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U.S. Coast Guard Aviation History

Historic Photo Gallery, Volume 1


A photo of the first Coast Guard aviation group, circa 1916

"The Class of 1916"

The first Coast Guard airmen & ground support personnel, 22 March 1917.

Life Saving Service personnel assisting the Wright Brothers; LOC collection.

Original caption: "1903 machine on the launching track at Big Kill Devil Hill, prior to the December 14th trial.  Four men from the Kill Devil Hills Lifesaving Station helped move it from the shed to the hill, accompanied by two small boys and a dog."; photo taken 14 December 1903 by the Wright Brothers.
Library of Congress Photo LC-W86-21.

The U.S. Life-Saving Service Keeper Captain Jesse Ward and surfmen of the Kill Devil Hills Lifesaving Station assisted the Wright Brothers during their flight experiments at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  A man who later became a keeper with the U.S. Lighthouse Service (another fore-runner of the Coast Guard) first recommended the area as a perfect place for the two brothers to experiment with powered flight.

Their actions established a connection between the Coast Guard and the very origins of powered  flight.  Click here for more information.

A photo of the first Coast Guard aviation group, circa 1916

The original caption stated: "U.S. COAST GUARD'S FIRST AVIATION GROUP: The Class of 1916 became the first Coast Guard Aviators.  They are shown at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., with their crewmen at the time of graduation.  Of the 18 pictured, nine remained in the U.S. Coast Guard, three became Rear Admirals, one a Vice Admiral, while another won the [sic**] Congressional-Medal for a historical contribution to aviation.  (Left to right): C.T. Thrun, Master at Arms, later a warrant officer who was killed while flying at Cape May, N.J., in January, 1935; J. F. Powers, Oiler First Class, who later left the service; George Ott, Ship's Writer,  who later left the service; C. Griffin, Master at Arms, who later left the service; John Wicks, Surfman; Third Lieut. Robert Donohue, who became Rear Admiral, was Chief, Air-Sea Rescue Officer, Chief, Personnel Officer, at Headquarters, retired June 1, 1946, died April 4, 1964; Second Lieut. C. E. Sugden, who retired a Captain on August 1, 1946; Second Lieut. E. A. Coffin, who retired a Rear Admiral on April 1, 1950; First Lieut. S. V. Parker, who retired as Vice Admiral Sept. 1, 1947; Second Lieut. P. B. Eaton, who became Rear Admiral, and and [sic] Assistant Engineer-in-Chief at Headquarters, retired August 31, 1946, died May 18, 1958; Third Lieut. E. F. Stone, designated Coast Guard Aviator No. 1 who in 1919 made history as pilot of the Navy Seaplane NC4 that made the first trans-Atlantic crossing, was a Commander when he died May 20, 1936.  Ora Young, Surfman, who later left the service; W. R. Malew, Coxswain, who later left the service; J. Meyers, Surfman, who later left the service; J. Medusky, Asst. Master at Arms, who later left the service; W. S. Anderson, Surfman, who retired as a Lieut. Commander, November 1, 1946; L. M. Melka, Signal Quartermaster, later became a Lieutenant; deceased.  *Stone received the Congressional Medal [**] May 23, 1930 for extraordinary achievement in making the first successful trans-Atlantic flight. [Caption written] 5/08/64".  Photographer not listed.

On 1 April 1916, at the invitation of the U.S. Navy, Second Lieutenant Charles E. Sugden and Third Lieutenant Elmer F. Stone received their orders to attend aviation training at Pensacola Naval Air Station.  Coast Guard aviation claims that day as its official birthday.

Curtiss MF Flying Boat under evaluation by the Coast Guard; Curtiss file 

No original caption. 
Photo dated 28 April 1919; Photo No. 5-AE-R701; photographer not listed.

Curtiss MF flying boat on a seaplane ramp.  All of the early aircraft flown by the Coast Guard were acquired (usually borrowed) from the Navy.  Click here for a 600-dpi image.

