Helicopter Maintenance Cajun Style

New Orleans is the city of Mardi Gras, great food and the New Orleans Saints and the home of the United States Coast Guard’s (USCG) eighth district headquarters. 

Located on the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans is under the operational control of the Eighth Coast Guard District. The unit is composed of 125 personnel and five Airbus “Dolphin” helicopters, capable of providing two ready flight crews 24/7. It is the busiest all-helicopter search and rescue unit in the Coast Guard and carries out the Coast Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus”, which means “always ready.”

Background on the U.S. Coast Guard

For over two centuries, the Coast Guard has safeguarded our Nation’s maritime interests in the heartland, in the ports, at sea and around the globe. It protects the maritime economy and the environment; it defends our maritime borders and saves those in peril. This history has forged their character and purpose as America’s maritime guardian — always ready for all hazards and all threats.


Today’s U.S. Coast Guard, with nearly 42,000 men and women on active duty, is a unique force that carries out an array of civil and military responsibilities touching almost every facet of the U.S. maritime environment.


By law, the USCG has 11 missions:

          •  Ports, waterways and coastal security

          •  Drug interdiction

          •  Aids to navigation

          •  Search and rescue

          •  Living marine resources

          •  Marine safety

          •  Defense readiness

          •  Migrant interdiction

          •  Marine environmental protection

          •  Ice operations

          •  Other law enforcement

A Military Service

The legal basis for the USCG is Title 14 of the United States Code, which states: “The USCG as established Jan. 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times.” Upon the declaration of war or when the President directs, the Coast Guard operates under the authority of the Department of the Navy. The Coast Guard is the only U.S. armed force with law enforcement authorities as well, which uniquely positions the service to carry out its eleven statutory missions.

As members of a military service, guardians on active duty and in the reserve are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and receive the same pay and allowances as members of the same pay grades in the other four armed services

There are a total of 211 aircraft in the USCG inventory. This figure fluctuates operationally due to maintenance schedules. Fixed-wing aircraft (C-130 Hercules turboprops and HU-25 Falcon jets) operate from large and small air stations. Rotary-wing aircraft (H-65 Dolphin and HH-60 Jayhawk helicopters) operate from flight-deck equipped cutters, air stations and air facilities.

The H-65 helicopter, the Coast Guard’s most ubiquitous aircraft, is certified for operation in all weather and night time operations, with the exception of icing conditions. There are 100 H-65s in the inventory. The H-65 is the primary Coast Guard aircraft used aboard certified cutters during deployments. Electro-optical/infrared sensor system (ESS), a heads-up display (HUD), and other avionics upgrades are being installed aboard the H-65 as part of the ongoing conversion-sustainment initiative to sustain the airframe for the foreseeable future.  Furthermore, the re-designation of Airborne Use of Force (AUF) MH-65Ds reflects the installation of armament and a significantly upgraded communications package.

Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) Jacksonville was the first operational Coast Guard unit to employ the MH-65C and has a total of 10 aircraft assigned to replace the MH-68A Stingray aircraft. The current transition to the MH-65D is designed to address obsolete component issues and is slated to be complete by the summer of 2015. In FY2017, the Coast Guard will introduce the MH-65E to the fleet. Currently under development, the MH-65E will feature an all-glass cockpit with advanced navigation capabilities to meet emerging FAA requirements.

The Air Support Unit in New Orleans

Now that we have a better understanding on the USCG and its missions and aircraft, let’s take a look at its air operations/maintenance.

Helicopter Maintenance – How long has the USCG Air Support Unit in New Orleans been in operation?

USCG – Air Station New Orleans was commissioned in July 1955 and has been at its current location onboard NAS Joint Reserve Base New Orleans since 1986. In short, 59 years this summer.

Helicopter Maintenance – How many helicopters do you operate and what type are they?

USCG – We operate five American Airbus MH-65D helicopters.

Helicopter Maintenance – How large an area do you cover?

USCG – Our area of operation extends from the coast of Texas/Louisiana out to Apalachicola, FL, and to 200nm offshore. We’ve had cases even further away as the gulf oil rig drilling operations are extending further offshore than they have in the past.

Helicopter Maintenance – How many flight hours do you log in a typical year?

USCG – In a typical year we will log approximately 3,300 hours.


Helicopter Maintenance – How many missions do you fly in a typical year?

USCG – In FY 2013, there were 248 SAR cases/missions, 66 marine and environmental cases/missions and 97 security/law enforcement missions.

Helicopter Maintenance – Is there a significant difference in the number of missions flown for rescue, illegal immigration and drug interdiction?

USCG – At our unit in particular, our operational missions focus primarily on search and rescue (SAR), marine and environmental protection (MEP), ports waterways and coastal security (PWCS) and other law enforcement (LE) missions. Drug interdiction and illegal immigration cases are prosecuted less frequently. Approximately 25 percent of our total flight hours are dedicated to SAR.

