The U.S Coast Guard is now flying its own armed helicopters to interdict drug runners, after nearly a decade of using leased aircraft because its own weren’t powerful enough to lift the guns and crews needed for the mission.
The Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron in Jacksonville, Fla., dubbed HITRON, switched to Eurocopter HH-65C Dolphins from leased AgustaWestland A109s (which the Coast Guard calls MH-68A Stingrays). The Coast Guard re-engined its Dolphins, replacing their Honeywell LTS101s with two Turbomeca Arriel 2C2s, as part of its $24 billion Deepwater modernization program. The Stingrays’ lease ended in January, and the Dolphins took over the mission in February.
With the new engines, the Dolphins fly better than the leased aircraft, plus they have better visibility for shipboard landings, said Rear Adm. Gary Blore, the Coast Guard’s chief acquisition officer. So far, six Dolphins have guns, and there are plans to make the entire fleet weapons-capable. They’re designated MH-65Cs when armed.
"Generally speaking, we’ve had really good comments from the aircrews," Blore told Rotor & Wing. "People enjoyed flying the Agusta. It’s a little bit smaller; it was a peppy little aircraft. I think most Coasties prefer the -65 just because they’re a little more familiar with it...They’re a little more comfortable landing and taking off from ships."
The Coast Guard increased its HH-65 fleet last year from 95 to 102, ordering Dolphin kits from Eurocopter and assembling the aircraft at its Aircraft Repair and Supply Center in Elizabeth City, N.C. That helps the service with its new mission providing air defense of Washington. The Coast Guard now assists the Air Force in identifying small aircraft that fly into D.C.’s restricted airspace. Blore said weapons aren’t an essential part of the Coast Guard’s contributions, since they will have Air Force jets for firepower. "The primary object of the helicopter is identification," Blore said. — Rebecca Christie