Out of all the missions and the 850 hours he flew in a U.S. Coast Guard HU-25 Falcon jet during his four years in Station Cape Cod, Mass., Lt. Austin Montanez found the last the most memorable.
He and three other airmen flew jet No. 2104, from its last active duty base in Cape Cod in July to Air Station Astoria, where it will be put on display in the coming months. The plane retired June 21 after more than 30 years of service.
It was really sad to have flown it out to pasture, but it was an honorable flight, said Montanez, who signed the inside along with the other three officers who made the flight.
Being that were in the Coast Guard, its mostly maritime flying. Literally getting to fly across the country in a Coast Guard aircraft was remarkable.
The Falcon, built by French company Dassault, made its debut in 1982 and patrolled in support of law enforcement, fisheries, search and rescue, medevac and other missions. It was a quick responder relaying information back to other units. It can cruise at speeds of up to 420 knots and soars to more than 40,000 feet.
In 2012, the Coast Guard started replacing the Falcons with the HC-144A Ocean Sentry, a more efficient, advanced aircraft. After 2104s final flight, Montanez relocated from Station Cape Cod to Station Corpus Christi, Texas, the last Coast Guard station to fly Falcons, which he said should be fully phased out next year.
I think the goal of the Coast Guard is to put a Falcon at every air station it served over its 30 years, he said of 2104 landing in Astoria, referencing similar displays in Mobile, Ala., Traverse City, Mich., Cape Cod and Elizabeth City, N.C.
The Coast Guard assigned two HU-25A Falcon jet aircraft to Air Station Astoria in October 1983 to enhance the law enforcement effort and contribute to search-and-rescue (SAR) and logistical missions. A third HU-25A Falcon was added in June 1988. All of the air stations Falcons and older helicopters were replaced with HH-60 Jayhawks in 1995.
Lt. Cmdr. David McCown, who flies Jayhawk helicopters out of Air Station Astoria and previously served with Falcon pilots in Cape Cod, said the installment of the retired aircraft is a more honorable and affordable retirement.
Its really expensive to dispose of aircraft, so one of the easiest ways to do it is actually take it out to an air station, he said, adding that Tongue Point Job Corps Center students will construct a concrete pad at the entrance to the station in late October or early November, on which the aircraft will greet visitors to the air station.
Much like all Coast Guard aircraft, its got to be ready to do every mission the Coast Guard does, all the time said McCown. Everything we put on our aircraft is going to be multimission capable.
Along with its upgraded, ultrasensitive radar, installed on the bottom of the Falcon is what McCown referred to as a FLIR ball, a forward-looking infrared imaging system manufactured by FLIR Systems headquartered in Wilsonville.
Looking at boats from the air they could actually pan down with a camera, look, get names, see what kind of catch they had onboard, said McCown, adding that with the system the Falcon can identify anything from people to oil spills in the water, relaying the information to Coast Guard units to plan their responses to emergencies and providing information to incoming units.
Theyre flying out there at 320 knots; we (in the helicopter) are flying at 120 knots, said McCown. They can get on scene, find the vessel, tell us exactly where its at, exactly what the nature of the distress was, get the boat prepared.
Although it cant directly rescue people, it can drop lifesaving equipment such as pumps, rafts and radios via parachute through a hatch in the planes midsection.
When were dropping stuff, the lowest we go is 100, 200 feet, at about 130 knots said Montanez.
Attached to the equipment are trail lines. When dropping equipment, said McCown, pilots aim the lines to drape over a boat or near a survivor.
We call them steam-gauge cockpits, said McCown, looking at the antiquated control panels at the head of the Falcon. There was nothing in this cockpit that would tell the pilot when to drop the device.
Working with them in Cape Cod, theyd do some practice drops while we were out there (in helicopters), and theyre very accurate. Its one of the amazing things youve got a plane flying at 120, 130 knots being able to drop a small propylene line right on top of a boat thats 47 feet long.
Cheaper to buy new
Its just financially easier to do the HC-144 transition, said McCown about continually upgrading the Falcons, which would go in for full maintenance and upgrades about every six years.
The cockpit of the new HC-144 aircraft will have a similar interface to the HH-60 Jayhawks, he said, as the Coast Guard looks to standardize the software in all its aircraft for ease and affordability in buying parts.
Montanez, who attended the Aviation Training Center in Mobile specifically to fly the HU-25, had to log more than 900 flight hours to become an aircraft commander. He soon will transition to flying the HC-144s.
The HC-144 Ocean Sentry is a more efficient craft with enhanced capabilities to remain in the air for a longer time. The radar and imagery sensors represent the latest in technologies, and the new aircrafts cargo ramp increases the amount of gear and supplies that can be delivered to a vessel or people in distress.
In 1995, both the HU-25A Falcons and the HH-65 Dolphins at Air Station Astoria were replaced by the HH-60J medium-range recovery helicopters. McCown said the Coast Guard, efficient in its placement of assets, realized it could cover all the missions of existing Falcons and older helicopters with HH-60s. We were able to replace six aircraft with about three aircraft.
Until No. 2104 is permanently parked on the pad in front of Air Station Astoria, said McCown, the aircraft could still be used in missions. Within a 12-hour period, we could get an air crew out here to fly if we needed to.