Helicopter Maintenance – Do any helicopters have a “glass cockpit”?

USCG – No, but they will in the near future as part of the MH-65E conversion-sustainment initiative.


Helicopter Maintenance – What special mission equipment do you carry, if any, and how does that impact maintenance procedures?

USCG – We carry emergency medical transport (EMT) equipment, and electro-optical/infrared sensor system (ESS) equipment. These tools do not really affect helicopter maintenance procedures/schedules as they have their procedures/schedules to follow that do not involve safety of flight concerns.

Helicopter Maintenance – Do you use engine inlet barrier filters?

USCG – No, we do not use them. Our normal operating environment does not necessitate their use.

Helicopter Maintenance – Being in a high salt water environment takes a toll on the aircraft and equipment. What maintenance procedures do you use to minimize this corrosive environment?

USCG – Aircraft and engine washes are completed upon return from flights conducted in a salty environment. Independent of the environment in which they’ve flown, airframe washes are completed at the end of each day. We have a stringent corrosion control program that includes weekly and monthly detailed corrosion inspections, and when hangared, aircraft are outfitted with specially designed de-humidification carts to constantly control relative humidity levels.

Helicopter Maintenance – How many maintenance shifts do you operate?

USCG – We operate two shifts daily; the day shift operates from 0730 to 1530 hours and the night shift operates from 1600 until 2400 hours.

Helicopter Maintenance – In a typical 30-day period, how many and what type of inspections do you normally perform?

USCG – We perform five corrosion inspections, over 20 preflight inspections, and various miscellaneous inspections totaling approximately 125 maintenance labor hours per aircraft per month.

Helicopter Maintenance – What maintenance tasks are outsourced to the next-higher maintenance level, or back to the OEM and why?

USCG – Component/overhaul repairs are not authorized at the unit level so they must be sent to an authorized repair facility or the OEM. Every 54 months, each aircraft undergoes a complete tear down and refurbishment at the aviation logistics center in Elizabeth City, NC.

Helicopter Maintenance – From start to finish, what is the procedure for doing a maintenance repair or inspection?

USCG – Sign open the toolbox in the aircraft’s maintenance logbook, write up panel removed, etc. in the aircraft’s maintenance logbook, and complete the maintenance, inspection or repair. Successfully complete a quality assurance inspection, close all panel and access covers. Sign off that the maintenance is complete in the aircraft’s logbook. Inventory all toolboxes used and obtain a quality assurance inspection on them. Sign off toolbox in the aircraft’s logbook and sign off quality assurance in the aircraft’s logbook. Complete a post maintenance pre-flight inspection and sign off in the aircraft’s logbook. If a maintenance procedure card was used, submit it for entry into the aviation computerized maintenance system.


Helicopter Maintenance – Of all the maintenance tasks that are performed, which have been found to be the most labor intensive and time consuming?

USCG – A main gearbox replacement and fuselage structural corrosion repair are the two most labor- and time-consuming maintenance actions we perform.

Helicopter Maintenance – Do you have any lessons learned or tips you can share with our readers on a particular task that you found can improve on the maintenance process in the way of saving time, cost, materials, etc?

USCG – Doing it right the first time cannot be stressed enough.  Accuracy and attention to detail are imperative. If a job is done right the first time, even if it takes a little longer, it will be cheaper, faster and safer than re-doing work and inspections.

Helicopter Maintenance – Who performs preflight and post flight inspections on the aircraft?

USCG – All aircrew that have met the minimum requirement to be designated pre-flight and post-flight inspectors.

Helicopter Maintenance – Who has the responsibility for assigning aircraft to flight operations?

USCG – The maintenance control chief

Helicopter Maintenance – Who assigns the maintenance tasks to be done each day?

USCG – The maintenance control chief.

Helicopter Maintenance – In closing, please describe what takes place during a typical day in the life of the maintenance department.

USCG – Support six to seven scheduled flights. Normally one of our five aircraft is grounded for scheduled maintenance. On average, an additional aircraft has an on-going long term grounding or mission limiting discrepancy. And of course, SAR cases can pop up at anytime.

Daily routine is as follows; the work day begins 0730 with the launch of two morning flights. After recovering those flights later in the morning the maintenance personnel go to lunch. After lunch we launch two afternoon flights, and later on recover the afternoon flights. The day shift work day ends at 1530. At 1600 the night shift begins. They launch two night flights, and recover the night flights later on. Lunch for the night shift occurs after the recovery of the two night flights, and the night shift ends at 2400.

USCG Air Station New Orleans, 125 personnel and five Airbus MH-65D “Dolphin” helicopters, capable of providing two ready flight crews 24/7, and providing proof on a daily basis of being Semper Paratus.

A special note of thanks to the men and women of the Eighth Coast Guard District in New Orleans, the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, and Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans. Last but not least, a very special thanks to Public Affairs Petty Officer Third Class Ryan Tippets for his invaluable liaison with Helicopter Maintenance magazine on this article.