WASHINGTON — A restored Coast Guard HH-52A Seaguard helicopter was dedicated into the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center during a ceremony Thursday.
The 1960s era HH-52A, which bore the tail number 1426, was renovated by Vector CSP and is now the only Coast Guard aircraft on display in a Smithsonian museum.
The 1426 helicopter spent many years at the North Valley Occupational Center’s aviation facility in Los Angeles until members of the Coast Guard Aviation Association became aware of it in 2012. Restoration work began in March 2015 and finished in November 2015.
“The National Air and Space Museum has always recognized the importance of the United States Coast Guard, but we have never had the opportunity to acquire and display an appropriate Coast Guard aircraft until now,” said Roger Connor, museum curator. “This HH-52A is fully representative of the service’s life-saving mission and is arriving just in time to celebrate the centennial of Coast Guard aviation.”
The fleet of HH-52A rescue helicopters, developed from a Sikorsky amphibious helicopter, was known for their versatility and reliability. The first of a total of 99 helicopters was delivered to the Coast Guard on Jan. 9, 1963. The last flight of the helicopter was on Sept. 12, 1989.
The helicopters served in the Coast Guard for 26 years and are credited with saving more than 15,000 lives. One notable case involved the rescue of 1,200 people by HH-52A helicopter crews following Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The crew of tail number 1426 saved 22 lives from a burning tanker ship outside the entrance to Galveston Bay, Texas, in 1979.
Toward the end of the ceremony, Adm. Paul F. Zukunft, Coast Guard commandant, and Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the Coast Guard office of aviation forces, presented retired Coast Guard Cmdr. Frank Shelley with the Legion of Merit award for his meritorious service as the HH-52A project manager from 1961-1964.
“The Seaguard may not be a household name to some, but it’s a big part of our Coast Guard history and our history of Coast Guard aviation,” Zukunft said.