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Coast Guard completes air station transitions to upgraded MH-65E with delivery to Corpus Christi


Upgraded MH-65E Dolphin CGNR 6553 is delivered to Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, Feb. 7, marking the full transition of Coast Guard air stations to the upgraded Dolphin short range recovery aircraft. U.S Coast Guard photo

The Coast Guard reached an important milestone in its MH-65 Conversion and Sustainment program on Feb. 7 when it delivered CGNR 6553 to Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas. This was the third and final upgraded MH-65E for Corpus Christi, which is the last air station to transition to the upgraded short range recovery helicopter. 

“The third and final MH-65E delivery to Air Station Corpus Christi marks a significant accomplishment for the H-65 Conversion/Sustainment Program,” said Cmdr. Jen Ahearn, program manager. “All H-65 operational units have now been fielded with modernized aircraft that have received improvements to address reliability and obsolescence issues as well as increase the service life of the asset from 20,000 to 30,000 flight hours. We have heard from the fleet through operational assessments, transition working groups and post-flight reports that the MH-65E upgrade enhances situational awareness and decreases pilot workload, things that are valued by crews executing high-risk, dynamic missions.” 

CGNR 6553 was the 79th Dolphin upgraded to the Echo or “E” configuration. The upgrade includes an improved automatic flight control system; enhanced digital weather/surface search radar; installation of a robust command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and computers suite; and modernization of the digital flight deck. 

“Successfully fielding this asset to the fleet is a testament to the years of hard work and dedication of professionals committed to improving the Coast Guard’s readiness and short-range recovery capabilities,” Ahearn said. “We still have work ahead of us, but it’s nice to take a pause and recognize this program milestone, especially as we celebrate the H-65's 40th anniversary this year.” 

Another 11 conversions will be completed, for a total of 90, to allow operational aircraft to rotate into programmed depot maintenance, an intensive maintenance process completed at the Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center that keeps the fleet in its best condition possible. 

Continued operation of the MH-65E fleet is needed to maintain the Coast Guard’s rotary wing capability while preparing for the eventual transition to an all MH-60T medium range helicopter fleet sometime in the 2040s. 

The MH-65E Conversion/Sustainment program of record was reduced from 98 aircraft based on the notional MH-60T transition schedule. Stopping the program at 90 conversions will help mitigate shortages of Echo replacement parts, sustaining the existing fleet longer.     

The upgraded MH-65E aircraft increases aircrew situational awareness through its standardized “glass cockpit” technology. In addition to improved search and rescue capabilities, the advanced navigation systems allows pilots to safely maneuver through the highly congested, complex air traffic that can be encountered during a disaster response. 

Adding a third MH-65E to Air Station Corpus Christi enhances the station’s ability to carry out its missions throughout its 11,250 square-mile jurisdiction. That area covers Texas from the U.S. southern border, north to the Colorado River and westward, including the entire state of New Mexico as well as 200 nautical miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. 

"Being the last unit in the Coast Guard to transition to the 65E was a unique experience,” said Cmdr. Mary Bender, Air Station Corpus Christi deputy of operations. “We had the advantage of watching each unit transition before us and we tried to use the wisdom gained to create as seamless of a transition as possible. Our maintenance team has been truly amazing as they work to understand and repair this model.” 

Bender recalls the first search and rescue case they conducted with the upgraded Echo. “It was a week after we received our second bird, and it was the ‘standard Coast Guard Day,’ low visibility, fog and icing on the way. A man had experienced anaphylactic shock, was intubated and running out of oxygen on a rig 180 nautical miles offshore. Our crews safely transported the patient to land, and he survived. 

“We were so thankful to have all the new modes and ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) while conducting the very unique mission during less-than-ideal conditions," Bender said. 

For more information: MH-65 Short Range Recovery Helicopter Program page