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Trinidad & Tobago Air Wing

The Airwing, the aerial arm of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force was established in February 1966 to perform the functions of Surveillance and Search and Rescue in support of the Surface Units. The formation of the Unit coincided with the phasing out of United States presence in the Caribbean.

The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard Air Wing started as the aerial arm of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (Coast Guard). It was established in February 1966 to perform the functions of surveillance and search and rescue in support of the surface units. The Air Wing is located at Piarco International Airport where it occupies eleven (11) acres of land Cabinet by Cabinet Minute # 1936 dated 28 July 2005 approved the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard as a separate Formation Unit of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force and the decommissioning of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard Air Wing on the south-western side of the airport.

Air Guard and indeed the Defence Force and all of law enforcement have the foremost responsibility to ensure the safety and the security of all citizens. It is therefore imperative for the Air Guard to be fully capable of maritime and land surveillance within Trinidad and Tobago’s sovereign territory, maritime borders, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and regional interests on a 24 hrs basis. Since its inception to present, the Air Guard has undergone significant change and has made excellent progress in its organizational structure which is able to cope with the unpredictable and complex security environment that exist today. The intention is to ensure that the Air Guard is sufficiently capable to play a greater role in the support of civil authorities through the discharge of a range of functions which includes:

  1. Counter Terrorist Activites;
  2. Anti-Crime operations;
  3. Search and Rescue;
  4. Tactical air support for maritime and land forces operations of the Defence Force;
  5. Medical evacuations;
  6. Troop transport for overseas deployment;
  7. Civil Assistance during natuaral disasters
  8. Maritime offshore and inshore patrols
  9. Joint operations with local and foriegn agencies
  10. Special Air Operations

In this regard, the Government intends to pursue a medium to long-term structure for the Air Guard which will lead to the development of a Military Aviation Authority.

The first Naval Pilot was Sub Lieutenant Gaylord Kelshall who joined the Air Arm in January 1965. Lieutenant Simon Archibald later joined him in 1966. The Unit commenced its operations in humble surroundings in rented facilities served as home to one aircraft, two pilots and five ratings that had been selected the previous year from the Coast Guard. The pioneers of The Airwing were Leading Seaman F . Gift, Mechanic K. Jasper, Electrician Stewart and Airmen P. McWilliams and C. Clunis. Mechanic Kenrick Jasper, who later gained an Aircraft Maintenance Engineer's licence and was subsequently commissioned as an Aircraft Engineer - a position he held until his retirement.

The lone aircraft operated by the unit at its inception, a Cessna 337 (affectionately referred to as the "Push Pull" because of the fore and aft arrangement of its engines) was acquired in 1966 and arrived at Piarco on August 5. This aircraft was replaced by a Cessna 402B in 1972. In early 1973, helicopters were purchased with the intention to operate them from the Chaguaramas Heliport. This resulted in the division of the Air Wing with the Fixed Wing based at Piarco and the Heliport based at Chaguaramas.

The old seaplane hangar became the first Coast Guard Air Station under the command of Commander Larry McIntosh. The operations at the Helicopter Unit were transferred to civilian control in 1976 when it was renamed the Air Division, Ministry of National Security. The 402B remained the flag bearer of the Airwing until 1985 when a Cessna 310 was acquired from the defunct Caribbean Aviation Training Institute (CATI). During this period, changes and increases in manpower also took place. The now deceased Lieutenant Commander Critchlow, the second commander of the Unit was instrumental in acquiring a suitable home for The Airwing. This resulted in the construction of the current facilities occupied by The Airwing. Unfortunately, he was unable to see this project to its completion, as a result of his untimely death in 1983.

The foundation for the growth and development of the Unit had already been laid. This made it possible for continuity under the command of Lieutenant Commander Fitzroy Wellington. The competition for skilled, qualified personnel within the aviation industry continued to affect the Unit and resulted in the departure of three pilots and an engineer to the National Airline B.W.I.A. in the late nineties. As a consequence, The Airwing embarked on a recruitment drive, which saw three pilots come on board to replace those who had departed for the National Airline. A change in the command occurred with the retirement of Lieutenant Commander Wellington in 1992.