Elmer Stone and the crew of the NC-4 in 1919; Stone file

Original caption: "CREW OF THE NC-4, ANACOSTIA [sic, should read Lisbon, Portugal], 28 MAY 1919. (L-R): EUGENE RHOADES, LT. J.G. BREESE, LTJG. WALTER HUNTON [sic, Hunton], LT. ELMER STONE, USCG, LT COMDR. A.C. READ, CO."

Official U.S. Navy Photo, No. USN-42889.

LT Elmer Stone piloted the NC-4 on her historic flight across the Atlantic.  He continued working with the Navy for the next decade, with the approval of the Treasury Department, where he helped create carrier aviation in the Coast Guard's sister sea service.  Click here for more information on Elmer Stone and his remarkable career in naval aviation.

Air Station Morehead City Personnel portrait; Aviation file

Original caption: "Coast Guard aviation personnel attached to the Coast Guard Aviation Station at Morehead City, N.C. 8-1-21."

1 August 1921; no photo number; photographer not listed.

The officer in the center of the photograph is William Wishar.  He commanded the short-lived air station at Morehead City.  The seaplane the men are standing in front of is a
Curtiss HS-2L borrowed from the Navy.  Captain Wishar later penned a first-person account of these very early days of Coast Guard aviation.  The editor of his article as it was posted on-line noted:

Captain William P. Wishar's. . .recollections provide a wonderful glimpse into the very early years of Coast Guard aviation: the trials of flying open cockpit, fabric-and-wire biplane flying boats; navigating over open water with only a few instruments to guide you; experimenting with flying at night, literally by the seat of your pants; and attempting to set up and operate an air station with practically no funding, which necessitated borrowing a tent from the Army, begging the Navy for leftover aircraft, and scrounging for spare parts, tools, and personnel.  Captain Wishar's recollections illustrate the importance of the initiative and courage of a few Coast Guardsmen who successfully established a permanent aviation program for the Coast Guard.  These few men recognized the importance of what aviation could do for the Coast Guard and at the risk of taking a dead-end career path they forged ahead to make their vision a reality.  Without their courage and foresight, the role aviation played in the development of the service in the last century would have been altered significantly.

Click here to read Captain Wishar's remarkable account of the early years of Coast Guard aviation history.

A photo of Captain Wishar dressed in an early flight suit; Wishar file.

Hand-written on the back of photo: "Wm. P. Wishar, Lieut-Comdr (Officer-Student) US Coast Guard at Pensacola Naval Air Station, 1919-1920."
Photographer not listed (Wishar file).

Captain Wishar graduated from the Revenue Marine School of Instruction in 1909.  He completed flight training at Pensacola in 1920, graduating at the top of his class.  Captain [(brevet--in 1920 his permanent rank was a first lieutenant) Stanley V. ] Parker, then head of aviation matters at headquarters at that time, wrote to him after his graduation from flight school and noted: "We are very gratified at the splendid showing made by Coast Guard officers on duty at Pensacola.  The Commandant has noted that you and von Paulsen stood No. 1 and No. 2 in the class of Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps officers, and it his intention to let you know of his pleasure at learning this."  Shortly after completing flight training Captain Wishar commanded the first Coast Guard air station at Morehead City, NC.  He retired as a captain in 1926 due to a permanent physical disability and crossed the bar on 21 September 1971.

Naval aviation training at Pensacola, circa 1919; Wishar file

Hand-written on the back of the photo: "Pensacola Naval Air Sta., 1920".
Photographer not listed (Wishar file)

Training in an early version of a cockpit simulator; Wishar is on the far right.

Melka and Von Paulsen; Melka file

Original caption: "These two early Coast Guard aviators, pictured together in the flying gear on May 5, 1927, established the first successful U.S. Coast Guard air unit on Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, Mass., in 1925, using one Vought seaplane borrowed from the Navy.  From left are Commander Carl C. von Paulsen who commanded Coast Guard Base 7, Gloucester, and the attached air unit (January 1925 to May 1928); and Ensign Leonard M. Melka who acted as pilot and mechanic.

