100 years of Coast Guard aviation: Never losing sight

2016 marks the 100th anniversary of Coast Guard Aviation, which traces its roots to 1916 when Elmer Stone became the first Coast Guard aviator to attend Naval flight training.

To celebrate, Coast Guard Compass reached out to those who carry out aviation missions every day and asked them – ‘Why did you choose to become a Coast Guard aviator?’ Stay tuned all year as we share the stories of the crews who conduct nearly every Coast Guard mission from the sky and join us in celebrating “Coast Guard aviation: Into the Storm for 100 years.” Follow along on social media using #CGFlies100, and let us know if there is anything specific you’d like to see as we celebrate the centennial!

Below, Lt. Darin Coleman, currently stationed at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, New Jersey, shares his views on being a member of the Coast Guard aviation family.

Lt. Darin Coleman, a pilot currently station at Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, New Jersey. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Lt. Darin Coleman, a pilot currently station at Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, New Jersey. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

To best describe what Coast Guard aviation means to me, I have a short story and some words of advice to share. I have told this story to very few people but it continues to influence me to this day. All the while my view of aviation will be apparent.

I had eagerly awaited my transition course and the date had finally come to fly to Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile, Alabama, to being the course. Transition course or ‘T-Course’, as it’s known, is where we actually go from being winged Naval Aviators to Coast Guard copilots and, thus, capable of standing duty. The first two weeks or so includes a lot of ground school briefs, tests and lectures. The remaining few weeks are blocked off for flight instruction with simulator sessions sprinkled throughout. I was lucky and knew of several people who were stationed in New Orleans and could catch a ride on most weekends to the ‘Big Easy’. This particular weekend, I felt a little behind and passed on the caravan to New Orleans in favor of some extra study time. I knew my highly anticipated first flight in the H-65 was coming early the next week and I wanted to be ready.

I studied all of Saturday and some of Sunday morning before the urge came to take a study break. I had a hair brained idea to walk the two-and-a-half miles from the air station to the local movie theater to see a movie. I grabbed my things and started walking.

I wasn’t more than a couple hundred yards outside the main gate when I noted several cars drive by. Strangely enough, I heard a car approaching me and slowing down. I turned and recognized the car as I had seen it seconds earlier driving in the opposite direction. Curious but not yet alarmed, I saw the passenger window slide down.

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

I hadn’t yet seen the driver when I heard, “do you need a ride?”

I bent over to look in and asked the driver if I knew him.

“I’ve seen you in the wardroom before and recognized you as I drove by. I’m an instructor at [the aviation training center].”

Relieved, I told him I was headed to the movie theater and asked him where he was headed.

“Since its Sunday,” he began, “I forgot my barber is closed.” Again he asked, “do you want a ride?”

I agreed and got in. He asked what course I was in town for and I told him the H-65 T-course. We immediately launched into chatting about flight school, where I was stationed, the H-65 and aviation in general. We talked about what to expect in the H-65 and how to be successful at the course. Before I knew it, we had arrived at the theater. I jumped out and thanked him for the ride. He was nice enough to offer a ride back when the movie was over.

I declined citing a desire to walk back and thanked him again. The date was February 26, 2012. The kind person who went out of his way to give me a ride? Lt. Cmdr. Dale Taylor.

The following Tuesday, February 28, I was scheduled for my first H-65 flight in the morning but was cancelled due to poor weather and many of us, unfortunately, know what happened later that night.

That Sunday was the first and only time I ever met Dale Taylor.

This is where the advice comes in. It is an absolute privilege to be a Coast Guard pilot. This has been my dream job since my dad took me to my first air show when I was 8 years old.

The profession is not void of danger; the duties not lacking in uncertainty. But the prospect of helping perfect strangers while working as a team is as outstanding as I can conceive.

The experience of my T-course is something I carry with me every single flight. I understand that I must be humble, that I must work every day to grow my aviation foundation, sharpen flying skills and must strive to be the example like Dale was for me. Most importantly, I must never lose sight of how lucky I am to be surrounded but such kind, hard working and professional Coast Guard men and women.

Thanks again for the ride, Dale. You are missed.

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