The Fourth Command commenced under the guidance of the then Lieutenant Louis Baptiste. This command has thus far proven to be the most eventful as the Unit's acreage has increased with the completion of a galley, a dormitory and another hangar. It has also seen the acquisition of additional aircraft under an agreement between the Government of The United States and the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

The acquisition of additional equipment and the departure of personnel to the National Airline once again necessitated the recruitment of eight pilots, an avionics engineer and an increase in the personnel attached to Airwing, with the largest single recruitment of ratings specifically for The Airwing in 2001. History was also created with the promotion of Commander Air to the rank of Commander. This being the highest rank achieved by an Aviation Officer in the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago envisaged a shift from its post-independence mode with its vision of making Trinidad and Tobago a developed nation by the year 2020 which would see the establishment of a credible military force, which will be capable of conducting regional SAR, intra-regional trade route patrols and contributing to local security, regional security and defence operations. The government also sees the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force developing and maintaining a leadership role with respect to civil protection and regional security with the capacity to contribute to the maintenance of peace and security internationally.

In 2003 the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago announced an initiative to construct a regional natural gas pipeline to extend from Trinidad to Antigua and eventually west to Jamaica. The construction of this pipeline would therefore mean that the country’s petrochemical interest would now extend a considerable distance beyond its EEZ. This would therefore see the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force committed to the task of securing Trinidad and Tobago’s economic interest both locally and regionally.

In order to have this capacity to defend the sovereign good of the republic to such an unprecedented distance, the Coast Guard will need to acquire Off-shore Patrol Vessels. To give these vessels extended surveillance range and over the horizon capability it was envisaged that they must be capable of carrying helicopters on board. The development of a rotary wing capability within the Defence Force was then seen as a necessity. The existence of the Air wing already provides the government with a platform upon which to build this capability.

As a result the Chief of Defence Staff was been mandated to transform the Air Wing into a separate military aviation body called the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard, with the capability to support the new roles and functions assigned to the Defence Force. With the formation of the Air Guard the unit will be able to provide enhanced aviation support to law enforcement agencies as well as improved and extended aerial search and rescue and surveillance capability. The Air Guard will also provide aviation support for naval, land based and disaster relief operations both locally and regionally.

The Air Guard would therefore affords the Defence Force the ability to fulfill its commitment to protect the people, natural and economic resources of Trinidad and Tobago and also to perform its regional obligations. The Cabinet on 28th July 2005 granted approval for the transition of the existing Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard (Air Wing) into the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard with effect from 1st August 2005.

As of 2008 the Air Guard owned and operated two (2) C26B aircraft in both the maritime surveillance roles and the medium transport roles.

  • One C26B, AG 215, outfitted to carry as much as fourteen persons with cargo as far north as San Juan, Puerto Rico without refueling.
  • The other C26B, AG 216, had undergone an avionics and surveillance suite upgradeat New Foundland, Canada and is capable of day/ night all weather surveillance platform.

The National Security Council was considering phasing out the two C26 in about 3 years time to be replaced with more suitable fixed wing aircraft. The Acquisition of (4) AW139 Helicopters to compliment the OPVs of the Coast Guard. These helicopters are capable of landing and refueling onboard OPVs. Their role would be to provide surveillance and reconnaissance support, as well as search and rescue, maritime and air interdiction capabilities. These Helicopters will be capable of carrying up to fifteen (15) personnel, provide medivac services with full medical staff up to four (4) strechers and a similar number of ambulatory stations. The helicopters would also be of significant assistance in the area of disaster mitigation.

The projection in 2008 was that by 2017-2019, the strength of the Air Guard would be 1200 officers and other ranks. The current strength now stands at 196. A proposed increase in the Air Guard’s strength and the approval for the Air Guard’s medium to long term structure was being considered. The proposed structure consists of a Headquarters Unit, a Fixed Wing Unit and a Rotary Wing Unit which was further divided into supporting branches (i.e Operations, Engineering, Administration and Logistics).

The Air Guard remains a vital part of the national search and rescue efforts with the Coast Guard. They have performed many rescue missions independently as well; the airlift rescue of a man, who was attacked by a shark off the East coast, to the Port of Spain General Hospital. The Air Guard's relief efforts after hurricane Erika hit Dominica where two of their AW 139 helicopters performed yeoman service to the people of Dominica and St Lucia.

The Air Guard has proven itself in their firefighting efforts, mainly during the dry season by the use of their bambi buckets to extinguish forest fires; capabilities that may also be extended to fighting Industrial or high-rise building fires. The TT Air Guard also conducts missions to patrol the Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) to ensure ship safety; illegal activities; vessels in distress; as well as medical evacuations from Tobago to Trinidad and ship to shore. Additionally the Air Guard conducts operations in areas of high difficulty and high risk, which are usually inaccessible by land.

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Page last modified: 23-05-2017 15:48:43 ZULU