Several military units were located at the Floyd Bennet Field before and during the Second World War. The U.S. Navy dedicated part of the civilian facility to Naval Air Reserve Base New York in the 1930s, and the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn was established on April 23, 1938. The units based at Floyd Bennet Field did pioneer air-sea rescue using hydroplanes, and during the Second World War anti-submarine patrols were conducted from the field.
The Sikorsky HNS-4 "Hoverfly" or R-4 as it was called in the United States Army Air Corps was a humble but fully functional first helicopter to serve branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Lieutenant Commander Erickson was the first helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard and he was the commander of the base between December 1943 and February 1945. As Lieutenant Commander Erickson got started at the Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn, his unit's first responsibilities were to learn how to fly and maintain the helicopters, but it was not long before the men at the Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn started to work on developing the rescue hoist and several pickup harnesses. Instrument and night flying capabilities as well as rescue techniques were developed while autopilots and loudspeakers were added to their helicopters.
On December 20, 1943, Lieutenant Commander Erickson reported that his unit had experimented with a HNS-1 as a flying ambulance. A helicopter had made flights with a 200 lb load suspended on a stretcher approximately four feet beneath the floats of the helicopter in addition to the crew of a pilot and a mechanic. The stretcher was subsequently moved to the side of the helicopter and landings were made at the steps of the dispensary. The air sea rescue equipment was tested in earnest on October 2, 1944 off Manasquan, NJ, when four men were picked up from a rubber raft and landed on the cutter Cobb in less than ten minutes.
However, the first actual rescue was conducted by a civilian, Dimitry "Jimmy" Viner, who was Sikorsky's test pilot, on November 29, 1945. The helicopters conducted other rescue and relief missions as well: blood plasma was flown to Sandy Hook, NJ, in a storm to treat wounded from the wreckage of the U.S.S. Turner after she exploded in the New York harbor on January 3, 1944. Additionally, a youngster was rescued from a sandbar in Jamaica Bay and firefighting equipment was airdropped to firemen fighting a fire on a railway trestle when all other means to supply the firefighters with necessary equipment had failed. A more complicated rescue operation was conducted on April 21, 1945, when a Canadian PBY-5A Catalina had been forced to land in the wilderness 180 miles south of Goose Bay in Labrador. Two of the crewmen were badly burned after the crash, but bad weather conditions did not allow conventional aircraft to take off in the loose snow at the crash site. Fortunately the aircrew of the Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn could come to the rescue with one helicopter being disassembled and loaded in a C-54 cargo plane. The HNS-1 was reassembled at a base camp and Lieutenant August Kleitsch took nine hour-and-a-half trips to and from the crash site to rescue the stranded Canadians one by one.
In addition to U.S. personnel, the British Admiralty requested that the Coast Guard would train helicopter pilots and mechanics for the Royal Navy. Four British helicopters were added to the base, and a number of pilots were also trained for the USAAF and the Navy. Regular training commenced after initial organization was completed on June 1, 1944. After one year 102 pilots and 225 mechanics had been trained to fly and service rotary wing aircraft. Besides rescue operations, the helicopters were used for radar calibration of vessels being overhauled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The Air Station at Floyd Bennet Field was eventually decommisioned in May of 1998, and the rescue hoist originally developed for use with the HNS-1A was donated to the Pensacola Aviation Museum to be inducted into the Coast Guard Wing of the museum.
Original Caption: "U.S. Coast Guardsmen take a break during the first Arctic helicopter rescue in the history of aviation. Lieut. August Kleisch (center), Coast Guard pilot of the Sikorsky helicopter 'The Labrador Special,' chats with Lieut. Lawrence G. Pollard, Assistant Operations Officer of the Air Transport Command at Goose Bay. Pollard, flying supplies into the ATC radio-weather station which served as the base for helicopter operations, flew Sgt. G. J. Bunnell, the first man rescued, back to Goose Bay. On the right, facing the camera, is AMM1c Gus Jablonski of Brooklyn, Crew Chief on the Labrador Special. Jablonski worked very hard through the entire operation. Kleisch made all the rescue flights personally."; Date: 2 May 1945; no photo number; photographer unknown.