That day, our landing was successful and we came to rest in a sea with one and two foot waves. The merchant vessel lowered a life boat with the patient on board, and the life boat approached our PBY. The life boat was rather large, with a steel hull capable of doing serious damage to the aircraft if they were to collide. There was only a small area behind the wing and forward of the tail surfaces where a large boat could safely come alongside a PBY. Since there was a rather choppy sea, the decision was made to inflate one of our rubber life rafts and, with two crew members aboard, float it down to the life boat for transfer of the patient. It was then pulled back to the aircraft, and the patient, strapped into a wire Stokes Litter, was lifted on board the aircraft. When the patient was secured for take off, our crew members deflated the life raft and pulled it on board.
Prior to departure from Biloxi, four Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) bottles, filled with a solid rocket propellant, had been installed onto special brackets on 48447, two on each side just ahead of the blister compartment. Each JATO bottle provided 1000 pounds of thrust for 14 seconds to assist the aircraft in taking off, especially from a rough sea. As the pilots applied full engine power and the aircraft began its take off run, the JATO was electrically fired and the 4000 extra pounds of thrust helped get the PBY safely airborne and on our way to New Orleans. We landed at New Orleans International Airport, transferred the patient to an ambulance for transport to the hospital. A land take off from New Orleans, and a water landing back at Biloxi completed a successful mission.
Nearly all medical mercy mission patients by Biloxi aircraft are transported to the Public Health Service Marine Hospital in New Orleans, LA. The Public Health Service Marine Hospitals, located adjacent to major shipping ports, were established to provide medical assistance to Merchant Marine sailors. The hospitals also provided the same service to members of the Coast Guard.
Not all missions were as "routine" as the one just described. Following the war, many missions, each lasting for many hours, were performed regularly to search for missing or overdue merchant or fishing vessels. Flying in an expanding square or other predetermined pattern, crew members would visually search thousands of miles of open sea for relatively minute objects. Radar was a big help, but eyeball observation was the primary method. Many a missing person or small vessel were found and rescued when sighted by alert aircrew members. This often happened while a crew was assigned to a non-rescue missions. Scanning became second nature for the crew, and everyone kept a sharp lookout on all missions. Even so, many searches fail to locate the missing subject, despite the experience and effort put forth by dedicated aircrew members.
ABOVE: The pilots of this Coast Guard PBY-5A demonstrate a four bottle Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) from the waters of Biscayne Bay adjacent to the Dinner Key Air Station (Miami, Florida). Each JATO bottle provides 1,000 pounds of extra thrust for 14 seconds to assist getting the aircraft airborn. This aircraft and the one below are in the post-war paint scheme. BELOW: The pilots of this Coast Guard PBY-5A demonstrate the correct aircraft attitude during this full stall, power-on, open sea landing at the moment of touch down. If the aircraft is bounced back into the air, the pilots still have power-on control to fly off and make another landing attempt.
General Muster, 1946. At this time, personnel manning was less than 50 enlisted men and twelve officers. Two J4F-1 and two JRF-5 are seen in the hangar. One additional J4F-1 and three PBY-5A aircraft completed the station compliment.
The main hangar, 1946, with a PBY-5A undergoing maintenance inside. The sing tip of another PBY-5A is just visible at the upper left foreground of the photo. The station's fire truck is to the right of the hangar.
The Sick Bay and Dental Clinic at the far left with the small ship's store. The war-time SPAR barracks was now being used by the remaining male personnel. The original barracks from 1937 (behind the flag pole) was converted to a CPO barracks, mess hall and galley.
Another General Muster, 1946. JRF-5 84791 undergoes maintenance and engine change following a forced landing at sea while dropping storm warnings to fishermen.
THE AIR-SEA RESCUE PAINT SCHEME One program of the Air Sea Rescue Agency was to develop a distinctive, highly visible color scheme for ASR aircraft. The color scheme was overall aluminum with yellow wing tips, floats, the top of the wing between engines, patches beneath the pilots' compartment, and a band around the aft fuselage. All the yellow markings were bordered with black, and the word RESCUE in black letters, was painted in the yellow area between the engines, and was also painted in yellow along the bottom of the hull. Water operations very quickly wore this belly painting off, and it was soon discontinued. Eventually, all Coast Guard aircraft utilized these colors, as did the Air Rescue Service of the U.S. Air Force, until the 1960s, when both services adopted schemes more appropriate to their missions at the time.
Water operations did more than just wear off some paint. As most operations were in salt water, corrosion was an ever-present problem. Following each flight, the aircraft needed to be washed down thoroughly with fresh water. In addition, the wheels were removed and bearings cleaned and repacked, and the multiple disc brakes were cleaned and dried. Particular attention was needed to prevent corrosion of the wing tip float and the landing gear retraction mechanisms.
EPILOGUE Biloxi was one of the smaller Air Stations, designed for pre-war biplanes capable of operations in relatively shallow water. The post-war aircraft were proving larger and heavier than could safely be operated on Biloxi Bay, especially at low tide with a wind from the west. One partial solution was to base the ready rescue aircraft and crew at Keesler Army Air Base about eight miles away, but this proved to be time-consuming and awkward, and plans were made to relocate the assets of Coast Guard Air Station, Biloxi.
In March 1947, the Air Station was placed in caretaker status. The hurricane of 1947 did severe damage to the Air Station, especially the wartime built facilities, and the land, hangar, seaplane ramps, original barracks and mess hall were turned over to the city of Biloxi. These were used by elements of the Mississippi Army National Guard for several years.
