Although the birth of naval aviation is traced back to 1911, it wasn’t until almost 30 years later that one of the Coast Guard’s most powerful assets, the helicopter, became part of naval flight. In the spring of 1943, then Lt. Frank Erickson graduated from helicopter training and became Coast Guard helicopter pilot No. 1. Through the decades, those carrying on Erickson’s legacy have gone on to excel in flight, and today, another group of aviators add to the storied history of naval aviation.
Today thirteen Coast Guard aviators are being recognized for their outstanding achievement in the international helicopter community by Helicopter Association International. From the calm resolve of a pilot that led to the safety of his aircrew after an aircraft failure to the aviation mechanic who led six dozen maintenance personnel during a time of national crisis, Coast Guard aviators are ensuring the torch of aviation excellence they have been entrusted with is burning brightly. Of the nine possible categories in the award’s program, the Coast Guard was honored with four. Take a look at these awe-inspiring acts that set these aviators apart.
Pilot of the Year Award
The oldest of the Salute to Excellence awards, this honor is awarded for an outstanding single feat performed by a helicopter pilot. Lt. Audie Andry, from Air Station Kodiak, did just that in the waters off Kodiak, Alaska, in September 2010. Showing not only his airmanship but also his composure, Andry landed his MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter safely aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy after the aircraft suffered a main-transmission input failure while in a 40-foot hover 100 feet from the ship.
“The thing I remember the most is how quickly the events transpired,” recalls Andry. “We were hovering on a normal training flight and then a few seconds later we were doing everything we could to avoid going into the water.”
His skill and decisive action were crucial during the aircraft’s failure and undoubtedly stem from Andry’s experience with helicopters, which dates back to 1990 when he joined the Army as a helicopter mechanic.
“Receiving an award from an organization that is always at the leading edge of the rotary wing industry is both extremely humbling and gratifying,” said Andry.
Sikorsky Humanitarian Service Award
The first to arrive at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig after its explosion in April 2010, the CG6605 aircrew from Air Station New Orleans proved themselves as the aircrew that, “best demonstrated the value of helicopters to society by saving lives.”
The aircrew assumed on-scene command of rescue and recovery efforts and included Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Hickey, aircraft commander; Lt. Cmdr. Craig Murray, copilot; Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott Lloyd, flight mechanic and Chief Petty Officer Kurt Peterson, rescue swimmer. As part of the rescue, Peterson was lowered to an offshore supply vessel where he took charge of a improvised medical team and triaged 115 survivors. The 6605 flew five survivors to safety, and continued to fly for seven more hours, refueling at a nearby platform.
“I was brought up in the Coast Guard to be a quiet professional. But I have to admit, I’m extremely proud of my aircrew and their relentless effort that night,” said Hickey. “I’m equally proud of the other Coast Guard surface and aircrews, civilian Good-Samaritans and support staffs that participated in the rescue effort. Our crew could not have executed this particular case alone.”
Rolls-Royce Excellence in Helicopter Maintenance Award
Aircrews cannot perform their mission without their aircraft operating at its best, and one particular mechanic demonstrated just how crucial maintenance is to mission excellence.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Nicholas H. Baisden, an aviation maintenance technician at Air Station New Orleans, was the lead mechanic during the Coast Guard’s aerial response to Deepwater Horizon. His maintenance shop tripled in the course of a few hours to 72 mechanics that he was directly responsible for. His leadership proved vital to ensure all air assets were ready to fly when they were needed most.
“We were working on nine or ten helicopters at a time,” recalls Baisden. “Because the aircraft were out flying all day, we had to work the night shift the whole time. These aircraft couldn’t go out until we checked them and without our work in the hangar fixing in the aircraft these aircraft couldn’t fly at first light.”
MD Helicopters Law Enforcement Award
The crew of CG6597, based out of the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron in Jacksonville, Fla., was recognized for interdicting six go-fasts, four of these in one mission alone, during their deployment with Coast Guard Cutter Sherman in the waters off the southeastern U.S.
The 6597 aircrew, deployed as part of Joint Interagency Task Force South, included Lt. Cmdr. Robert Workman, Capt. Joseph Baker, Lt. j.g. Matthew Van Ginkel, Petty Officer 3rd Class Kimberly Dechmerowski, Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas Masell, Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Paulson, Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian Dugal and Petty Officer 3rd Class Jacob Dickson.
“As we flew behind the four go-fasts at 600 feet, the inner two go fasts were criss-crossing with each other,” said Workman. “Little did they realize that an armed MH-65C helicopter was watching them from a quarter mile away…They had no idea we were there until it was too late.”
While the mission resulted in n four interdictions in one night, it was all about having the aircraft performing at its best for the 6597’s maintenance team.
“I was glad that our hard work and maintenance hours paid off and our bird was able to launch on this go-fast case,” said Dugal. “We kept the plane flying while out in the harsh oceanic elements and any maintenance issue that arose was quickly and safely fixed by our experienced maintenance crew.”