Newest Coast Guard aircraft assists with Midwest floods

By PA3 Jaclyn, Young, CG Public Affairs

ST. LOUIS – The newest type of Coast Guard aircraft, the HC-144A Ocean Sentry, which has only been in service for a little more than a year, was selected by the Commander of the Eighth District to conduct an overflight of the Midwest floods with key marine industry representatives Thursday, June 19.

Rear Adm. Joel Whitehead boarded a HC-144A at Air Station New Orleans and headed to St. Louis, where passengers Coast Guard Capt. Sharon Richey, Commander of Sector Upper Mississippi River (SUMR), Scott Noble, Senior Vice President of Ingram Barge Company, Ed Henleben, Senior Vessel Operations Manager of Ingram Barge Company and Gary Christmann, Chief of Emergency Management in St. Louis embarked the aircraft to conduct the thorough overflight of flooded areas. The overflight focused on central and eastern Iowa and northeast Missouri.

The goals of the mission were to assist Whitehead in determining where Coast Guard response and recovery resources should be utilized in the ongoing flood efforts and to share information with the marine industry on economic impact from the floods.

Whitehead specifically selected the HC-144A for the trip because he believed the aircraft’s longer ranges, ability to fly slower and the passenger capacity would best suit the needs of the mission.

“The Coast Guard’s newest fixed-wing aircraft, the HC-144A Ocean Sentry, was the platform of choice for the Midwest flood operations mission because of its ability to carry several senior Coast Guard and maritime industry officials. The aircraft’s two bubble search windows allowed for unobstructed views of the impacted areas. Additionally, the Ocean Sentry’s ability to fly at slower speeds allowed for more effective aerial assessment and increased time on scene,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Brian Lisko, of the service’s Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala., where the aircraft is based.

“One thing I will need to figure out from this trip is how the flooding will affect the southern regions as the water moves down river,” said Whitehead.

High water levels have a tendency to cause more vessel groundings and observation through aerial assessments can help the Coast Guard predict future vessel casualties.

“From meeting with the marine industry representatives I was able to get a better appreciation for the impact on the industry,” said Whitehead.

“Part of our job is to do it in a way that is prudent for businesses also (if we can) and not limit ourselves only to aids to navigation and pollution clean up,” said Whitehead, referring to the importance of open communication with industry representatives during recovery operations.

Richey gave a first-hand assessment to the group on the Coast Guard’s current and future needs for flood response in the region. Whitehead also met with responders at the Coast Guard Incident Command Post at SUMR in St. Louis.

The HC-144A Ocean Sentry is an EADS Casa CN-235 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. It is a multi-role, medium range transport and surveillance aircraft. The HC-144A has the ability to deliver search and rescue equipment offshore, act as an on-scene commander platform or transport cargo on quick-loading pallets. The aircraft is slated to replace the Coast Guard’s current fleet of HU-25 Falcon fan-jets.

Because the Ocean Sentry is still a new asset to the fleet, this mission not only helped the Eighth Coast Guard District Commander gain a more detailed understanding of future impacts resulting from flood-affected areas, but it also provided one more opportunity to use the aircraft in an operational mission.

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