Most of the station's personnel, aircraft and equipment were transferred to other Coast Guard Air Stations. One of the station's aircraft (PBY-5A 46502) and a crew were established as a detachment at Keesler. The crew consisted of LT F. L. Riggs, (a former enlisted pilot - CG Aviator #108 - from the class of 1935), as Officer in Charge, Aviators A. Flanagan and Handley, Enlisted Pilot E. P. Ward, Aviation Machinist Mates J. Green, J. Pierce, and H. Holloway, Aviation Radio Men G. Boggs, J. Brooks, and C. Tornel, and Aviation Ordnanceman C. Fuller. The Keesler detachment continued until late 1966 by which time the Coast Guard established new air stations at Bates Field at Mobile, AL, and the Naval Reserve Air Station at Belle Chasse, LA.
About 0600, 30 March 1947, PBY-5A 46502 of the Keesler detachment responded to a request for an emergency medical evacuation of an injured crew member from a freight ship more than 200 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. Pilots Riggs and Flanagan, with aircrew members Green, Pierce, Fuller, and Aviation Radioman J. B. Camet arrived over the ship about 0900, and made the necessary preparations for an open sea landing. A moderate sea with long ocean swells three feet high required much attention and skill to make a successful landing and take off.
This was a very skilled aircrew with numerous open sea landings to their credit. A full stall power on landing was successfully made, but the aircraft suffered hull damage along with many popped and sheared off rivets causing moderate to severe leaking. The aircrew plugged many of the rivet holes with plugs made from various pieces of wood in the aircraft.
Meanwhile, the ship lowered one of its lifeboats with the patient in a Stokes Litter. The lifeboat had no engine and the crew members rowed across to the PBY. Without waiting for the aircrew to inflate a rubber life raft to use in transferring the patient from the lifeboat to the aircraft, the lifeboat rammed into the left side entrance blister damaging it severely.
As the patient was transferred into the PBY, the boat crew allowed the lifeboat to get under the tail plane surfaces, causing additional damage and jamming the aircraft rudder full right. The lifeboat pulled away and returned to the ship, which prepared to get underway. Pilot Riggs told the ship's captain to stand by as the aircraft was in serious trouble, made much worse when the ship drifted down against the bow of the PBY, causing more damage.
The sea conditions continued to worsen, the swell increased to six and eight feet. The wind increased to more than 15 knots, and it began to rain heavily. The 165-foot cutter USCGC TRITON, en route from Corpus Christi to New Orleans for a major overhaul, was diverted to assist PBY 46502. It arrived just before dark, and the first order of business was to transfer the patient by the TRITON's lifeboat to the cutter for medical attention.
The aircrew continued to make every effort to repair the damaged aircraft, although everyone was seasick as the sea conditions continued to worsen during the night.
Late the next day, 31 March, after more than 18 hours of attempting to save the PBY, the decision was made to abandon the aircraft and transfer the aircrew to the TRITON. The PBY sank a short time later and the TRITON proceeded to New Orleans with the patient and the aircrew. Open sea landings were always hazardous!
Six years later, in July 1953, PBY-5A 46617, again from the Keesler detachment, responded to a request for an emergency medical evacuation of a seaman with a broken leg on a ship near Head of Passes in the Mississippi River. The PBY apparently struck a submerged obstacle causing the aircraft to water loop, tearing the wing from the fuselage and then sinking. The pilot, Ensign V. Flick, Aviation Machinist Mate J. C. Netherland, and U.S. Air Force medical technician M. L. Sweet were killed in the crash. Three other aircrew men survived.
As fate would have it, PBY-5A 46617 had been flying on its last scheduled day of active service - it was to have been replaced that day by a new HU-16 amphibian fresh from the Grumman Aircraft Company.
In 1966, after 41 years, the Coast Guard ceased operations at Keesler Air Force Base, and the Coast Guard departed Biloxi. That area of the Gulf of Mexico is still patrolled by Cutters and Life Boats operating from Pasacagoula and Gulfport, MS, and aircraft from Air Stations in Mobile, AL, and Belle Chasse, LA. The site of the original Coast Guard Air Station, Biloxi, is now occupied by a museum of the seafood industry, a nearly forgotten business on a waterfront now wall-to-wall with gambling casinos.
Acknowledgements I want to acknowledge the outstanding assistance provided in this endeavor to some truly great people. J.C. Entrekin, a friend of sixty years who served with both my father and myself, and to his wife Dottie (McCully) who checked many back copies of newspapers and provided many memories and answers. George H. Boggs who, with Henry White, sank the U-166 in WW-II and provided memories and answers. Jones R. Pierce who filled in many blanks along with anecdotes and photos. And who taught me when "a fire is really a fire", among many other things. Mrs. Constance H. McCabe who shared accounts of her father's (J.R. Henthorn) early flying and rescue missions, and truly great photos. Captain Gene Davis of the COAST GUARD MUSEUM OF THE NORTHWEST who has compiled a wealth of Coast Guard information which he is eager to share. Mr. Kenneth Fountain for his Tony Ragusim photos of early times. Norbert W. "Bud" Muench for sharing his memories and photos. Edith Gearing Jenson for memories of the SPAR contributions. Bill Bacon who was the last enlisted man at Biloxi. Jack Shea, Guion Prince, James R. Lee and Stan Sagers who have given me much encouragement. My wife, Patricia, for her typing and help. My son Ted, Major, USAF, Ret., for his encouragement and for the final editing and formatting.