Coast Guard Aviation first arrived in the Hawaiian archipelago in 1945 when Lieutenant G.W.Girdler received command of eighteen enlisted men and five officers at what was then Naval Air Station Kaneohe. With aviation assets consisting solely of two consolidated PBY-5 "Catalina’s" and one Grumman JRF "Goose" the air unit maintained a proctorship for the windward side of Oahu in addition to making periodic visits to the Philippines, China and Japan. In 1949 the Command moved to Naval Air Station Barbers point. In 1965 the unit received its current designation as Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point. Today Two Hundred Officers and enlisted personnel maintain a yearly 24 hour a day vigil for the fourteenth coast guard district, providing aviation mission support in the areas of Search and Rescue, Marine Environmental Protection, Maritime Law Enforcement and Aids to Navigation. Since 1979, the unit has been awarded two unit commendations and four meritorious commendations for exemplary service.
To accomplish its assigned missions the air station utilizes four Aerospatiale HH-65A "Dolphin" short range recovery helicopters and four Lockheed HC-130H "Hercules" long range search aircraft. In August 1987, the Sikorsky HH-52A "Sea Guard" helicopter was retired at the air station after 24 years of service. The Sea Guard was replaced by the highly capable and well-equipped HH-65, which is an excellent platform for hoisting survivors of maritime casualties and for medical evacuations from vessels at sea. The Dolphin is also used for delivery of personnel and equipment to remote sites throughout the islands for servicing visual aids to navigation. The HH-65 may be deployed on both Coast Guard and Navy ships, thereby extending the reach of the Fourteenth District in its law enforcement and nation building roles.
Various models of the C-130 have been assigned at the unit since 1959. Today the "H" model takes its place in a proud tradition of Lockheed aircraft that have served the Fourteenth District. The HC-130 is configured primarily as a search and rescue aircraft. It has the ability to airdrop rescue equipment to survivors at sea or on land and its moderate speed and extensive endurance are well suited to long range search missions. Equipped with a medical pallet designed by members of the air station, the HC-130 can be configured for medical evacuations. Its ability to take off and land on short, unprepared airfields makes the Hercules an ideal logistical support aircraft as well.
In a typical year, the air station flies 1200 hours in search and rescue missions, saves 50 lives, assists 700 others and preserves five million dollars in property. Air Station aircraft routinely search for overdue vessels and provide medical evacuations throughout the Hawaiian chain and Fourteenth district jurisdiction, including Palmyra, Chuuk, Kwajalein, Wake, Christmas and Yap Islands. For example, in 1969 more than twenty Coast Guard personnel were rescued from the LORAN (long range aids to navigation) station on French Frigate Shoals after a storm surge forced their evacuation to the top of the islands only building. In response to a freak storm in January 1980 air station crews flew 23 sorties logging 60 hours, resulting in five lives saved, 13 assisted and $170,000 in property protected. Air station crews also conducted searches following the Aloha Airlines Flight 243 and United Airlines Flight 811 tragedies in 1988 and 1989 respectively.
The HH-65 routinely conducts hoists from grounded or sinking vessels, day or night. In the aftermath of Hurricane Iniki, Dolphin crews hoisted an elderly couple from their de-masted sailboat and located a fisherman clinging to a cooler after his vessel was sunk by the hurricane. In another spectacular event, a critically ill fisherman was hoisted from a merchant vessel in heavy seas, then kept alive by the helicopters rescue swimmer and a navy flight surgeon performing CPR en route back to Oahu.
In January 1993, the capabilities of both aircraft were put to the test when the merchant vessel Eastwood was discovered dead in the water by a Barbers Point HC-130, 1,600 miles southwest of Oahu. The Eastwood was carrying approximately 550 Chinese bound for the United States. In response the Coast Guard Cutter RUSH was quickly dispatched from Honolulu to the scene with a Barbers Point HH-65 deployed on deck. Once on scene the Rush became aware of the development of potential disaster: the EASTWOOD had very few remaining food supplies and its human cargo of illegal aliens was approaching dehydration. With the Rush unable to feed the Eastwood’s passengers from it’s own supplies; air station personnel urgently packed nearly 400 P-3 sonobouy tubes with food and other supplies. An air station HC-130 air droped more than 11,000 lbs. of these recycled "sonobuoy tubes of life" to Rush, while the H-65 ferried prepared food and drinking water from the Rush to the Eastwood.
Logistical support is provided throughout the district. The HC-130 provided millions of tons of equipment and thousands of personnel to LORAN stations throughout the pacific. The air station assisted the district and played a critical role in assisting the State of Hawaii and the Department of Defense services with the model return of an area to its natural state by relocating 690,000 pounds of equipment and 174 personnel from Kure Island to Oahu. Air station crews flying water catchment and purification systems to such islands as Funafuti relieved water shortages and Marcus located nearly 2500 miles from Oahu. The HC-130 provided typhoon and hurricane relief supplies to islands including Chuuk, Samoa and Guam in addition to delivering over 468 tons of food and equipment to the people of Kuaui following Hurricane Iniki.
With regard to Marine Environmental Protection, in November of 1990, air station crews helped to avert an environmental catastrophe when the merchant vessel Star Connecticut ran aground off Barbers Point. Taking on water and holding 10 million gallons of oil, the vessel was saved by the delivery of a dewatering pump and other equipment via an air station HH-65. The air station has also contributed to the protection of endangered species. In cooperation with state and federal agencies, the air station transported Hawaiian Monk Seals from Oahu to Kure and Midway Islands and monitored the local sea turtle population.