Final Broadcast

By Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley

A one-man band is a musician who plays a number of musical instruments simultaneously using their hands, feet, limbs, and various mechanical contraptions to impart a total musical experience to an audience.

The Coast Guard’s Long Range Radio Navigation or Loran could be described in a similar manner, but unlike a single man playing multiple instruments, Loran is much more like a symphony that has encompassed more than 30,000 musicians since 1942, all striving to play a perfect single note.

On Feb. 8, 2010, this symphony played its final show, where under the direction of the President of the United States, Loran, with little fanfare came to an end.

So what was Loran? Loran is a word that was coined by Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. L.M. Harding in early 1942 from the letters of “LOng range RAdio Navigation.”

Loran was originally developed to provide an accurate navigational tool for U.S. coastal waters and later covered the continental United States as well as most of Alaska. The system provided a better than .25 nautical mile absolute accuracy.

Loran has been a constant source of reliable navigation since its conception by the radiation laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1941. Specialists at MIT developed this new electronics technology as a method of navigation with a long effective range. Initial tests proved its reliability as far as 800 miles from a transmitting site during daytime tests and 1,400 miles at night.

The first demonstrated use of the new Loran technology took place on June 12, 1942 with an airship using the signal to navigate off shore from New Jersey and Delaware to Maryland. Subsequent tests conducted aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Manasquan off of Newfoundland during the summer of 1942 and aboard a B-24 Liberator on July 4, 1943, further proved the reliability and accuracy of the new navigation system.

Using the momentum from the initial successful tests, a September 1942 survey crew from the Army Air Force, the Coast Guard and MIT went to the Bering Sea and selected sites on St. Matthew, St. Paul and Umnak Islands as locations for Loran navigational signal locations. The Coast Guard was directed on Jan. 28, 1943 to establish these remote Alaska sites.

With the Jan. 28 directive, Loran was delivered to the remote regions of the Alaska frontier providing reliable navigation for Coast Guard and Naval ships in the region during and after World War II.

The development of the Loran stations in Alaska, started a domino effect across the Pacific, with new Loran sites being surveyed and constructed on the Hawaiian, Phoenix, Marshall and Micronesian Islands. The signal was eventually pushed into Guam, Saipan, Philippines, Japan and the China Sea, covering most of the Pacific Ocean.

During the World War II rush to implement Loran across the Pacific, Loran was extended from the Bering Sea, almost on the Arctic Circle to points south of the Equator close to Australia. Few locations directly benefited from the new technology as the remote areas of Alaska, and when the 1950’s saw the introduction of commercial fishing to the waters of Alaska, Loran was there.

“Loran provided reliable navigation information critical for fishermen to drop and relocate their fishing gear throughout the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska,” said Rear Adm. Christopher Colvin, 17th Coast Guard District Commander at a ceremony ending the Loran signal at the Tok, Alaska Loran Station. “Today more fish is caught in the Gulf of Alaska than in all of New England; and more fish is caught in all of Alaska than in all of the other states combined. This fishery was built on Loran.”

Since the World War II Loran rush, the signal and technology has been increased and refined in its reliability and accuracy. The advances in technology spurred the reduction of broadcast stations from those scattered across the Pacific to eventually just 24 U.S. stations being manned and operated in partnership with Canada and Russia.

Loran has as a result of further technological advancements in the last 20-years become an antiquated system. With the introduction of Global Positioning Satellite System or GPS, Loran is no longer required by the armed forces, or the transportation sector and has been relied upon less and less.

Following certifications by the Coast Guard and by the Department of Homeland Security that Loran is not required for maritime navigation or as a back up to the Global Positioning System, Loran operations ceased on Feb. 8, 2010 in U.S. waters.

So like a symphony player lovingly putting away their instrument after a performance, Loran station crews across the Coast Guard are packing away the equipment that has reliably and continually played for over 67-years.

“This is the best job in the Coast Guard,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer James Maciejewski, Officer in Charge of Coast Guard Loran Station Tok, at the station’s signal termination ceremony. “This is a sad day, I am going to miss this place, the people of Tok, my crew and most of all the job.”

“The history of Loran is the history of Guardians serving in some of the most remote locations and harshest environments on the Earth,” said Adm. Thad Allen, Coast Guard commandant in his official blog, iCommandant. “We will always recognize those who have served at Loran Stations with admiration and gratitude.”

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