On a beautiful Southern California day, beachgoers and boaters will see several aircraft fly over the water. News helicopters, planes pulling advertisement banners and even the occasional seaplane.
Despite the busy skies, the distinctive tone of a tail rotor draws your attention. As you see a speck off in the distance grow closer and closer, the distinguishing hum and familiar orange coloring of the Coast Guard’s MH-65C Dolphin Helicopter comes alive.
But, this Dolphin helicopter looks a little different – it’s white.
Of the 102 Dolphin helicopters in the Coast Guard fleet, the 6584, flown out of Air Station Los Angeles, is the only MH-65C to have the unique white paint scheme and has become known as the “Legacy Bird.”
The idea for the rare paint scheme came on the advent of the 25th anniversary of the Coast Guard’s use of the H-65.
The H-65, a short-range recovery (SRR) helicopter, began its operational use in November of 1984 as the HH-65A model. The HH-65A was all white and was first flown at Air Station New Orleans in Louisiana. It wasn’t until around 1990 that the H-65 transitioned to an all orange paint scheme.
As the 25th anniversary neared, CDR James Seeman, the SRR Product Line Manager, wanted to do something special in recognition of the milestone. Seeman, who earned his wings in May of 1986, started flying the H-65 when it was painted its original color of white. To pay tribute to the crews who have worked on and flown the aircraft through the years, he thought it would only be fitting to take it back to its legacy colors.
Because the H-65 airframe had undergone changes over the years, crews at the Aviation Logistics Center studied drawings and images of the older airframe and adopted the legacy paint scheme onto the newer “C” model.
Once the new paint design was perfected, the specific helicopter had to be chosen. Because Coast Guard 65s are sent to Aviations Logistic Center (ALC) Elizabeth City in North Carolina to be inspected and upgraded every four years, Seeman and his team had the perfect place to look.
At ALC, the 65s undergo engine replacements as well as a series of renovations that further update the airframe. Since 2007, H-65’s have been modernized to evolve the airframe into a multi-mission cutter helicopter. The modernization includes being converted from an HH-65C to an MH-65C, providing the aircraft with upgraded communications, sensors and other equipment to perform the airborne use of force mission.
According to ALC records, the 6584 was due for maintenance, and because the aircraft was first flown in ’84 – it was fate.
After the careful and attentive crew at ALC finished painting and overhauling the 6584, it was delivered to Air Station Los Angeles. Seeman was one of the lucky crewmembers that had the privilege to fly the helicopter across the country back to its home in California. For him, it was a way of sharing the legacy of the aircraft.
“It was an honor to fly it and deliver it to Los Angeles,” said Seeman. “I see this as a tribute for the airframe and those who have flown it for 25 years.”
To change the specific, well-recognized design of Coast Guard assets is rare. Of the 102 H-65s that are currently operational, only one other aircraft has distinctive markings – the 6598. The 6598 has gold tail numbering indicating that it is the oldest aircraft in the fleet.
The 6584 and its modernized airframe, paired with its legacy paint scheme, serves as a symbol of modern Coast Guard aviation with a nod toward its proud and esteemed history.