CDR von Paulsen and ENS Melka alternated on aerial patrols, investigating smugglers operating along the North Atlantic coast.  They proved that the aircraft was an effective means of detection in law enforcement work.  They also helped in a series of radio communication experiments between aircraft in flight, between aircraft and ships, and between aircraft and ground stations."  Photo No. API-05-20-27 (01) Gen.; Melka file.  Photo by "EAS".

ENS Melka was one of the first Coast Guard graduates of flight training at Pensacola in 1917.  He died in 1936 from injuries sustained in a 1929 Coast Guard aircraft accident.  Von Paulsen was a 1913 graduate of the Revenue Cutter School of Instruction and earned his wings in 1920.  He retired in 1945 after more than 30 years distinguished service on the sea and in the air.

Tuning up a Loening OL-5

Original caption: "Tuning up No. 3 Plane - Loening Amphibian.  Gloucester, Mass.  3-8-29 (15)."
Photographer not listed.

In 1926 the Coast Guard purchased three Loening amphibians for $152,000.  These were the first aircraft ever purchased by the Coast Guard.  Click here for more information on the OL-5.

An early armed Coast Guard amphibian, in this case a Loening OL-5; Loening OL5 file

Original caption: "Machine gun and rung mount ready for action - showing magazine and shell catcher in place.  Gloucester, Mass. 3-8-29 (14)."; photographer not listed.

The Coast Guard experimented with arming Loening OL-5s during Prohibition but the experiment proved to be impractical and was abandoned.  The Coast Guard did not arm its aircraft again during peacetime until it developed the HITRON Squadron in the late 1990s.

An armed Loening OL-5

No caption/date/photo number; photographer not listed.

Another shot of the armed OL-5 in Gloucester, Mass, 1929.

Rear Admiral Hamlet commissions a Fokker PJ

Original caption: "'ALTAIR' being christened at General Aviation Manufacturing Corp., Dundalk, MD.  Miss Aline Beverly Chalker, daughter of Commander & Mrs. Lloyd T. Chalker, USCG, and Rear Admiral Harry G. Hamlet, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard."; August, 1932; no photo number; photographer not listed.

The Coast Guard, following a similar practice as the Navy, christened and commissioned its flying boats (the PJ's landing gear was removable).  The five PJs were the first aircraft designed and built specifically for Coast Guard service.  They were built by General Aviation--formerly known as Fokker Aircraft Corporation of America.  Click here for more information.

Norman Hall commissions a new flying boat; General Aviation PJ file

Original caption: "The late RADM Norman G. Hall, USCG, pioneer in U.S. Coast Guard aviation, shown here as a CDR, watches a crew working on a PJ-1 (Fokker) seaplane at the water's edge at the Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Va., in 1932."; 22 November 1932; no photo number; photo by C. S. Borjes of The Virginian Pilot.

The Fokker PJs were known by Coast Guard aviators of the time as "FLBs" (for flying life boats).

A Fokker PJ making a rescue at sea, circa 1936.

Original caption: "Coast Guard plane ANTARES at steamer SAMUEL Q. BROWN for stretcher case."; no date/photo number; photographer not listed.

The Coast Guard PJs and their aircrews pioneered this kind of SAR case--flying far over the horizon, landing at sea near a merchant vessel, recovering the victim/patient, taking off at sea and returning to base.  In this instance two merchant crewmen sustained serious burns and were evacuated by ANTARES and its crew 50 miles off the Delaware Capes in early 1933.

Coast Guard aircraft from Miami fly over a cutter.

