An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

My Coast Guard
Commentary | Feb. 22, 2024

Tomorrow looks different for Coast Guard aviation training

By Lt. Michelle Hernandez and Capt. Chris Hulser

Our 27th Commandant challenges us to look at challenges differently – and to make tomorrow different – to make it better.  As of October 2023, tomorrow does look different for Coast Guard Aviation! In a bold move to enhance rotary-wing aviation capabilities, the Coast Guard reviewed and evaluated various Rotor Wing (RW) only initial pilot training options under the term ROTOR, (Rotary-wing only Pilot Training Options Review). 

The Coast Guard has been proudly partnering with the U. S. Navy for over a century for initial pilot training and will be exploring the benefits of rotary-wing only pilot qualifications together. Three Coast Guard and five USN helicopter student naval aviators began training under a new joint-Service, public-private partnership program. This new program promises faster time to train, helicopter simulator availability and in-aircraft training hours, and a better rotary-wing aviator for the joint- Maritime Services’ talent supply lines.  

Initial training for CG helicopter pilots has not fundamentally changed in nearly half-a-century.  Up until today, soon-to-be rotary wing naval aviators (Navy, CG, and Marine Corps) reported to training in Pensacola, Fla. and flew fixed and then rotary wing aircraft (if flying helicopters). For a variety of reasons this pipeline’s time requirement swelled to now take upwards of three years to complete.  This expanding time requirement was a primary driver for the Aviation Training Center (ATC), USN’s Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA), and the Coast Guard Liaison Office (CGLO) to carefully study the U.S. Air Force’s and U.S. Army’s “rotary wing-only” training pipeline which graduates a pilot in just over one year.

What lies ahead for CG Students? 

All of the military services are struggling to retain aviation talent. To highlight the need for faster time-to-train alternatives, in 2022, the Navy produced 68 Coast Guard pilots with an average time-to-train of 28 months, with some taking up to three years.  In that same year, the Coast Guard’s number of pilots decreased across the service, underscoring the pressing need for additional and faster talent supply lines to meet the demand for initial pilot training and qualification.   

After 18 months of research, in January 2023, a team from the Coast Guard’s Aviation Training Center (ATC) and Coast Guard Liaison Office (CGLO) at Navy Pensacola conducted on-site evaluations of this new U.S. Air Force program. The findings were inspiring to both services, to include the USN which had been evaluating similar programs; this hybrid model which incorporated elements from the U.S. Air Force training program, could provide the Coast Guard and USN what it needed. This strategic adaptation serves as a crucial step forward in ensuring our maritime aviation forces remain well-prepared and mission-ready in today's dynamic operational environment.  

Under this new program, students complete several discrete phases of training, just like pilots have for decades, but at several locations and some under contract training agreements.  While phased training is not new, what is in these phases are starkly different. Student naval aviators will first report to Navy Pensacola for medical screening, indoctrination, and introductory flight training, which includes academic lessons and 10 hours of introduction to flight in a low-performance fixed wing aircraft.  Then, it’s on to a contractor owned/contractor operated helicopter flight school in Fort Worth, Texas, to train in the Bell 206 helicopter. After completion of this basic flight training, in which students amass 50 hours of in-aircraft flight experience, they report to Advanced Helicopter Training at Naval Air Station Whiting, Field – also in the Bell 206 (a.k.a. the TH-57 Sea Ranger).  

The Coast Guard’s decision to partner with the Navy in this program is a result of embracing the Coast Guard Force Readiness Command’s theme of Modernized Ready Learning – a belief that learning needs to constantly evolve and improve, embrace technological innovation, and maintain a high, consistent standard. It is also a product of our Commandant’s charge that “tomorrow needs to look different” – as of today, Coast Guard Aviation does look different because of this new program.   

Want to read more? View the full article including an analysis on early aviation training and overview of the phases of the new training program at DVIDS - News - Tomorrow looks different for Naval Helicopter Training! (