Air Station Houston, Texas

June 14, 2022

Air Station Houston, Texas


Original Location: 
Ellington Air Force Base 

Current Location:

Date of Commission:
23 December 1963

Still in service

Historical Remarks:

1963 (Dec. 23): Coast Guard Air Station Houston was commissioned on 23 December 1963 and was located on one acre at Ellington AFB, 17 miles southeast of downtown Houston.  Two HH-52 helicopters, seven officer / pilots, and 18 enlisted mechanics / aircrewmen set up shop in 24,000 foot hangar built in 1942.  The station's first commanding officer was CDR David W. Difreest. An alternative site at Scholes Field, Galveston TX, was considered up until the actual commissioning at Ellington.  The air station's commissioning coincided with the beginning of development of Clear Lake City as a business and residential community surrounding the blossoming NASA complex, then called the Manned Spacecraft Center.

In 1964 AIRSTA Houston assisted the Texas Department of Health in battling an encephalitis epidemic in the Houston area.  Coast Guard helicopters dropped more than 10,000 pounds of insecticide.  In 1965 AIRSTA Houston helicopters routinely hoisted Gemini astronauts, undergoing egress training from their space capsules in the Gulf during the drills.  Later that year, in September, two air station helicopters deployed to New Orleans to assist people stranded by Hurricane Betsy.  The station responded to another hurricane two years later when, in September, 1967, Coast Guard helicopters from AIRSTA Houston rescued 451 people from rooftops, trees and "other places of peril" during and after Hurricane Beulah.

During this period the AIRSTA also assisted NASA with a hoist training program as they participated in egress drills from space capsules in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1974 the station received its third helicopter.  In August of the next year, the SS Globtik Sun, a 734-foot British tanker, rammed an unmanned oil rig off Galveston, setting both ablaze.  Air station helos transported the injured to shore, searched for missing crewmen, and conducted pollution overflights.

In 1978 the air station received its fourth helicopter for support of pollution patrol effort and increased shipboard deployments during law enforcement patrols.  The station's helicopters deployed 21 weeks annually on the average.  Station personnel now numbered 60.

In May of 1979 the Ranger I drilling platform collapsed 12 miles south of Galveston.  Air Station Houston helicopters searched for survivors.  Later that year in July the helicopters flew flood relief missions in southeast Texas following Tropical Storm Claudette.  Disasters continued that year when in November the Burmah Agate, a tanker carrying 16 million gallons of oil, collided with the freighter Mimosa off Galveston.  The air station's helicopters rescued 27 crewmen from the burning vessels and flew more than 115.6 hours searching for the 31 missing crewmen and on pollution over-flights.  The Burmah Agate burned for 69 days.

In 1980 an air station helicopter and crew deployed to South Florida to assist other Coast Guard and government units with the Cuban Refugee Exodus (also known as the Mariel Boatlift).  Personnel assigned to these deployments received the Humanitarian Service Medal.

From 1982-1984 studies were conducted to determine if AIRSTA Houston should be renovated, relocated to Scholes Field, or housed in new hangar to be built at Ellington.

In August of 1983 Hurricane Alicia devastated the Houston / Galveston area.  AIRSTA Houston weathered the storm with two helos battened down in the hanger (a third was deployed on CGC Valiant) and half the crew remained on board.  Post-storm flights assisted stranded residents, delivered food, water and medical supplies, and surveyed aid-to-navigation damage, totaling 52 flight hours.  Damage to the air station had a significant impact on the relocation studies.   AIRSTA Houston helicopters have rendered assistance following violent storms and hurricanes more than nine times since 1963, including Gulfport, MI (1969); Brownsville, TX (1978); and Corpus Christi (1980).

On 1 July 1984 Ellington AFB was formally turned over the city of Houston and renamed Ellington Field.  In August of that same year, within a two-week span, two separate environmental incidents threatened the Houston / Galveston area. 1,700 quart-size bottles of toxic pesticide leaked overboard from the containership Rio Nuquen, docked at the turning basin of the Houston Ship Channel.  The British tanker, Alvenus, leaked hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil, after it ran aground in the Calcasieu Ship Channel off Cameron, LA.  AIRSTA Houston helicopters launched on numerous surveillance flights during both of these incidents.

During 1984 to 1985 a decision made to build new hangar at north end of Ellington Field on U.S. Government property.  Spaw Glass of Houston was contracted to build a hangar from plans drawn up by Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc.  The groundbreaking occurred on 2 October 1985.  

1985 (Oct.) Jackup rig capsizes off Galveston. AIRSTA helos airlift survivors to shore.

1986 (Jan 17) Oil company helo crashes in mud off Sabine. AIRSTA helo and EMT from station Sabine rescue four men on board and fly injured personnel to hospital.

1986 (May) Although forecast days previously, sudden "microburst" thunderstorms catch many recreational boaters off guard on Lake Livingston and Galveston Bay. Rapid response by AIRSTA helos along with other Coast Guard, Auxiliary and county rescue units resulted in not a single life being lost on Galveston Bay.

1986 (Oct) Hollywood Marine barge burns for ten days at Intercontinental Terminal near San Jacinto Monument, closing down Houston Ship Channel for an unprecedented four days.

1986 (Dec) Texas City refinery fire kills one in chemical inferno reminiscent of twin-ship explosion and fire that flattened the city almost forty years ago.

1987 (May 26) beneficial occupancy for completed new hangar.

1987(June 18) Dedication of new AIRSTA.

1988 (Nov 10) First HH-65A helicopter arrives.

1989 (March 17) Air Station operational with four HH-65A helicopters.