Original caption: "A welcome from the air!  Coast Guard planes from the Coast Guard Air Station Miami, Florida, greeting the new 165-foot patrol boat PANDORA upon her arrival at that Port on December 6, 1934, to take station.  From top to bottom are Flying Boat ACAMAR, Amphibian SIRIUS and Flying Boat ARCTURUS."; Photo No./date 12-25-34 (9) N; photographer not listed.

The amphibian flying in front of the PJs is a Douglas RD Dolphin.  The Coast Guard acquired 13 RDs beginning in 1931.  It proved to be a popular choice amongst Coast Guard aviators.

First major award for a Coast Guard air crew; Von Paulsen file.

Original caption: "Coast Guard Airmen Honored for Rescue: MIAMI MADE QUITE A 'TO DO' OVER THESE MEDAL WINNERS."  Miami Herald Photo, as printed in Coast Guard Magazine, (September, 1933), p. 5.

The original caption continued: "Five members of the United States Coast Guard, received Treasury Department life Saving Medals of Honor [sic], the Government's highest peace time award, at ceremonies pictured above.  Gov. Dave Sholtz presented the medals in the presence of Capt. C. F. Howell, U.S.C.G., and Mayor E. G. Sewell.  Left to right, Thomas S. McKenzie, radio operator; William D. Pinkston, aviation machinists mate, first class; James R. Orndorff, chief aviation machinists mate; Lieut. William L. Foley and Lieutenant Commander Carl C. von Paulsen, U.S.C.G., all receiving the award; Governor Sholtz, Captain Howell and Mayor Sewell."  The award was for their daring rescue off Vero Beach, Florida, on 1 January 1933 of a young man who had been "swept to sea in an open skiff during a storm" to over 30 miles off the coast.  The aircraft, a Miami-based Fokker PJ-1 flying boat named Arcturus, "cracked up" with a damaged wing during their landing at sea.  Von Paulsen then taxied miles through the rough seas back to shore in the dead of night.

A Fokker PJ at Cape May

Original caption: "Taking off an injured man from a Coast Guard seaplane.  This man was taken off a merchant liner at sea and rushed to shore by the Coast Guard for immediate medical treatment."; no date/photo number; photographer not listed.

A Fokker PJ unloads a stretcher case

Original caption: "Streatcher [sic] case, Salem Air Station."; no date; Photo No. 925362.

Air Station Cape May, 1934

Original caption: "US Coast Guard Air Station Cape May, N.J., 1934."; no photo number; photographer not listed.

The Coast Guard commissioned Air Station Cape May on 29 October 1926.  Click here for more information.

Muster at Air Station Miami, 1935

Original caption: "'General Muster' at Coast Guard Air Station, Miami, Florida.";  31 January 1935; Photo No. 1-31-35 (2) N."; photographer not listed.  The Coast Guard commissioned Air Station Miami in June of 1932 at Dinner Key, Florida, next to Pan Am's Miami seaplane base.

Air Station Miami, 1936

Hand-written on back of photo: "Formation: Bill Clemmer was presented with a Silver Life Saving Medal for his work after last year's Labor Day hurricane. (Frank Erickson 3rd from left, Miami, Fla. probably 1936)".  No photo number; photographer not listed.

Award ceremony at Air Station Miami, circa 1936.  Note the two Douglas RD Dolphin amphibians.

Photo from Frank Erickson collection.

Air Station St. Petersburg mural

No official caption/date/photo number; photographer unknown.
Courtesy of the Ancient Order of the Pterodactyls.

A mural was commissioned inside the Officers' & CPO Mess at Sector St. Petersburg (formerly AIRSTA St. Petersburg).  This building was constructed in the 1937-38 time frame and the interior of the Officers' Mess was painted by a local artist, George Snow Hill, under the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Program.  Each wall of the Mess depicted a historic event in Coast Guard history or one of the service's many missions conducted in the 1930s--including aircraft operations such as that depicted here.  Photo & information courtesy of the Ancient Order of the Pterodactyls.

Air Station St. Petersburg was commissioned on 1 March 1935.

