Defense Media Network

Newest Defense Media Network Promotion

Iconic Coast Guard Aircraft

 

 

They loved it. They hated it. It was the only jet ever to join the U.S. Coast Guard’s air fleet. The HU-25 Guardian, usually called the Falcon, gave aircrews a combination of stellar performance and unexpected limitations.

Able to climb rapidly from sea level to 42,000 feet – ideal for surveillance duty – the Guardian spent part of its career restricted because of its avionics suite to a less impressive altitude of 28,000 feet. Sleek, stable, fast, and agile, the HU-25 was also occasionally a maintenance headache. Still, as Capt. Samuel Creech, commanding officer of Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi, observed, when the last Falcon was retired at Corpus Christi, Texas, in a Sept. 23, 2014, ceremony, there was “not a dry eye in the place.”

After 32 years of operation, the last Falcon, an HU-25D, numbered 2114, made its last flight on the date of the ceremony and now the new Airbus HC-144A Ocean Sentry twin-turboprop maritime patrol aircraft is replacing the HU-25 Guardian.

It’s easy to measure statistics of the Falcon, like the wingspan of 53 feet 6 inches or the impressive top speed of 466 knots, but it’s a tougher proposition to nail down traits that separate an ordinary aircraft from one that wins a special place in the hearts of Coast Guard flyers and maintainers.

HU-25 FALCON

The Coast Guard HU-25 Guardian aircraft, usually called the Falcon, made its final flight on Sept. 23, 2014. Shown here is the HU-25B with its “canoe” radar. U.S. Coast Guard photo

The HU-25, derived from France’s Falcon 20 business jet – initially named the Mystère 20 – was special because it did so much and crews liked it so much. It stalked drug smugglers. It patrolled the nation’s sea approaches. One version, the HU-25B, located and analyzed oil spills in the Persian Gulf following the 1991 war against Saddam Hussein. The Falcon did a little bit of everything and, yes, a Coast Guardsman once gave one of them a swift kick with his boot in frustration over a mechanical issue, but if they ever make a movie about the HU-25, its minor failings will be left on the cutting room floor, overwhelmed by applause.

Cmdr. Tom Seckler, who participated in the Desert Storm oil-spill operation, remembers being asked of the HU-25: “What kind of bomb does it carry?” It didn’t. It carried an Aireye sensor, built around a side-looking radar that, said Seckler, was “optimized for oil-spill detection.” Seckler added, “I don’t know another aircraft that could do what this airplane did.”

After 32 years of operation, the last Falcon, an HU-25D, numbered 2114, made its last flight on the date of the ceremony and now the new Airbus HC-144A Ocean Sentry twin-turboprop maritime patrol aircraft is replacing the HU-25 Guardian. Time will tell where the HC-144A will fit in the large panorama of Coast Guard aviation history.

 

A “Duck out of Water”

The story of Coast Guard aviation begins with aviation itself: A member of the Life-Saving Service, predecessor of the Coast Guard, watched Orville Wright make humankind’s first controlled, powered flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, on Dec. 17, 1903.

Prev Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Next Page

By

Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...