Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina

June 14, 2022

Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina

  Aviation Technical Training Center
  Aircraft Repair & Supply Center

Original Location: 
Pasquotank County, North Carolina

Current Location:

Date of Commission:
15 August 1940 

Still in service

Historical Remarks:

On the World War I wave of national defense, the authorization for ten air stations was established by Congress.  However, it was not until the wave of national depression was inundating the nation in the 1930s that the particular combination of circumstances, location and personalities was formed that would invigorate this established authority into the United States Coast Guard Air Station at Elizabeth City, North Carolina.  The Coast Guard, designated to carry out the duties of the station, had long since proved its capability in the air as well as on the water in saving lives and property.  The geographical location and physical conditions of the proposed air station were ideal: fresh water of the Pasquotank River would overcome the maintenance problem of salt water corrosion; the banks of the river at the chosen site were a gentle slope where sea planes could be easily launched; the elevation of the adjacent field area varied no more than nine feet so that leveling for runways would be reduced to a minimum.  In addition, and perhaps the largest consideration, the Pasquotank is the northernmost fresh water river on the eastern sea board that does not freeze in the winter, thus permitting sea planes to take off the year around and the weather conditions were as favorable as any other location in the coastal area between New York and Miami.  All these physical aspects were of paramount importance in the selection of this site for an air station sheltered fifty or sixty miles from Cape Hatteras, one of the dirtiest weather spots along the Atlantic Coast.

Congress, in 1937, was of necessity authorizing the expenditures of more money than ever before in the history of the nation.  Mr. Lindsay C. Warren, the Congressman from this district in North Carolina, was eager and diligent that his district should share in the permanent benefits of the times: the unemployment situation was creating great pools of available labor: the citizens of the Elizabeth City Community were eager to have a project not affected by depression."  These were the economic, political, social and geographical conditions that converged on the focal point of the present station.

And so it happened that the citizens of Pasquotank County, North Carolina, were enthusiastic in their support of the bond issue that was floated in 1938 for the purpose of buying land to be given to the Government for the Coast Guard air station.  The actual construction was begun in 1939 by the WPA and the PWA.  The three hundred acre site selected was four miles east of Elizabeth City on part of an old farm that had been intact since before the Civil War.  Each step in the development, from the construction of the complicated sub-surface drainage system of the runways to the modern architectural design of the two buildings and finally welcoming the new Coast Guard citizens into the community was watched with a warm interest and. the people of Elizabeth City made the newcomers feel that the natives were glad to have their long relationship with the Coast Guard extended into the air era.

During the period from the time the station was commissioned – the official opening ceremony took place on August 15, 1940 – until December 7, 1941, various types of training duties were developed.  The most logical type for an air station was the pre-flight course that was given here from October 1941 to January, 1942 for the Coast Guard student pilots prior to their flight training at Pensacola.  After the pilots had been trained at Pensacola, they were assigned to the Elizabeth City Coast Guard Air Station to be "Checked Out" in the various types of planes that they would be using at other stations.  There were also night training flights for orientation and the use of instruments.

From June, 1941 to June, 1942, there was a regular Aviation Machinist’s Mate School, under the supervision of the Engineering Department.  However, again under the pressure of the patrol schedule, it had to be discontinued.  A most unexpected type of training at the air station was the Cooks and Bakers School that started about six months after the station was commissioned and continued for about three or four classes of three months each.  Since this station was commissioned during a period when the United States was earnestly defending its neutrality, a great number of patrol flights were made to identify vessels of nations at war and to see that no act of war was committed in our neutral waters.  Operation Memorandum No. 10, issued 3 November, 1941, announcing the transfer of the Coast Guard to the Navy was an official indication that the fabric of neutrality was raveling and that the patrols merely to identify foreign shipping were soon to be charged with a more serious accounting.  Administratively, this move changed the authority of operations from the District Coast Guard Officer, Fifth Naval District to the Commandant Fifth Naval District, who operates under the direction of the Commander Eastern Sea Frontier.

