Flight Training the Coast Guard Way

Article and photos by Ken Kula

Flight Training the Coast Guard Way

For its’ core missions, the Coast Guard operates five types of airframes: the EADS/Eurocopter MH-65B/C Dolphin and Sikorsky HH-60J/T Jayhawk helicopters, plus the FalconJet HU-25A/B/C/D Guardian, the new EADS/CASA HC-144A Ocean Sentry, and the Lockheed Martin C-130 H and J model Hercules.  The C-130 community flight trains at Coast Guard Air Station (CGAS) Clearwater, Florida.  Training on the other four aircraft types is performed at the Coast Guard’s Aviation Training Center (ATC), located in Mobile Alabama.  Since 1966, the Mobile campus has been home to most of Coast Guard aviation’s flight training and standardization.  Today, the ATC accomplishes three critical training missions:  to train pilots and other aircrew on their newly assigned aircraft, to provide yearly proficiency training for all Coast Guard pilots, and to standardize the operation and engineering of the Coast Guard’s fleet of aircraft.

During recent years, forty to fifty pilots were trained annually by the ATC in small classes arriving via two separate avenues.  Some pilots transfer from within the Coast Guard, transitioning (called “T” courses) from one aircraft type to another (say, from the HU-25 to the HC-144).   Others enter via the Direct Commission Aviator (DCA) program; rated  pilots are brought aboard and assigned an aircraft type, not needing any primary flight schooling.

Simulation is used extensively by the ATC for flight training.  Each day, classroom work precedes flight simulator time.  There are several general and type-specific simulators at the ATC.  Basic cockpit layout and systems are taught in a non-electronic “table top” simulator; then one moves to the electronic Reconfigurable Cockpit Procedures Trainer (RCPT) to have more “hands-on” time to gain familiarity and to practice the important standardized procedures in each type.  These first two systems are not extremely complex; in reality they are simulators to prepare for the full-motion simulators that will follow.  Finally, the student enters their three-dimensional type-specific simulator to gain further knowledge before actually strapping into their aircraft.  The ATC is completing the installation of a new $25 million dollar HH-60J Jayhawk helicopter simulator that will augment and replace the current one, and will ultimately be upgraded to the new HH-60T configuration.  When the students are ready to fly actual aircraft, there are upwards of 20 helicopters and fixed wing aircraft (HH/MH-65, HH-60, HU-25 and HC-144 types) assigned to the base to meet the needs of students and their instructors.

Standardization is an overriding goal of Coast Guard aviation training.  When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, the Coast Guard’s aviation assets accomplished or assisted with thousands of rescues.  One capability that was vital to their success was standardized training and procedures.  It was not uncommon to have four aviators, each from a different home base, assigned to fly a rescue mission together.  In a few short minutes, the crew was briefed and ready to go flying, assured that each member knew their duties and wouldn’t deviate from standard procedures.  Their workload has again increased with the Gulf of Mexico BP oil spill.

A key component to standardization is the annual one-week proficiency training session at the ATC that every one of the approximately 1,000 pilots in the Coast Guard must attend.  There are three “ratings” for pilots: Copilot, First Pilot, and Aircraft Commander.  Each program has some rating- and type-specific requirements, such as standardized aircraft simulator problems (aircraft emergencies, task management, etc.).  General classroom training includes an IFR refresher including pertinent AIM and FAR information.  Importantly, half of the course focuses on Cockpit Resource Management (CRM); pilots of all experience levels attend these classes and learn from each other as well as from the instructors and the books.

The Coast Guard has a heavy training load entering the new decade.  The new HC-144A Ocean Sentry has begun standing watch for search and rescue and enforcement duties at ATC Mobile.  This twin turboprop CASA CN-235 derivative is replacing many long-serving HU-25 Falcons across the country.  Mobile was the first operational unit to employ the aircraft; its “learning curve” links the standardization and training community at the base with the operational community.  Nicknamed “the bull” by many pilots (in honor of their Spanish manufacturer), the aircraft at Mobile have a small bull’s silhouette on the aft fuselage.  While not as fast as the Falcon jet, the HC-144 has more than twice the endurance, a larger cargo/passenger capacity, superior windows at the observer’s positions, and newer avionics. It will serve as the future’s medium-ranged search and rescue, homeland security, and environmental protection aircraft.  The ATC’s pilot training classes will increase twofold as many Falcon pilots transition to the newer aircraft, while regular training requirements haven’t changed.

The author wishes to thank ATC Mobile’s Commanding Officer Captain Steven Truhlar, Executive Officer Commander Pete Mingo, and Public Affairs Officer/HC-144A pilot Lieutenant Tavis McElheny, for their time and enthusiasm they shared while explaining their important missions to me.

Article and photos by Ken Kula updated 7/2010

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 32 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.

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