An MH-65D hover-taxi's in front of the control tower at Mobile Regional Airport
March 2016 and once again Jetwash Aviation Photos is back in the United States. Having visited Coast Guard Air Station (CGAS) Elizabeth City, North Carolina back in 2013, we were keen to spend some time with the United States Coast Guard once again. The importance of Elizabeth City to the Coast Guard goes without question, as aside the normal duties of a CGAS, it also house's the Aviation Logistics Centre (ALC), which undertakes a large amount of overhaul and programme upgrades on the Coast Guard's fleet of aircraft. Ranking alongside E-City in importance is the CGAS and Aviation Training Center (ATC) at Mobile, Alabama; so we thought it only appropriate to report on the operations there and get up close and personal with the day to day action in the 'Heart of Dixie'.
Co-located at CGAS Mobile is the USCG's National Strike Force's (NSF) Gulf Strike Team (GST). This specially trained unit was created in 1973 and is tasked with responding to natural and man-made pollution; and incidents such as oil discharge, hazardous materials, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and vessel salvage operations. Able to deploy anywhere across the globe, the team's primary area of responsibility is the Coast Guard’s 7th District (except Puerto Rico & the U.S Virgin Islands), the southern portion of the 8th District, parts of the 5th District, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. The GST also covers the Environmental Protection Agency's 4th & 6th Districts. Some of the more high profile missions conducted by the GST in recent times have been involvement in Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ivan; SAR efforts in the wake of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, the 2011 Mississippi River floods and the explosion and subsequent oil spill related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
An HC-144 undergoing routine maintenance at Mobile
By far the most numerous aircraft type in service, over 100 Dauphins equip Coast Guard units around the country
This MH-65D Dauphin had arrived at CGAS Mobile on the 8th March, the day before our visit
The helicopter had arrived fresh out of the overhaul facility at Elizabeth City and was painted in a scheme similar to that applied to the Dauphin fleet when it initially entered service with the Coast Guard back in 1984
Coast Guard pilot training commences at NAS Pensacola and incorporates eight weeks of Initial Flight Screening (IFS), which includes some ground training and 25 hours of flight time on the Navy's Beechcraft T-6A Texan II, which also includes their first solo flight. Ground School then commences in earnest and incorporates Aviation Pre-flight Indoctrination, engine mechanics, aerodynamics, navigation, weather, FAA rules and survival training. Following completion of the ground school, pilots then move onto nearby NAS Whiting Field for 27 weeks of Primary Flight School on the T-6B Texan II, after which they are then 'streamed' to either fixed-wing at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, flying the Beechcraft T-44C or Beechcraft TC-12B; or remain at Whiting Field for their advanced rotary-wing training on the Bell TH-57 Sea Ranger. After a further 20 weeks of training the students are then awarded their Wings and move onto Mobile for type conversion.
An HC-144B climbs out of CGAS Mobile in overcast conditions on 9th March 2016
Externally, the upgraded HC-144B is no different to the HC-144A
U.S. Coast Guard
Aviation Training Center
One of Mobile's MH-65D Dolphins taxi's out from the Coast Guard ramps at Mobile for a morning mission
It is noticeable that all MH-65s wear a 'reverse' colour scheme to all other Coast Guard aircraft in that the aircraft are painted red/white, as against white/red
Early morning and the crew of #6011 prepare the aircraft for a mission
History of CGAS Mobile
During the 1960s, the Coast Guard highlighted a need to establish an aviation training base for the force. At the time, fixed-wing training was conducted at CGAS Biloxi, Mississippi, using the Grumman HU-16E Albatross. Military leaders at the time had been looking at either drastically reducing, or eliminating flight activities at Keesler Air Force Base (AFB), where CGAS Biloxi was located. Rotary-wing training at that time was conducted on the Sikorsky HH-52 helicopter at CGAS Savannah, Georgia, garrisoned at Hunter AFB. The Air Force had put arrangements in place to transfer Hunter AFB to the U.S Army, limiting the available space for the Coast Guard to continue operations. Due to the potential upheaval at both bases, the Coast Guard commissioned the Aviation Training Center at Mobile Regional Airport in 1966, on a site that had been vacated by the U.S Air Force Reserve's 908th Tactical Airlift Group; and the rest they say, is history.
Nearly 300 high school graduates enrol annually with the CSPI and current high performing Officer Trainees (OT's) enrolled in their senior year of the CSPI who demonstrate a strong desire and aptitude to become a part of the Coast Guard's aviation community can apply for a guaranteed flight school position through the Wilks' Flight Initiative (WiFI) programme. Applicants must first pass the Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB) aptitude test and then successfully complete a Class 1A Flight Physical. Upon successful completion of CSPI and Officer Candidate School, WiFL selectees are then guaranteed a place at the flight school in Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.
