Helicopters in the U.S. Coast Guard

I am nearing the end of my research on the evolution of the helicopter as the school year concludes in a few weeks. However, I still have a bustling week of work ahead of me as well as an invaluable week of research last week. This coming weekend is finally helicopter rides weekend at the American Helicopter Museum! I am going to be reserving a spot for myself to go up in a helicopter for five minutes around Chester County. I will also be taking a video of the flight process as the pilot takes off, flies, turns, descends, and lands safely on the ground. I will hopefully have time to meet with the director of the museum and talk about a few retired helicopter models they have on their property, including Coast Guard helicopters. This is my focus this week after a vital conversation with an Aviator Director at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Atlantic City, NJ.

The Coast Guard currently uses two different models of helicopters. The first is the HH-65 Dolphin and the second is the HH-60 Jayhawk both designed by Sikorsky.

An HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Ore., conduct a search and rescue demonstration in Elliott Bay near downtown Seattle. USCG photo by PA3 Adam Eggers

An HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Ore., conduct a search and rescue demonstration in Elliott Bay near downtown Seattle. USCG photo by PA3 Adam Eggers

These helicopters were designed for search and rescue which they play an “invaluable role” in. The Coast Guard conducts at least one search and rescue mission per day on top of the other roles this versatile vehicle can handle due to its speed and capability to hover in one place even in strong winds. The other jobs it has is to provide aids to navigation for other vessels, move buoys around for shipping channels, patrol for migrant interdiction, as a law enforcement vehicle that searches for drugs along the coast of the south, used to track and locate low flying aircraft that could be a potential threat around Washington D.C., and lastly used to bring food, water, and other supplies during and after natural disasters.

With all these different jobs the helicopter has in the Coast Guard you would assume it has had several technological advances, however, the physical capabilities of both models have not changed a lot. They have been tweaked a few times since the 80’s to become a little faster and have a slightly longer range. Other than that, the only over major technological advances have been adding new sensors on board such as heat sensors, as well as better lighting and radars. The pilots themselves have seen night vision goggles added to their equipment which makes night flights a lot safer and more effective. One major upgrade the fleets of Coast Guard helicopters across the country will see soon will be glass cockpits where the radars and controls are all on a glass touch screen like an iPad only it’s transparent glass. There has not been a lot of development or research looking into upgrading these models due to lack of funding. The Coast Guard receives these helicopters from the Department of Defense who has placed its money elsewhere over the past few years. However, the DOD is currently working on vertical lift aircrafts and their goal is to revolutionize the helicopter possibly following the design of the V-22 Osprey which was a vertical lift aircraft that does not sacrifice speed. Sikorsky is also looking into a similar design concept called the Raider which is a vertical lift aircraft as well. I will look in depth at the Raider design next week! So there is money being pushed towards the evolution of the helicopter design because as it currently stands, the design is limited to how fast they can fly due to blade stall. However, the Coast Guard is thriving well using the Dolphin and the Jayhawk, and there are not much better replacements available anyway. They are focusing on saving their budget for more advanced sensors and radars.

Thanks for reading!

Jeremy

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