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Unit History

The Coast Guard and Aviation dates back to December of 1903 when two lighthouse keepers from the Kill Devil Hills Life-Saving Station helped carry materials to the launch site for the first successful heavier-than-air aircraft flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, NC. Coast Guard Aviation however did not come about until 1916 when the first Coast Guard Airwing was established at the Naval Aviation School in Pensacola, FL. In the same year, Congress passed legislation providing the authorization of ten Coast Guard Air Stations to be located across the United States. Unfortunately, after LT Elmer Stone graduated from flight school, becoming Coast Guard Aviator #1 and Naval Aviator #38, those Air Stations were never built due to a lack of funding and the onset of the Great War in Europe. Coast Guard Aviators were absorbed into the Navy's Aviation Division where they served with distinction. One Coast Guard pilot even became the commanding officer of a Naval Air Station in Europe and LT Elmer Stone went on to co-pilot the NC-4 which made the first Trans-Atlantic flight in 1919. Although proven during times of war, Coast Guard Aviation had not yet proven itself in peace time.

It wasn't until 1926 when the first permanent Coast Guard Air Station was established in Cape May, NJ that the Coast Guard was truly able to independently conduct Search and Rescue and enforce maritime law during the times of prohibition. In 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, the Coast Guard became a major participant in the Neutrality Patrols and Coast Guard Aviation significantly expanded. Additional aircraft and air stations were bought and built across the country. Part of that expansion was the construction of Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco.

Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco was completed on February 15, 1941. The air station operated a PBY-5 Catalina and two RD-4 Dolphins. On November 1st, 1941 the aircraft and personnel were placed under Navy command where they continued to conduct Search and Rescue and Coastal Patrols through the end of World War II. Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco was also tasked with aiding in the construction of the highly classified and secret Long Range Navigation (LORAN) stations in the North Pacific in 1943.  Proving an invaluable asset in this important mission, the San Francisco based PBY-5 Catalina was instrumental in the completion of the Aleutian LORAN chain by transporting personnel, supplies and building materials.

After World War II, the Air Station resumed normal operations under Coast Guard control after release from the Navy on June 30th, 1946. The first helicopter stationed here in San Francisco was the HO3S-1 Dragonfly in 1947. In the early fifties the Grumman HU-16E Albatross replaced the air stations aging WWII fixed wing inventory. This general purpose amphibian, affectionately known as the "Goat", proved to be a highly adaptable platform for SAR and LE. Eventually, the Air Station received the HH-52A Sea Guard helicopter in 1963 which was a significant improvement over it's predecessor with its improved flight characteristics and capabilities.


Also stationed at San Francisco were the C-130s which when they were moved to the newly constructed Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento in 1978, ended 37 years of Coast Guard fixed wing aviation in San Francisco. In 1991, Air Station San Francisco received its first HH-60 J-Hawk to replace the H-3 Pelican as the medium range Search and Rescue Helicopter. Restructuring in Coast Guard Aviation lead to a short stay of the HH-60 in San Francisco and in June of 1996, four HH-65s were moved to San Francisco from San Diego. In the fall of 2001, the Air Station transitioned to the HH-65B, an upgrade in the avionics package. In the spring of 2006, the HH65B was upgraded to the HH65C after the installation of Turbomeca Arriel 2C2-CG engines providing 1,294shp at the maximum 100% main gearbox torque. In the fall of 2012 the unit transitioned to the MH-65D. The final upgrade brought updated navigation and avionic systems.

While the airframes have evolved, the primary mission of Air Station San Francisco has remained unchanged for six decades, maritime Search and Rescue along 300 miles of coastline from Point Conception to Fort Bragg. In addition to SAR, Air Station San Francisco has expanded its missions to include Homeland Security, Maritime Law Enforcement, Environmental Protection, Aids to Navigation, Logistics, and Cliff Rescue. Today Air Station San Francisco is one of the oldest tenants at SFO and occupies approximately 24 acres and 7 buildings. In 2003, the USCG officially became a part of the Department of Homeland Security, further expanding the Air Station's role in protecting America's shores and it's citizens.


Last Modified 1/12/2016