This close-up of #2301 shows the FLIR-ball fitted underneath the aircraft's nose
The U.S. Coast Guard pilot training programme commences with the initial selection process. With a fleet of some 200 aircraft of varying types, which includes both fixed-wing and rotary-wing types, at 24 Coast Guard Air Stations around the country, the Guard's requirement for new aircrew is constant. Approximately 800 pilots currently serve with the Coast Guard, with the 2016 Fiscal Year programme having a particular emphasis on recruiting for the fixed-wing element.
Prospective pilots enter the Coast Guard pilot training programme through the Coast Guard Academy located in New London, Connecticut. The Guard have a Direct Commissioned Aviator (DCA) programme, which is designed for trained and commissioned military pilots from other services, who enter the Direct Commissioned Officer (DCO) course, a fast-track four week course completed prior to them departing to the ATC at Mobile. The other route into the Guard is to enter the College Student Pre-commissioning Initiative (CSPI), designed for students currently in a full-time bachelor's degree. Students who are accepted into the scholarship are enlisted into the Coast Guard, undertaking a minimum 16 hours per month of Coast Guard activities during their four year period of study. During their scholarship, CSPI students also attend a three week course in New London and after the degree graduation they then attend a further 17-week Officer Candidate School (OCS). After successful completion of the OCS the graduates then receive a commission into the Guard as an Ensign O-1.
The scheme on the HC-144A (above) is based on the colours worn by the Douglas RD-4 Dolphins from the 1930/40s. A total of 15 aircraft will be painted during the course of 2016, including MH-60s, MH-65s and HC-144s. Aircraft #2301 was the second aircraft to receive a special paint scheme, arriving at Mobile on 12th January. The aircraft was photographed at its home base on 9th March
This head-on image of a MH-65D clearly shows the rescue winch fitted above the starboard door of the helicopter
Located at Mobile Regional Airport, some 18 miles to the west of the city centre, Coast Guard Air Station Mobile is currently equipped with three aircraft types; the HC-144 Ocean Sentry, the MH-60 Jayhawk and the MH-65 Dolphin.
The HC-144A painted to commemorate Coast Guard Aviation's centenary, gets towed across the apron at CGAS Mobile
The United States Coast Guard Aviation Training Center (ATC) at Mobile, Alabama is a multi-mission unit, acting as both the Coast Guard's aviation and capabilities development centre and also as an operational Coast Guard Air Station. The training undertaken at Mobile is primarily geared around qualifying Coast Guard pilots destined for the various aircraft types flown by the command in the Search & Rescue (SAR) and homeland defence roles, with all Coast Guard pilots initially trained at Mobile also returning once a year for a one week refresher course on their designated aircraft type. Aircraft types in operation at CGAS Mobile are the Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk, the Eurocopter MH-65D Dolphin and the EADS HC-144A/B Ocean Sentry (aircrew destined for the Lockheed HC-130 Hercules aircraft are trained at CGAS Clearwater, Florida). The mission of the Aviation Training Center is to produce mission ready aircrews and develop the Guard's aviation capabilities. The ATC provides core training for rotary-wing pilots, fixed-wing pilots, rescue swimmers and aircrews for all U.S Coast Guard Air Stations.
Serving within the Coast Guard's Force Readiness Command's Training Division (FC-T) at Mobile, the evaluation center is also responsible for ensuring that the Coast Guard are using the best equipment and tactics to successfully complete all of the missions conducted by the various units around the continental United States. The Operations Department, which flies the HC-144A Ocean Sentry, is a segment within the ATC command that conducts traditional Coast Guard missions from the base, including SAR, Homeland Security, Law Enforcement and Environmental Protection. The Operations Department comes under the tactical control of the 8th Coast Guard District based in New Orleans and has an area of responsibility that extends from the Louisiana/Texas border, right down to the eastern edge of the Florida panhandle.
Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk; Of the two helicopter types in service at Mobile, the largest is the MH-60T Jayhawk. A variant of Sikorsky's H-60/S-70 Seahawk helicopter in use with the U.S Navy, the Jayhawk is an all-weather, medium-range Search & Rescue helicopter, 42 of which entered USCG service as the original HH-60J between 1990 and 1996, replacing the Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican. The MH-60T upgrade programme began in January 2007 and provides the four man crew with the Rockwell-Collins Avionics Architecture Suite (CAAS), which includes a 'glass' cockpit, an electro-optical sensor system and new AN/ARC 210, 220 and RT-500/SAR radios. Powered by two General Electric T700-GE-401C turboshaft engines, the aircraft has an impressive range of 700 nautical miles and a maximum speed of 180 knots (207mph). The helicopter is also capable of being armed with a Fabrique Nationale 7.62mm M240J machine gun for self-protection and homeland security missions. Four ex-U.S Navy SH-60 Seahawks have also been converted to MH-60T standard for the Coast Guard as attrition replacements. To provide an extended range, the MH-60 is able to carry three external 120 U.S. gallon (454 litre) fuel tanks, with two on the port side and one on the starboard side. The aircraft also has a rescue hoist mounted above the door on the starboard side.
Airbus HC-144A Ocean Sentry; Powered by two General Electric CT7-9C3 turboprop engines, the Ocean Sentry has a maximum speed of 246 knots, a range of 2000 nautical miles and an impressive endurance of up to 11.5 hours. The aircraft is produced by EADS in Spain (part of the Airbus Group), with first deliveries to the Coast Guard taking place in 2009. The HC-144A is a Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) variant of the CASA 235 transport. First unveiled in 2006, the aircraft is certified as the Coast Guard's choice for its Medium-Range Surveillance (MRS) aircraft and is part of the larger 'Deepwater Programme', an extensive acquisition overhaul that touches the entire Coast Guard fleet of operational forces. The HC-144A replaced the Dassault HU-25 Guardian in Coast Guard service and also some of the Guard's older HC-130 Hercules aircraft. The Ocean Sentry has the capability to perform aerial delivery of SAR equipment such as rafts, pumps, and flares. With its IDS Command and Control (C2) System and state-of-the-art C4ISR suite of sensors and avionics, it can also serve as an on-scene command platform for homeland security missions. The HC-144B variant is now entering service with the Coast Guard, with the 18-strong fleet getting new mission effectiveness and situational awareness improvements to address obsolescense issues via replacement of the cockpit control and display units, and new avionics and computer systems equipment for improved communication and navigation.
MH-60T #6046 is the 'newest' aircraft in the Jayhawk fleet, having been taken on as an attrition replacement
from surplus U.S Navy stocks, entering service with the Coast Guard in 2015
As an operational air station, Mobile serves as the fixed-wing response capability for the Coast Guard's Eighth District, executing missions such as search and rescue, homeland security, and environmental protection. In 2015, ATC conducted 180 search & rescue cases, saving the lives of ten mariners, $570,000 in property and assisting 35 additional individuals in distress. Mobile will be celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout 2016 with a variety of activities honouring the accomplishments and sacrifices of the men and women who have served in Mobile over the past 50 years.
About to conduct a training mission, this MH-65D is one of six of the type based at CGAS Mobile
Airbus Helicopters MH-65D Dolphin; Introduced into service in 1984, the second helicopter type flown out of Mobile is the MH-65D. The Coast Guard Dolphins were maufactured by the Aerospatiale Helicopter Corporation (later American Eurocopter; now Airbus Helicopters) in Grand Prairie, Texas. With Approximately 100 aircraft in service, it is by far the most numerous type in the Coast Guard inventory and is the primary aircraft used aboard USCG cutters during deployments. With its Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR), cockpit Head-Up Display (HUD) and other avionics upgrades, the MH-65D addressed a number of obsolete component issues applicable to the earlier MH-65C variant. Powered by two 853 shaft horse-power, Turbomeca-Arriel 2C2-CG turbine engines, the helicopter has a maximum speed of 175 knots and a range of 290 nautical miles. As with the MH-60T, it can be armed with a single 7.62mm M240 machine gun and has a four-man crew (two pilots, one flight engineer and one rescue swimmer). Despite the D-variant upgrades only being completed during 2015, the Coast Guard has already started development of the E-variant, with 2017 stated as the expected introduction to service date. The MH-65E will introduce a full 'glass' cockpit, advanced GPS and an inertial navigation capability. The MH-65E conversion project is being undertaken at the Aviation Logistics Center at Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where engineers are installing and evaluating the new equipment.
#6011 taxies across the Coast Guard ramps at Mobile for a morning mission
Note the two external 120 US Gallon fuel tanks mounted on the port side stub-wings and the hoist visible above the starboard side door
We would like to thank Lt. Jacob Scritchfield and LCDR. Justin M. Cassell for their assistance in completing this article
HC-144A #2311 is seen on departure from Mobile, Alabama
The majority of aircraft and engine maintenance is conducted at Mobile
In the photos above a General Electric T700 engine from a MH-60 receives some attention