The time between 3 November, and 7 December, 1941, was cruelly short.  This station on 7 December, had thirteen pilots one PH-3, two JRF-2s, one J2K2, one J4F, four N3N3s, and one N4Y.  The first order of the day from the Commandant, Fifth Naval District, was "Patrol Steamer lines and off shore approached to Chesapeake Capes.  On alert for enemy submarines."  On the 8 December, the order read "Patrol Chesapeake Light Ship to Cape Hatteras -- to Cape Lookout -- fifty miles to sea."  This was the patrol area established and maintained every day that flying conditions were at all possible.  The orders, the men and the planes were available and in action, but until the twenty-second of January, none of the planes was armed and the pilots could only observe the destruction that the enemy dealt.  Numerous requests were made for suitable and adequately armed planes for combating submarines, however, the planes were apparently not available for assignment to the Coast Guard.  On 18 January, 1942, debris from the SS Allen was sighted, but no survivors or bodies were reported.  On 19 January, eleven survivors and fifteen bodies from the torpedoed SS Ciltvaira were sighted, and another ship was under attack by deck guns of an enemy submarine that had exhausted. Its torpedoes.  Coast Guard Pilots Howarth and Logan’s arrival on the scene in a PH-3, sent the sub below, expecting no doubt, an attack from the air, but at that time the Coast Guard planes had only scaring power with which to attack. When this incident was reported, the outrage of helplessness swept the station.  The next few measures of the Commanding Officer to get actual fighting equipment for his men an planes are not recorded in writing but the results are indelible in the memories of those assigned to this station at the time.

Consolidated Vultee had a fleet of RCAF PBY-5s equipped with bomb racks but no bombs; the Coast Guard had pilots, the Navy Base on the other side had depth charges.  The PBY-5s were frozen on the ground by commitment to the British Lend Lease Program; but owing to the efforts of Coast Guard pioneer aviator and air station commanding officer LT Richard L. Burke and a release given by Canadian and Commandant Pat Wing Atlantic Fleet, two of the frozen planes were thawed loose, depth charges were put in the bomb racks, Consolidated pilots were assembled and for the first time. Co-pilot Coast Guardsmen flew in armed planes to find the enemy, however these planes were shortly to be sent away on another assignment.

If there were subsequent flights in the Lend Lease planes, and comment by word of mouth indicates there were it was considered expedient to omit them from the log.  This situation and the feeling it aroused is included in the history of the station for what it may be worth to prevent the recurrence of such complicating inefficiency, that if overcome might have saved many lives.  The War Diary further records that the first armed planes were received here 22 January: two J2F5's equipped with machine guns and bomb racks, and on 27 January, Pilot Logan made the station’s first positive attack on a submarine, with two Mark XVII Airplane depth bombs of 325 pounds each.  These planes were not designed for nor adequate for combating submarines.

The first six months of 1942 strained every resource of men, planes and emotions in the desperate effort to rescue survivors of torpedoed ships.  The patrols increased from 305.63 flying hours in January to 9114.14 flying hours in June.  Training flights were reduced to checking out pilots in planes for patrol flying.  Peace time law enforcement flights, Alcohol Tax Unit, etc., were abandoned: administrative flights were cut to a minimum.  All day, every day, the pilots took turns flying the planes and when they went out, they saw the same sight day in and day out: oil slicks where tankers had been sunk, debris and then lifeboats with survivors or life belts, or just the yellow dye slicks from life belts.  The pilots could drop provisions to survivors in life belts giving immediate help -- they could identify the location for surface craft to come to the rescue, they could give the survivors that hope and courage that comes when they know that a friendly plane is standing by to help.  But so many survivors were floating in life jackets so weak that food dropped out of reach was a tantalizing waste.  Many were wounded and in great need of medical assistance, many were given hope of rescue after their strength had been exhausted and pilots saw men who had been hanging on to floating debris beyond the point of endurance slip away into the sea.  There were sharks and stinging jellyfish that took lives and dealt suffering even while help from surface craft was coming.  These were hideous experiences of war that the pilots witnessed helplessly but with a growing determination to make these rescues more immediate -- when the survivors were first seen -- so that the time of their exposure and suffering could be cut to the absolute minimum.

From time to time as Coast Guardsmen saw these emergencies, they balanced the lives of the survivors against the risk of the rescuers and when the balance was favorable, off shore landings were made and the ideal of immediate help was realized.  The first such landing made from this station was on 1 May, 1942, when thirteen survivors were sighted in a lifeboat.  They had been helpless at sea for six days and one man had been badly injured. An unarmed PH-3 landed, gave emergency food and medical rations to the men in the lifeboat and took the injured man and one other to the Navy Air Station in Norfolk.  The remaining eleven survivors were seen later in the day in tow of a surfboat, and still later the same day a Coast Guard cutter came alongside and took the eleven men aboard . The next day, 2 May 1942, a report came in of two men adrift on a raft.  These men were located and found to be suffering from severe exposure and hunger and the second landing was made offshore to effect their rescue.  The log reports that the landing was made in spite of rough seas.  Subsequent to these "air sea rescues" there are other offshore landings made under equally desperate circumstances -- the most unusual of which was the flight of 9 July 1942A Navy Blimp reported that seven Germans, survivors from the submarine U-701, sunk by an Army plane two days before, had been located and their position established.  A PH-2 Hall Flying Boat, piloted by Lieutenant Burke with Lieutenant H. W. Blouin as co-pilot, went out, landed, picked up the survivors, and took them to Navy Intelligence in Norfolk.  For this rescue, Lieutenant Burke, the pilot of the PH-2, was awarded his second Distinguished Flying Cross.

