Eurocopter and the U.S. Coast Guard share a history that is anything
but commonplace: 22 years of cooperation on rescue missions,
a million flight hours and a fleet of 96 HH-65 Dolphins, representing
10 percent of the entire twin-engine Dolphin fleet worldwide.
Since their 1985 introduction into the Coast Guard’s inventory, HH-65s have performed admirably, with the fleet recently surpassing the combined one million flight hour milestone as it takes on increasing diverse mission responsibilities (maritime patrol missions, rescue flights, drug interdiction duties, border patrols, intercept operations), including critical U.S. homeland security responsibilities.
In 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard decided to replace the engines on their fleet of HH-65 Dolphins to provide increased safety margins, greater reliability and enhanced performance instead of replacing the existing fleet. Eurocopter was a primary contributor to the reengining design effort, and it supplied the upgrade kits under a contract from the Coast Guard’s Deepwater equipment modernization program. American Eurocopter supported the project from its Texas headquarters, and subsequently created a second upgrade conversion line at the company’s new Mississippi plant which complemented the upgrade activity performed by the Coast Guard on 84 HH-65s at its Aircraft Repair and Supply Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The additional capacity at Mississippi allowed all 96 Dolphins to complete their upgrade to the “C” version process ahead of schedule. The HH-65C stands ready to continue its illustrious career, as even more Dolphins are phased in and additional improvements are planned for the fleet. The Coast Guard is modifying one used Dolphin airframe and assembling five recently-purchased new airframes into the HH-65C configuration, increasing the total inventory to 102. New funding is being allocated for the fleet’s next phase of upgrades, encompassing a strengthened landing gear, new sensors that include a radar and forward-looking infrared system, a C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) equipment suite and an upgraded rear drive train.
Probably the highest praise for HH-65s comes directly from Coast Guard personnel who operate the aircraft. “It is an absolute privilege to call myself a Dolphin pilot,” declared one HH-65 crewmember after participating in the Hurricane Katrina rescue operations. “My greatest appreciation to all of the Eurocopter folks involved with the HH-65. What a great machine!” This cooperation is a great adventure that has permitted Eurocopter to further develop its product to satisfy increased operational customer expectations.