Originally established as a one-plane detachment to provide Search and Rescue service to the Great Lakes, Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City was commissioned in 1946. Over the years, the Air Station has grown from its original small complement to its present staff size of 29 officers and 112 enlisted personnel. In 1980, the air station increased its building space when a new maintenance and administrative hangar was completed, providing over 50,000 square feet of work space. Along with changes in size, the Air Station has experienced changes in the types of aircraft assigned over the years. The Consolidated PBY-5A "Catalina" gave way to the Grumman HU-16 "Albatross" seaplane and, eventually, the Dassault HU-25 "Falcon" jet. Likewise, the Sikorsky HO4S/3G (or H-19 "Chickasaw") helicopter gave way to the Sikorsky HH-52 "Seaguard" helicopter.
In 1961, Air Station H-19 helicopters assisted in the evacuation of the crew of the Francisco Morazan, an operation that lasted 4 days in continuous gale conditions. Crews also rescued 25 survivors of the collision between the Cedarville and the Topdalsfjord in 1965, and 19 survivors from the fire aboard the Canadian freighter Cartiercliffe Hall in 1979.
Proving their versatility, air station personnel have participated in a variety of other operations. In 1986, a premature baby boy was delivered aboard an HU-25A during an air evacuation (AIREVAC) from Alpena to Traverse City, Michigan. Another Falcon aircraft reported to Cape Canaveral to assist in the recovery search for space shuttle Challenger.
Later in 1986, the rescue capabilities of the "Seaguard" helicopter and the patrol capabilities of the "Falcon" jet were combined in the Sikorsky HH-3F "Pelican" helicopter. At that time, Traverse City became a helicopter-only unit operating three HH-3F helicopters.
In July 1987, a sudden storm produced winds nearing 100 mph resulting in 32 SAR cases. Following another violent storm in September 1988, nine distress calls were received within 2 minutes. Rescue efforts resulted in saving two persons clinging to a capsized sailboat in Lake Michigan. In November of the same year, an HH-3F flying at night successfully located a downed aircraft near Marquette, Michigan in thick, fog covered forest. All six persons aboard the plane survived the ordeal. Three HH-3F's were deployed on two separate occasions to respond to flooding reports in the fall of 1986, providing media and logistical support. Support was also provided following a major oil spill in the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania in 1988.
With the modernization of the aircraft fleet, three HH-60J "Jayhawk" helicopters were brought in to replace the aging Pelicans in September 1991.
The Great Flood of 1993 required the air station to play a
critical and valuable role with flood relief efforts. The station provided
one HH-60J Jayhawk helicopter and crew to the flood area for a continuous
In the spring of 1995, five HH-65A "Dolphin" helicopters replaced the 3 "Jayhawks" which were transferred to Air Station Astoria, OR. In November of 2002, the HH-65 "A-models" were upgraded to "B-models" with the introduction of the Control Display Unit and other avionics components.
Since 1995, Air Station Traverse City has controlled and manned Air Facilities throughout southern Lake Michigan. On April 1, 1995, Air Station Chicago transitioned to Air Facility Glenview and fell under operational control of Air Station Traverse City. However, its colors were retired soon after on November 15, 1996, and the facility ceased operations. On April 1, 1997, Air Facility Muskegon was established and was manned with one HH-65A from Traverse City. But on May 25, 2000, Air Facility Waukegan was established, and Air Station Traverse City slowly transferred operations there. On September 30, 2001, Air Station Traverse City completely transferred Air Facility Muskegon to Air Station Detroit and took control of Air Facility Waukegan. This is still the operational situation today, with both Air Facilities operating from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Air Station Traverse City currently has five MH-65 "Dolphin" Short Range Recovery Helicopters. The current "D-model" upgraded flight navigation system common to Department of Defense helicopters. The first production MH-65D was completed on January 20, 2011 and is fitted with a Honeywell HG7502 radar altimeter, two Honeywell H-764G EGI's (embedded GPS/inertial navigation systems) and two control display units CDU-7000D from Rockwell Collins.