem, were being phased out.
The Service began to search for a replacement facility, one that could grow with the anticipated new aircraft needed in the future. In 1968 an agreement was reached with the DOD to utilize the Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod as the new home of a Coast Guard air station. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod was actually established on August 29, 1970 when the Coast Guard Air Station at Salem, MA and the Coast Guard Air Detachment at Quonset Point, RI were consolidated, providing a much greater degree of efficiency in the maintenance and operations of the Sikorsky HH-52A Sea Guard and the Grumman HU-16E Albatross. These two versatile amphibians served at the air station until they were replaced by longer-ranged aircraft in the early 1980's.
The medium range rescue Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican helicopter emerged at Air Station Cape Cod in 1976 and worked side-by-side with its counterpart the HH-52A, a short range rescue helicopter, until 1984 when the HH-3F assumed the duties of both aircraft. The HH-3F enabled the air station to reach farther off shore and its greater payload allowed it to carry more equipment and survivors. Today, the HH-3F continues to protect the east coast from the Canadian border to central New Jersey. It will be replaced by the Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawk, a new medium range rescue helicopter, in 1991. The HU-16E Albatross was replaced when the Coast Guard entered the jet age. In March 1983 the last HU-16E in the Coast Guard inventory, HU-16E CGNR 7250 was officially retired at Air Station Cape Cod. It is proudly displayed at the air station. Its replacement, the HU-25A Guardian, a turbofan jet manufactured by the Falcon Jet Corporation, can fly 600 miles at 400 knots, orbit for 30 minutes, drop survival equipment while pinpointing the position of a distressed vessel. The Guardian has proven itself vital in drug interdiction as well as SAR with state-of-the-art radar and sensory packages on board. Cape Cod also has the only HU-25 aircraft in the Coast Guard equipped with Aireye, an airborne oil spill tracking and mapping system. The Aireye side-looking-airborne-radar (SLAR) excels not only at monitoring oil pollution, but in tracking icebergs in support of the International Ice Patrol.
The primary mission of the United States Coast Guard since its beginning has always been the protection and safety of life and property at sea. In the past two decades, air crews from Air Station Cape Cod have launched on over 6700 cases, saved nearly 2400 lives, and prevented the loss of $340 million worth of property. Included in these statistics are cases which are respectfully referred to as "The Big One." In December of 1976, the Liberian freighter Argo Merchant broke up after running aground on Nantucket Shoals. The disaster brought marine environment protection to the attention of the nation. The cargo carrier Eldia went aground on one of the Cape's outer beaches in early spring of 1984. An Air Station Cape Cod HH-3F helicopter crew safely evacuated the fifteen-man crew of the Eldia in winds in excess of 40 knots when the ship was in danger of breaking up.
Probably the air station's most famous rescue occurred as recent as 1987. In March of that year, the Soviet Motor Vessel Komsomolets Kirgizzii sank 200 nautical miles south of the Massachusetts coast. Three of Air Station Cape Cod's helicopter rescued the 37-man crew from the Russian ship in 20 foot seas an winds gusting to 50 knots with no major injuries. For their extraordinary efforts, the air crews were invited to the White House by President Reagan to be honored in a Rose Garden ceremony. The event marked the first time a Coast Guard aircrew has been so honored.
Yet another "Big One" developed on December 28, 1988. The 256-foot container vessel Lloyd Bermuda capsized in 35-foot seas throwing its crew into the icy waters. An HU-25A Falcon jet and two HH-3F helicopters set out in 50 knot winds and poor visibility to locate the survivors. Working with limited fuel in the worst of conditions, the crews successfully rescued six men, four of which survived. When it was all over with, the crew of one helicopter had logged 9.7 hours in the demanding flight conditions.
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