A photo of Air Station St. Petersburg in 1937

Original caption reads: "Coast Guard planes over St. Petersburg, Florida, Air Station, 1937"; Photo No. 1201371; photographer unknown. 

A Coast Guard Douglas RD amphibian escorts the Nazi zeppelin Von Hindenburg over Lakehurst, New Jersey, circa 1937.

Original caption: "Coast Guard plane (Douglas) escorting the Von Hindenberg [sic] to a landing at Lakehurst, N.J."; no photo number; no officially listed date; photographer unknown.

This photo shows D-LZ- 129 Hindenburg on its inaugural flight between Freidrichshafen and Lakehurst.  Depicted in the photo is Coast Guard RD Spica.  The Coast Guard Magazine published a cropped version of this exact photo and included the following information in its caption: "A fleet of Caost Guard Amphibians took off from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, N.Y,., to locate and escort the "VON HINDENBURG" to Lakehurst and to enforce the special Department of Commerce regulations requiring all private and commercial planes to keep clear.  The ADHARA, piloted by Lieut. Wm. Schissler, with Calvin A. Chinnis, CRM, L. C. Smith, AMM1c sighted the Zeppelin and escorte her to Lakehurst accompanied by Amphibian SPICA, Lieut. Fahey, J. E. Coker, Radio Electrician; Lonnie Bridges, ACCM from Capt May Air Station; Amphibian CAPELLA, Lieut. Lyons; A. T. Cook, AMM1c; Leadbeater, RM1c and Joseph, AMM3c." Coast Guard Magazine, Vol. 9 (July, 1936), p. 4.

While arriving at Naval Air Station Lakehurst on 6 May 1937 the Hindenberg exploded and crashed.  Its destruction was famously caught on film.

Douglas RD amphibian

No official caption/date/photo number; photographer unknown.

A Coast Guard Douglas RD Dolphin in New York, scan provided courtesy of Van R. Field.

Douglas RD amphibian

No official caption/date/photo number; photographer unknown.

A Coast Guard Douglas RD Dolphin, scan provided courtesy of Van R. Field.

Another Coast Guard aviation pioneer, Lieutenant Richard Burke stands in front of a Grumman J2F

No caption/date/photo number; photographer not listed.

Lieutenant Richard L. Burke, a well-known pre-war Coast Guard aviator and aviation pioneer, stands near a Grumman JF-2. 

Lieutenant Richard Burke in front of the Commandant's transport aircraft.

No caption/date/photo number; photographer not listed.

Lieutenant Richard L. Burke poses in front of the Coast Guard's Northrop RT-1 Delta.  The service acquired the VIP transport aircraft in 1935 and Burke became Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau's favorite pilot (see next entry).  Burke was credited with saving the life of the Secretary on one occasion.

Lieutenant Burke and Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau

"SECRETARY MORGENTHAU'S OFFICIAL Lockheed plane, powered by Wright Whirlwind engines, forms and appropriate background for Lieutenant Richard Burke, U.S.C.G.; the Secretary; M. Y. Gordon, vice-president of the Wright plant, and Franck LeMan, president of the Caldwell-Wright Airport.  Scanned from the Coast Guard Magazine.

Morgenthau, an aviation enthusiast and supporter, consolidated all Department aviation activities within the Coast Guard in 1934.  The Coast Guard acquired this particular Lockheed XR30-1 Electra by trading a brand new Grumman JF-2 Duck to the Marine Corps on 26 November 1935.

Air Station San Diego, circa 1935

No original caption/date/photo number; photographer not listed.

Air Station San Diego, circa 1938.  The Coast Guard commissioned the station in April of 1937.

A Dolphin amphibian comes ashore at Air Station San Diego

No original caption/date/photo number; photographer not listed.

Air Station San Diego, circa 1937.  RD Dolphin.

Waco being placed aboard the CGC Spencer, 1937

No caption/date/photo number; photographer not listed.