Such skillful and courageous rescues form the stout roots from which the Coast-Guard aviation continued to grow.  They were demonstrations that this direct rescue method can be accomplished and, where time is the essence, it is spectacularly effective in performing the mission of the Coast Guard to save lives.

The wearing routine of the patrols and emergency messages to ships to pick up survivors dragged on through the summer of 1942.  While some planes were on patrol, the men at the station were busy on the maintenance or repair of the planes that had just come in, or they were thinking of improvements that could be made in the systems they used.  One of the flaws was found to be in delivery of supplies from the planes to the survivors until they could be taken aboard a surface vessel.  The means provided was an emergency ration container but it was found to be ineffective since it sank immediately upon hitting the water. ACMM Booth and AMM1/c Denio devised a bomb made a practice water bomb with a special cement nose made in sections to keep the bomb straight in flight and which would break on contact with water when dropped from a plane.  A special tail made out of plywood, longer than the regulation installation was clamped on with a thumb nut making the container water tight.  This container filled with water, food, whiskey and cigarettes, was attached to a bomb rack.  The first experimental use of this provision bomb was made 1 June 1942, with great success.  The first occasion of emergency use on 14 July 1942, when a PH-3 dropped such a bomb to the survivors of an Army plane crash offshore. Since then other shipwreck and survivor kits have been made and successfully used.

When coastal shipping was organized in convoys in April, 1942, the Elizabeth City Air Station was designated to furnish an escort in its assigned area.  The patrols on this mission escorted 9713 ships from December, 1943 to October, 1944.  This meant that a plane escort picked up the convoy at a known rendezvous at dawn and was relieved as often as necessary to provide a constant escort until sunset.  Then before the day’s duty was done, the pilots made a night sweep of the course the convoy would run until the escort could be continued the following morning.  This anti-submarine escort was of inestimable value in the protection of these convoys and these missions were continued until 17 October 1944.

The OS2U-3s assigned here for antisubmarine warfare in April 1942, were equipped with armor plate seats, armament and bullet proof tanks and the pilots’ chief complaint was that for all this armament the engine power was low.  After April, 1942, this armament was removed and the pilots’ verdict was that the modification improved the plane considerably, however, the lack of engine power was still felt.  The engineering staff was more tolerant of the relative engine power and considered the OS2U-3s admirably suited to their patrol assignments, however these planes were designed for scouting and observation and were never completely adequate for antisubmarine warfare.

The first adequate planes for antisubmarine warfare to be assigned to this station were the PBMs, the first of which arrived 5 December, 1943.  They were two years late for the battle of the Atlantic since the submarine menace was almost completely wiped out at that time.  However, until August, 1944, thirty-three had been checked through this station for reassignment to other Coast Guard Air Stations.  The four remaining here were used in anti-submarine convoy duty until October when they were assigned to Air Sea Rescue Patrols.

When war was declared, the strategic position of the Coast Guard station both in relation to enemy action and the advantages offered in training and maintenance were immediately seized upon and exploited to the maximum.  Had there not been such sound reasons for having the Coast Guard here it would have seemed an act of Providence that there was a permanently established nucleus for the enormous war expansion in this area.  From 27 May 1942, until the threat of raids here was diminished, a squadron from the 314th Coast Artillery Brigade (AA) was assigned to this station.  This unit was housed in Quonset huts and messed with the Coast Guardsmen, and the services combined even to the extent of the Army cooks helping in the station galley.  Before the LTA Station was completed in 1942, a few miles down the road, the Navy moved in a temporary mooring mast for an air-ship and carried on blimp operations from this station.  The Navy needed a site and facilities for its squadrons operating between the United States and Bermuda, so until their own ramps and buildings could be finished 1000 yards from the Coast Guard Station, they put up a temporary barracks for their men near the permanent barracks here and began operations on the spot.

