I was doing live weather tonight at the Oregon International Airshow and wouldn’t you know it, our live truck was parked right next to this red and white bird.
It’s a U.S. Coast Guard Dolphin HH-65C that cruises around northwest skies at around 180mph. Depending on the weather, of course.
In my ongoing series of Friday interviews, I talk with U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Rocco Franco, based at Air Station North Bend. That’s a ways south of Newport along the Oregon Coast. And I asked him the questions people ask me about his job.
#1 – How do you guys fly your helicopter into strong northwest storms? You know, the ones that pretty much every other pilot would want to avoid?
A lot of it is just training and repetition. We practice in all kind of conditions. So we know our limits, which are quite high. If you ever go to the Oregon Coast in the summer, you probably see us quite a lot. (Note: our family was just there last week and we saw these guys fly past every day).
#2 – When we have big storms like we’ll have in a couple of months and the clouds are low and rain is blowing sideways, how do you see the people you’re trying to rescue?
A lot of times we don’t at first. We fly into the clouds and we’ll use our instruments to get down to the water and hover about 50 feet above the Pacific Ocean. We start looking and we hope we spot them.
It’s amazing how often they do. Lt. Franco tells me they can fly about 2 1/2 to 3 hours before needing to re-fuel depending on the conditions.
He also says Oregon and Washington are known for challenging flying conditions and Coast Guard Crews know this and like to come here for that reason. The only place more difficult, when it comes to weather and winds, is the Alaskan Coastline.
So next time you’re in Newport or Pacific City (or anywhere in-between) and you see a red and white helicopter fly by, give them a wave. It might be Lt. Franco at the controls!