A Waco J2W-1 being hoisted on board the 327-foot cutter Spencer, circa 1937. The 327s were initially designed to operate with float-planes although in practice such operations proved to be impractical.  Nevertheless the experiments led to the successful use of aircraft aboard a few of the cutters assigned to the Greenland Patrol.

Waco aboard Spencer, 1937

No caption/date/photo number; photographer not listed.

Waco J2W-1 secured to the quarterdeck of the Spencer off Cordova, Alaska, in February, 1938.

Lieutenant C. B. Olson receives the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1938.

Original caption: "Rewarded for courage.  Washington, D.C., May 12.  Lieut. C.B. Olson (right) United States Coast Guard, receiving from Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau today the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first to be awarded to a Coast Guard Aviator.  Lieut. Olson was awarded the Cross in recognition of a flight in storm and darkness he made 300 miles to sea from the Miami, Fla. air station to an Army transport and returning safely with an Army officer in desperate need of an operation.  The flight was made in June 1935.  On the left is Rear Admiral R.R. Waesche, Commandant of the Coast Guard, 5/12/38."; Library of Congress photo, Call No. LC-H22-D-3944[P&P].

Lieutenant Burke receives the Distinguished Flying Cross

Original caption: "Coast Guard flyer gets Distinguished Flying Cross, Washington, D.C., Oct. 14.  In recognition of a flight made 130 miles to sea through fog and rain to rescue a severely injured seaman, whose life was saved by prompt hospitalization, Lieut. R. L. Burke, Coast Guard aviator, was today presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross by Secretary of Treasury Morgenthau.  in the photograph, left to right: Rear Admiral R. R. Waesche, Commandant of the Coast Guard, Lieut. Burke, Secretary Morgenthau, and Stephen Gibbons, Assistant Secretary of Treasury in charge of the Coast Guard.  10/14/38."; Library of Congress photo; Call No. LC-H22-D-3944{P&P].

Fokker PJ transferred to St. Petersburg

Original caption: "THE V115 TRANSFERRED TO ST. PETERSBURG: OFF FOR FLORIDA: Transferred to the Florida base, the V115 was flown out of Salem Dec. 11, 1938, by picked crew above.  Stops were made at Cape May, N.J., Charleston, S.C. and Miami, Fla."  Compilation of four separate photos, not dated; no photo number; photographer not listed.

Muster at Air Station Saint Petersburg, 1939

Original caption: "General Muster: St. Petersburg Fla. Air Station."
Photo dated14 March 1938; Photo No. 0314381; photographer not listed.

Hall PH2

No caption/date/photo number; photographer not listed.

Hall PH-2, the largest pre-war flying boat in the Coast Guard's inventory.  They also saw service during World War II.

Grumman Goose on alert stand-by at Air Station Elizabeth City

Caption: "Launch the ready Goose!", 1940, Air Station Elizabeth City; no photo number; photographer not listed.

The Coast Guard commissioned Air Station Elizabeth City on 15 August 1940.

Air Station Biloxi, circa 1941

Image scanned from page 56 of the June, 1941 issue of the Coast Guard Magazine.  The caption reads: "Lieutenant Commander S. C. Linholm commands this cloud-festooned station which has come to be one of the scenic spots in the State of Mississippi."  It was an illustration for an article entitled "Biloxi Air Station: On the Shores of the Gulf of Mexico Basks One of the Coast Guard's Ten Air Stations, Close to the Heart of the Deep South" written by CBM Walter F. Roque.

The Coast Guard commissioned Air Station Biloxi on 5 December 1935.

The Coast Guard Magazine popularized all aspects of Coast Guard aviation in virtually every issue it ran from its founding in 1927 until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor--an effort well supported by the uniformed members of the Coast Guard aviation program, the Commandant Rear Admiral Russell R. Waesche, and the Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau.  Click here for an illustrated article they published that covered a 1937 aerial rescue.


Volume 2 (World War II Years)

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Last Modified 11/17/2014