1989 (April 2) Last HH-52A departs Air Station.

1989 (Aug 1) Air Station helos rescue 14 people from three different capsized fishing vessels during Hurricane Chantal. Two helos penetrate the eye of the storm to reach 7 of these at the Sabine Jetty and to return to base.

1990 (Feb 1) Air Station becomes operational with rescue swimmers. Five swimmers assigned.

1990 (June 9) Tanker Mega Borg explodes 60 miles south of Galveston in the lightering area. This begins two weeks of intense operations with 17 hours flown by unit aircraft, temporary assignment of HC-130, HH-3F, and additional HH-65A aircraft, and the stockpiling of tons of pollution abatement equipment at the unit.

1990 (July 28) An Apex barge collides with the Greek tanker Shinoussa and runs aground off Redfish Reef and breaks open. This begins another two weeks of aerial monitoring and support involving over 75 flight hours. The 200th Year Coast Guard Day picnic attendance is light as many personnel are involved with spill response.

1990-1991 (Sept.-Feb.) Air Station Houston supports Operation Desert Shield/Storm with numerous over-flights of loading areas, the Houston Ship Channel, and the strategic oil reserve in Freeport, TX. Over three Army divisions deployed from the Houston area during this conflict with Iraq. All personnel assigned to the station were awarded the National Defense Service Medal.

1992 January Heavy rains throughout Texas swell the Trinity and Brazos rivers and associated tributaries. The Brazos rises 35 Feet and floods much of Brazoria County. Air Station Houston provides multiple flights each day over a two-week period to assist Coast Guard surface teams and local authorities.

1993 March The "storm of the Century" hits the Gulf Coast on 12-13 March. Air Station Houston responded by saving 6 lives and 2 vessels and assisting others over an 18-hour period as heavy storms spawned life-threatening seas and skies.

1994 October Remnants of Hurricane Rosa dump more than 25 inches of rain on the Houston area from 18-31 October causing widespread flooding along the San Jacinto River. Air Station Houston responded by evacuating over 450 people from the flooded region. Oil and gas pipelines, which crossed the river, gave way, creating a massive oil/gas spill, which exploded and burned for five days. The units provided critical support to the Marine Safety Office’s response and clean up operations associated with this disaster.

1997 April through September: Air Station Houston deploys a helicopter and crew on USCGC LEGARE (WMEC 912) homeport in Portsmouth, Virginia for the first operational deployment of a 270 foot Coast Guard Cutter to DOD sponsored BALTOPS/USEUCOM deployment. LEGARE and the Deployed helicopter cross the Atlantic and interact with the U. S. Navy and 21 other countries during naval exercises, as well as military and Coast Guard exchanges. Regions visited included: the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea with port calls/exchanges in England, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Poland, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Morocco, Malta, Tunisia, Turkey, Georgia, Ukraine, Romania, Italy, and Ireland.

1999 October Air Station Houston achieves a new record for the number of SAR cases prosecuted in one 12-month period. During fiscal year 1999, the Air Station responded to 301 SAR cases.

2000 June-August Air Station Houston deploys an aircraft to Air Station Detroit to man an 'OPFAC' conducting search and rescue at Muskegon IL. Air Station Houston crewmembers were assigned during much of this time. This Deployment is indicative of the future of Air Station Houston. We will continue to be ready to provide the highest quality of Search and Rescue to the public.

2000 September Air Station Houston hosts the winner of the Yahoo! Fantasy career contest. Ms. Stephanie Kelly experienced first hand, what it is like to be a duty standing member of Air Station Houston. Ms. Kelly has since joined the Coast Guard and is currently in Officer Candidate School.

2001 June Air Station Houston plays a major role in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Allison.  With over 80 hoists throughout the 24-hour period, the Air Station was a major factor in the lives of many Houstonians.  The flooding occurred four days after the initial storm.  Four days prior, during the throws of the storm, an Air Station Houston helicopter flew into the storm through 65+ knot winds to perform a medevac.

Unit Awards

COAST GUARD MERITORIOUS UNIT COMMENDATION WITH OPERATIONAL DISTINGUISHING DEVICE was awarded for action during the period 3 to 6 January 1979. During this period the air station was engaged in massive search and rescue operations in the Gulf of Mexico involving five separate incidents.

COAST GUARD UNIT COMMENDATION WITH OPERATIONAL DISTINGUISHING DEVICE was awarded for the air station’ s responsiveness and actions during the period 1 to 30 November 1979 while engaged in the Tankship BURMAHA GATE and Freighter MIMOSA collision and resulting fire and pollution incident.

COAST GUARD UNIT COMMENDATION WITH OPERATIONAL DISTINGUISHING DEVICE was awarded for the air station’ s survival and response to post storm actions resulting from the passing of Hurricane ALICIA. The award was presented to Disaster Control Group 8.3 for the period from 19 to 29 August 1983

Commanding Officers

1963-1964 CDR David W. DEFREEST
1964-1967 CDR Marion G. SHRODE
1967-1969 CDR Warren S. PETERSON
1969-1972 CDR Harry H. KELLER JR.
1972-1974 CDR Thomas H. RUTLEDGE
1974-1976 CDR Robert L. JOHANSEN
1976-1978 CDR Steven H. SMITH
1978-1980 CDR David E. CIANCAGLINI
1980-1982 CDR Kent M. BALLANTYNE
1982-1984 CDR Billy G. CUNNINGHAM
1984- CDR Jerald H. HEINZ

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.

CAPT Gus Shrode, USCG, the commanding officer of AIRSTA Houston, talks with astronaut Wally Schirra.  Courtesy of the Pterodactyls.