Aviation Assets Bring Aid to the Houston Area After Harvey’s Floods


U.S. Coast Guard MH-65D Dolphin

Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of New Orleans, Louisiana in late August of 2005, serves as a benchmark to compare responses to natural disasters in the United States. Twelve years later, Hurricane Harvey has inundated eastern parts of Texas and western Louisiana with upwards of four feet of rain, burdening the Houston metro area with the same type of urban flooding that occurred in New Orleans. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s response to Harvey will rival, or may even surpass the response to Katrina.

Aviation responses to aid in search and rescue, reconnaissance and supply missions for Katrina’s victims became one of the largest rescue operations in the history of the United States. All Branches of the Armed Forces participated, and the Coast Guard was singled out for their ‘round the clock, seamless flight operations that would eventually allow for the airborne rescue of 12,535 victims from flooding and lack of supplies like food and water – most of them by helicopter. Maintenance of the helicopters was performed around the clock by dedicated crews on the ground, and no accidents were caused by maintenance issues during the huge effort.


Short notice mission change… this Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod-based MH-60T Jayhawk, in Centennial throwback color scheme, was diverted from the Great State of Maine Air Show to Corpus Christi Texas immediately after Hurricane Harvey hit, even before the air show began.

Hurricane Harvey dumped more rain in the Houston Metro area than Katrina did to New Orleans, but floods plagued each city. Broken levees and low-laying topography caused flooding issues in both cases. In Harvey’s case, helicopters were airborne in heavy rain and winds as the storm stalled overhead the nation’s fourth-largest metro area. As one Coast Guard aviator mentioned during a news interview, many pilots have never flown in the area, and were especially wary of the poor in-flight visibility with power poles and antennas around them.

Aviation has become a critical tool for first responders’ initial reaction to trapped storm victims, especially in natural disasters of this magnitude. Helicopters have used their ability to hover and hoist victims of floods and other disasters since a Sikorsky helicopter recorded the U.S.’s first civilian storm rescue in 1945. The Houston area has seen hundreds of rescues from flooded or isolated areas already, and by the end of August, waters are still rising in some areas, or slowly subsiding in many others. Rescues will be ongoing for a while. Not all of the air assets are military-operated either, civilian entities such as police and sheriff departments are also flying search and rescue missions too.

_DSC9515 (2)

U.S. Navy MH-60S Knighthawk

Coast Guard helicopters in use for Harvey are either MH-60T Jayhawks or MH-65C/D Dolphins. The Air Force has gone to work using its’ search and rescue HH-60G Pave Hawk, and the Navy has deployed a half dozen similar MH-60S Knighthawks. The Army National Guard has applied some of their UH-72A Lakota multi-purpose helicopters too. Even U.S. Customs and Border Patrol helicopters have been seen in television reports rescuing victims from flooding. Most if not all of these helicopters have one important feature in common… that is their rescue hoists.


New York Air National Guard C-17A Globemaster III

Air transports being used in response to this disaster range from large Air National Guard C-17A Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules transports to Coast Guard C-130s, HC-144s and new C-27J Spartans. These aircraft are bringing needed supplies and equipment from far-away places to airports and fields closer to where they are needed.


U. S. Coast Guard HC-130J Hercules

The Coast Guard’s HC-144s and both versions of C-130 Hercules transports are equipped with FLIR cameras, assisting with search and rescue missions. A Navy P-8 Poseidon just flew the type’s first mission too, using the advanced sensors found on the new patrol jets to assess the needs for future rescues.


U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Sea Stallion

Marine Corps air assets, which will be brought to the area by a pair of flight-capable Navy assault ships after resupplying at their East Coast bases, will add more rotary winged aircraft to the area, including large CH-53Es and smaller UH-1Ys as well as MV-22 Ospreys.

Logistics for operating these helicopters and fixed wing aircraft involve finding extra air crews and maintenance personnel to allow for flights around the clock. Pilots, flight engineers, rescue swimmers and pararescue members from around the country have converged on Texas. A few days after the flooding began, the Coast Guard had upwards of thirty nine helicopters and seven fixed wing aircraft in the area, plus crews. The training given to all Coast Guard aviation personnel stresses commonality – so a crew made up of four different home-stationed aviators will operate like they have always been together – even if their first flight as a team is the one they’re on today.


New York Air National Guard HH-60G Pave Hawk

The Navy quickly sent six helicopters, and the Air Force sent air rescue aircraft and crews from Moody AFB, Georgia. Recent video shows an HC-130 air refueling a HH-60G helicopter over a flooded plain. The Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary arm of the Air Force, is involved in flood assessment duties from the air. A press release by the National Guard Bureau offered their contribution as of August 29th:
“– Alaska: About 13 airmen with the 176th Rescue Wing;
— California: About 90 airmen with the 129th Rescue Wing;
— Connecticut: A C-130 Hercules transport plane with eight airmen from the 103rd Airlift Wing;
— Florida: Nearly 100 airmen with the 920th Rescue Wing;
— Kentucky: Nearly 20 airmen with the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron;
— New York: More than 100 airmen, a C-130, three HH-60 Pave Hawk search-and-rescue helicopters and two C-17 transport jets with the 106th Rescue Wing; and
— Oregon: About 15 members of the 125th Special Tactics Squadron whose missions include rescue as well as restoring airfields so supplies can be flown in.”


U.S. Coast Guard HC-144A Ocean Sentry

Aviation has been used once again as a life-saving tool at a major U. S. natural disaster, this time in the response to this calamity in Texas. From all of us here at Photorecon.net and our other associated digital magazines, we send our best wishes and hopes to the victims and responders dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 35 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

You may also like...