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My Coast Guard
Commentary | June 22, 2023

Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City celebrates 25 years of service

By Lt. Gillian Gerton & Chief Petty Officer Cynthia Oldham

The Coast Guard is celebrating 25 years of operations at Air Station Atlantic City, a helicopter unit based at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township, N.J.. 

Since Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City’s creation in 1998, after Air Station Brooklyn and Air Station Cape May merged, the southern New Jersey-based helicopter crews have flown on more than 7,000 search and rescue cases, dedicating more than 11,000 flight hours to aiding people in distress — and have accumulated more than 182,548 flight hours (equal to more than 20 years) supporting critical Coast Guard missions. 

When Air Station Brooklyn and Air Station Cape May combined two-and-a-half decades ago, the new air station’s area of operations spanned both the First and Fifth Coast Guard districts, providing aerial mission support to New England and the Mid-Atlantic. The newly formed air station was the Coast Guard’s newest and largest single airframe unit, where its crew stood ready to respond at a moment’s notice to an emergency along much of the East coast. 

Although established in 1998, the longstanding history of the air station’s pioneers, idea-makers, and true heroes, solidifies that Air Station Atlantic City’s impact is greater than that of a military unit. Today’s operational successes flourished from nearly a hundred years of hard work, innovation, and lessons from previous Coast Guard aviators.   

One of Air Station Atlantic City’s two predecessor units, Coast Guard Air Station Cape May, was commissioned in 1926 as the Coast Guard’s first air station. In October 1926, Chief Petty Officer Charles Thrun, the Coast Guard’s third pilot and first enlisted aviator, flew the first of three amphibian biplanes into Cape May, New Jersey. In 1935, Thrun became the service’s first aviation-related death after his aircraft crashed into the waters off Cape May. 

In honor of Thrun’s legacy and commitment to lifesaving service, the Coast Guard’s air assets and crews continued to grow their capabilities. Air Station Cape May aircrews soon became a reliable and critical resource for search and rescue, prohibition enforcement, and even presidential support. 

Cape May aircrews conducted the first aerial security patrol in U.S. history when they supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fleet Review off the entrance to New York Harbor. Unbeknownst to the Coast Guard aircrew providing presidential support, their mission foreshadowed the formation of Air Station Atlantic City’s current Rotary Wing Air Intercept Mission. 

A critical mission today, Air Station Atlantic City pilots and aircrews who serve the Coast Guard’s unique Rotary Wing Air Intercept Mission, fly in our nation’s capital region protecting the airspace over Washington, D.C., and across the country, providing air support and security for the president. 

The National Capital Region Air Defense Facility was established in 2006 at Washington National Airport as a sub-unit of Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City — the only Coast Guard operated facility supporting Operation Noble Eagle, a North American Aerospace Defense Command mission initiated to protect the airspace of the U.S. and Canada following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

In its first year of operations, NCRADF Coast Guard aircrews made 93 intercepts. Over the last decade, Coast Guard helicopter crews halted more than 240 unauthorized aircraft and provided more than 2,400 hours of support to presidential security missions. 

The other half of Coast Guard aviation history that inspired the establishment of Air Station Atlantic City, was the influential success of Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn in New York. 

When New York’s first municipal airport, Floyd Bennett Field, opened in 1931, its airfield was mostly used for general aviation and ideal for record breaking due to its long concrete runways and unobstructed approaches over Jamaica Bay. The airfield drew many high visibility pilots such as Wiley Post, Howard Hughes and Amelia Earhart. 

Nearly five years after the Brooklyn airfield opened, New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia announced that the city of New York signed a 50-year lease for the U.S. Coast Guard to run operations out of the field. 

Two years later, in April 1938, the Coast Guard established Air Station Brooklyn. 

Shortly after the Coast Guard’s commissioning ceremony, a civilian plane crashed into the bay. Coast Guard rescue aircrews from the newly established air station quickly launched and rescued five survivors from the wreckage. 

The unit’s first lifesaving rescue of five lives reinforced the unit’s value to the region and the Coast Guard’s value to the American people. 

Air Station Brooklyn service members expanded their role and grew to take on multiple Coast Guard missions from search and rescue, helicopter training and development, and security patrols during World War II. 

Fifty years later, Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn was disbanded after Air Station Atlantic City was established. Its facility is still serving the nation, as home to the New York Police Department’s Aviation Unit. 

While Coast Guard sentinels continue to stand watch today from their south New Jersey air station, the most valued air missions are the ones that result in saved lives. Since 1998, Air Station Atlantic City aircrews have saved more than 600 lives and assisted the lives of more than 700 people. 

The impact and inspiration from past generations of Coast Guard members is why Air Station Atlantic City search and rescue aircrews could bring 1,310 distressed mariners back to their families on shore. 

Coast Guard members who serve at Air Station Atlantic City recognize — every single day — the sacrifices of the Coast Guard men and women who paved the way for today’s Coast Guard. The devotion of Coast Guard crews who served in Cape May and in New York is revered and their courage will continue to inspire future generations of Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City Coast Guardsmen. 

Air Station Atlantic City supports a wide range of Coast Guard operations, such as search and rescue, law enforcement, port security, and marine environmental protection for both New England and the Mid-Atlantic. They maintain 12 MH-65D Dolphin helicopters, two of which are always ready in a 30-minute response status to be quickly airborne and enroute at speeds in excess of 175 mph.