The administration which made all this expansion possible was the establishment of the Eastern Sea Frontier, the operations headquarters for all the naval services on the Eastern Seaboard.  This convergence of authority permitted the Navy, Army and Coast Guard use of the same communication and operations system with a minimum duplication of men and equipment.  During this lightning expansion of operations the typographical aspect of the station was radically changed in the effort to accommodate facilities to function.  In December, 1941, there was a barracks, a hangar, and a double four runway.  The hangar housed all the shops and supply rooms necessary for the maintenance and equipment of planes as well as office space for administration.  A year later operations communications and the number of planes to be maintained, multiplied simultaneously so that space for all these functions was immediately inadequate.  The temporary solution was a series of Quonset huts for storage of supplies until a large new supply shed was furnished In the spring of 1943.

The barracks was originally built to accommodate fewer than one hundred men.  As the complement increased beyond capacity, Quonset huts were used as barracks, offices and sick bay, until more suitable quarters could be built.  The permanent buildings now include a second barracks and mess hall built for four hundred men, a fifteen bed sick bay, two semi-permanent buildings used as engineering office and garage and. an indoor swimming pool.  The present Chapel is at one end of the building that the Navy Patrol Plane Base put up as a temporary barracks.  The Quonset huts are still used as a laundry and for visual aids, sport equipment, etc., and owing to their great flexibility and versatility it is not an unusual sight to see one of them on a sled being pulled by a tractor to a new location for a new use.

Now-CDR Burke was detached from the station 12 May, 1944, and was succeeded by his Executive Officer CDR E. J. Suydam.  Commander Suydam came into, command at a time when the station was preparing for the transition from antisubmarine warfare status to the air sea rescue program, and when the VP-6 training program was halfway along.  The VP-6 training Squadron was the unofficial name for the combat air crews that were training here under the supervision of CDR W. H. Snyder, USCG, from 15 March 1944, to 15 July 1944, for assignment to Greenland.

CDR Snyder had a very thorough knowledge of Arctic conditions and the techniques unique to the North Atlantic Areas from having had duty in the Canadian, Arctic, Labrador, Greenland and Iceland areas for nearly twenty months, and an additional six months in Alaska.  All possible resources of training: films, slides, instruction in survival equipment, special Arctic techniques, weather, radio, radar, advanced navigation and first aid were used in an effort to prepare the 108 enlisted men and officers of the VP-6 Squadrons for any situation that might arise in the far northern operations.  CDR Snyder received a letter of appreciation for his work with this squadron and the station was grateful to contribute what it could toward this additional phase of the war operational training.

In May, 1941 and in anticipation of the Air Sea Rescue Service Program, three PBYs were attached to the station and the process of training the pilots for check-out in this type plane was begun.  The PBMs were equipped for air sea rescue work. The anti-submarine patrols continued through August on an average of approximately six hundred hours a month and were cut to something over three hundred hours in September owing to the absence of enemy submarines and to two hurricane warnings.  Planes were evacuated and the station secured in the first week of September, but the expected hurricane changed its course and the routine was resumed without incident.  On September 13, the planes were evacuated again and the station secured for a threatened hurricane which this time arrived on the morning of the fourteenth with ninety mile gales and a deluge of rain.

Minor damage was done by caving in several temporary buildings and showing up many spots that would leak under hurricane conditions only.  On the morning of the fifteenth, a damage report patrol was sent out, and on September 16, this station was instrumental in the rescue of seventeen survivors of the Coast Guard cutters Jackson and Bedloe who had been in the water some fifty-six hours.  This rescue and the assistance flights involved together with the assistance given the survivors of a Mexican tanker in October, sent assistance flights to a record number of hours, and was an auspicious forecast of the possibilities of increase use of planes in air sea rescue work.

The little fleet of eight 0S2U-3s that had made the steady routine flights on antisubmarine patrol assignment was detached on 2 September, 1944, and the last antisubmarine warfare patrol was flown on 17 October 1944.  With the OS2U-3s gone and the last antisubmarine warfare patrol flown, the efforts of the complement were turned toward the Air Sea Rescue program under the direction of LCDR R. Baxter, USCG.  The planes were painted with the characteristic yellow and black initials ASR; equipment was checked and the checkouts in PBYs and PBMs continued.  Concurrently with this change of mission, the command of the station changed.  CDR Suydam was relieved by CDR S. C. Linholm, USCG, and the executive officer, LCDR R. R. Johnson, was relieved by CDR V. O. Johnson, USCG.

