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Air Station San Diego, California

Air Station San Diego patch


Original Location: 
Lindbergh Field Municipal Airport 

Current Location:
N/A

Date of Commission:
April, 1937

Fate:
Still in service


Historical Remarks:

On 11 December  1935 negotiations between the City of San Diego and the U.S. Government were concluded which provided 23 acres of tideland for the construction of a Coast Guard Air Station adjacent to Lindbergh Field, the Municipal Airport.  This project had the strong support of many people and agencies, and particularly the Harbor Commission and Department of San Diego and the Chamber of Commerce.  The area for this station was deeded to the Coast Guard at no cost, after approval by citizens of San Diego, at a municipal election held in April of 1935.

Construction of the Air Station was undertaken in 1936 with funds provided by the Federal Public Works Administration.  The M. H. Golden Company was the contractor.  The area had to be dredged from the bay and filled and brought up to grade level. Long piles were driven in the soil at the building sites for stabilization.  The contract called for one hangar with lean-to, a mess hall, a barracks building, two aprons, a runway to the field, and a small wooden seaplane ramp.  During and prior to this time a Coast Guard Air Detachment was maintained on Lindbergh Field in one-half of a commercial hangar.  This detachment was led by Elmer F. Stone after 21 May 1935.  Stone was one of Coast Guard aviation’s most colorful figures.

In April of 1937, the Air Station was commissioned.  The first commanding officer was LT S.C. Linholm who later became Commander of Eleventh Coast Guard District.  There had, however, been an Air Patrol Detachment active in San Diego between 1934 and 1937.  At the time this was the only Coast Guard air base in California.

Coast Guard Air Station San Diego saw no radical changes as a result of the declaration of war in 1941.  The unit continued to watch and report the activities of fishing boats in the area, to provide assistance in cases of distress, and to provide transportation by air for other government departments.  From October 1943 on the air station was designated as an Air-Sea Rescue Squadron after the formation of the Air Sea Rescue Agency under the auspices of the Coast Guard.  Between January 1 and December 1, 1944, a total of 124 aircraft went down in waters covered by this unit.  Of the 201 pilots and crewmen involved, 137 were saved, 59 were killed outright by mid-air collisions or impact with the water, two were missing, and three who might have been saved were lost because of improper equipment or the failure to locate them promptly.  The Air Sea Rescue Agency was disbanded soon after the war but the station continued its SAR capabilities that were enhanced by the continued adoption of helicopters and the use of flying boats and amphibious aircraft.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff wished to establish a SAR capability and have it coordinated between the services.  The Navy argued that the rescue function should be turned over to the Coast Guard as a logical step based upon that services’ traditional mission. It was pointed out that the Coast Guard could supply a trained cadre of pilots and crews versed in over-water operation; personnel trained in small boat operations; and with existing and newly established shore stations; could effectively emulate the highly successful British model. It was further argued that, with the diminished submarine threat off the coasts of the United States, the Coast Guard could transition to an effective air-sea rescue force quickly. This proposal was fully supported by the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Russell R. Waesche, in a letter of 23 July 1943. The Army’s preference was to retain its own rescue forces with the establishment of a liaison committee providing coordination of efforts, procedures, and equipment. 

The Air-Sea Rescue Agency

AAF arguments prevailed in the deliberations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff which concluded that the Coast Guard, despite its well earned tradition as a search and rescue organization, would face insurmountable obstacles should it have to expand its responsibilities to provide Air-Sea Rescue for both the Army and the Navy. It was recommended that the Army and the Navy continue the development of separate rescue services but that a new agency be established for their coordination. On February 15, 1944 the Joint Chiefs issued a memorandum which resulted in the Air-Sea Rescue Agency. It is quoted as follows:

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff request the Secretary of the Navy to establish an agency in the Coast Guard to:

     (a) Conduct joint studies and assemble information on
          (1) technical data concerning research, development, and design of air-sea rescue equipment.
          (2) methods, techniques, and procedures, including the adequacy of facilities for air-sea rescue. 

     (b) Disseminate the forgoing information to the appropriate agencies of the War and Navy
           Department and to other interested departments, recommending appropriate action in 
           connection therewith.

     (c) Maintain liaison with agencies of other United Nations (such as the British Deputy Directorate
          of Air-Sea Rescue) concerned with these matters.

The Air Sea Rescue Agency was advisory and research and had nothing to do with the actual SAR operations. The Navy assumed its own SAR responsibility but directed the Coast Guard (it was part of the Navy) to operate it. 

In August 1944 the Commander in Chief of the United States Navy directed Naval Sea Frontier Commanders and Air Force Commands to establish centralized control for Air-Sea rescue operations. In the same month, Army authorities established Emergency Rescue organizations (ERS) at strategic points , particularly in Alaska and along Air Transport Command routes. The AAF additionally completed organization of its air-land rescue system with emphasis on the western mountain regions of the United States under the control of the Second and Fourth Air Forces.

The Chief of Naval operations further directed that, for the duration of the war, control of Air-Sea Rescue was to be effected through and as an integral part of the existing sea frontier facilities. Required operational units were to be supplied primarily by the Coast Guard. Rescue task units were established consisting of specially equipped and manned air and surface rescue craft under the operational control of the Commandants of the various naval districts within the Sea Frontiers. Coast Guard officers were assigned to the Sea Frontier staffs. Operational procedures and communication doctrine were established. The Commanding Officers of the nine major Coast Guard air stations were assigned as primary task unit commanders. The Coast Guard provided SAR – An office of Air Sea Rescue was formed at HQ to provide support for Coast Guard Operation. 

In April of 1949, a Coast Guard H03S-1 helicopter, piloted by then-LT Steward Graham, completed the longest unescorted helicopter flight in the world to that date.  The flight was also the first unescorted transcontinental flight by a Coast Guard helicopter.  The trip from Elizabeth City, N.C., to Port Angeles, Washington, by way of Coast Guard Air Station San Diego, a distance of 3,750 miles, took 10-1/2 days to complete and involved a total flight time of 57.6 hours.

CAPT Donald B. MacDiarmid assumed command of the station in 1944 after a distinguished World War II career. While in San Diego, he worked with station personnel to develop open ocean crash techniques that are still in use by commercial airlines today.

The station became "Coast Guard Activities San Diego" and in 2005  became part of Coast Guard Sector San Diego.

Commanding Officers

1935-1936: CDR Elmer "Archie" Stone (Air Detachment San Diego)
1937: LT S. C. Linholm
1944
: CAPT Donald B. MacDiarmid


Historic Photo Gallery

Unless otherwise indicated all photos are official U.S. Coast Guard photographs.  Any original caption information is included in the text beneath each photo, along with a date, if known.  Click on the thumbnail to access a 300 dpi image.


A PBY at Air Station San Diego

Image scanned from page 28 of the June, 1941 issue of the Coast Guard Magazine.  The caption reads: "The Coast Guard, at San Diego Air Station, fuels one of the giant Consolidated four-engine patrol bombers now being built for Great Britain.  These planes, known as [PB2Y Coronado] are the largest and most powerful airplanes in naval service.  Production of these planes is being stepped up to an amazing pace but much secrecy is maintained regarding actual delivery to Britain."


Historical Sources:

Air Station Files, U. S. Coast Guard Historian's Office

Arthur Pearcy.  A History of U. S. Coast Guard Aviation.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1989.


Last Modified 11/17/2014