Under this new administration and program the initial event was exemplary rescue on 17 November 1944.  H. W. Woolley, C.A.P., USCG, was on an administrative flight to indoctrinate an operations officer in Air Sea Rescue procedures.  He received a message sent by an F4U that two other F4Us had collided in mid air.  Mr. Woolley proceeded immediately to the given location and landed on the Meuse River to pick up the one Marine pilot who had been able to jump from his plane, and who had already been taken aboard a fishing boat.  The pilot was not injured and was in the plane six minutes after the radio message was received and seven minutes after the actual crash occurred. Mr. Woolley took the survivor to Cherry Point and then returned immediately to the location of the crash, identifiable by the oil slick, and marked it with smoke bombs so that the search for the second pilot’s body might be effected.  Then he took the Boat Officer from the Marine Base at Cherry Point to New Bern where information necessary for salvaging operations was dropped by message block on the deck of the salvage boat, the receipt of which was acknowledged by visual signals.  The complete cycle of this assistance took less than an hour and a half from the time the Coast Guard pilot first received the message until he had taken the boat officer back to Cherry Point and had started home again.  This furnishes an ideal example of the speed, coordination of services and the high degree of efficiency that the present system of communications has achieved.

In April 1946, a repair and supply facility was added to the Air Station.  By 1948 it was a full-fledged Headquarters unit under control of the Commandant of the Coast Guard. 

1978: The Coast Guard Aviation Technical Training Center was established:

In the early years of Coast Guard Aviation the US Coast Guard trained its enlisted aviation personnel at Navy schools.  There was a restructuring of aviation enlisted ratings after World War II and in 1949 the initial aviation training “A” schools moved from San Diego to the Naval Training Center, Memphis, Tennessee. The Coast Guard continued to utilized the Navy schools with the exception of the Aviation Machinist's Mate (AD) "A" school. The Coast Guard established its own AD “A” school at the Aircraft Repair and Supply Center (ARSC) in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. An AT "A" school was established at ARSC in 1964. 

In August 1972 the Office of Personnel, Coast Guard Headquarters, Washington, DC, commissioned an in-depth study of the aviation technical training needs of the Coast Guard. Aircraft and aircraft equipment had increasingly become Coast Guard specific. There also existed a difference in maintenance philosophies between the two services. The Navy taught the 3M system which the Coast Guard did not use and the “A” school graduates did not see a Coast Guard aircraft until they reached their first Air Station as an E4 Petty Officer. The study, under the direction of CDR George Krietemeyer, concluded there was a need for Coast Guard specific aviation technical training conducted at a common training site. The concept was approved by the Commandant and money was appropriated in FY 76 Budget. CDR Krietemeyer remained close to the project and became director of the newly created Aviation Management Branch at Coast Guard Headquarters. 

Construction of the Coast Guard Aviation Technical Training Center (ATTC) began in July of 1976 at Elizabeth City North Carolina. CDR Krietemeyer was transferred to AR&SC to oversee construction and operate the AD and AT schools. A selected cadre of AE and AM instructors was assigned to develop Coast Guard AE and AM curricula. The unit, with CDR Krietemeyer as Commanding Officer, was commissioned on August 4, 1978. All of the “A” schools previously held at ARSC were moved to the new facilities and the newly developed Coast Guard AE and AM schools were established. In addition, selected advanced technical “C” school courses were also established.

The Aviation Survivalman (ASM) "A" School was added to the ATTC curriculum in 1980. Throughout the years, numerous "C" Schools offering advanced training in aviation maintenance have been added and removed at ATTC to keep pace with the changing aircraft and maintenance support requirements of Coast Guard aviation. The Coast Guard transitioned to Performance Based Training, which emphasized rapidly changing curricula to keep pace with technology.

In 1995 the Coast Guard undertook another service-wide study of the aviation maintenance requirements which resulted in a complete restructuring of the enlisted aviation workforce. In October 1998 ATTC began training and graduating petty officers in three newly created aviation ratings: Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT), Aviation Survival Technician (AST), and Avionics Technician (AVT). These advanced schools reflect the high degree of complexity associated with current aviation maintenance. 

Since December 2003, aviation rates are represented in the “A” School curricula with courses of instruction approximately 20 weeks in duration. While at “A” School, students are introduced to a regimen of technical and personal challenges designed to develop their rate and leadership skills. Upon graduation students with a new aviation rating in either Aviation Maintenance Technician (AMT), or Aviation Survival Technician (AST), or Avionics Electrical Technician (AET) are assigned directly to active air stations. Students at “C” School are experienced technicians who receive in-depth training on specific components or systems as required to address particular needs of Coast Guard aviation.

Further Information:

Pamphlet on Thrun Hall, the historically significant enlisted barracks.

Historic Photo Gallery

Unless otherwise indicated all photos are official U.S. Coast Guard photographs.  Any original caption information is included in the text beneath each photo, along with a date, if known.  Click on the thumbnail to access a 300 dpi image.