For many flight students in the area, the annual Gulf Coast Fleet Fly-in is an experience unlike any other.
The annual event held aboard NAS Whiting Field, brings in helicopters from around the country to give flight students an inside look at what they may be flying in the future.
But on Wednesday, some students participating in the Fly-in practice got more than the inside look of a helicopter.
During a flight, a Coast Guard helicopter stationed at Whiting Field for the Fly-in had to do an actual rescue in Blackwater Bay.
According to Joy Tsubooka, the public information officer for Santa Rosa County, the Coast Guard was alerted that there was a boat circling in Blackwater Bay and there was no one aboard the vessel.
The Coast Guard was called to the rescue attempt while there were two pilot students aboard as part of the Fly-in.
The person who alerted law enforcement about the unmanned aircraft called 911 around 2:40 p.m. on Wednesday.
The caller indicated that there was an unmanned vessel circling in Blackwater Bay in Bagdad and it was about ½ mile from the shoreline according to the 911 tape recording.
Tsubooksa said that after the Coast Guard helicopter circled the area, members aboard were able to spot the boater and drop a life raft.
From there, Bagdad Fire and Rescue personnel were able to bring the person ashore.
Lt. JG Ian Campbell and Lt. JG Tim Ollah were identified as the two students aboard who assisted in the rescue.
For the pilots that weren’t aboard the Coast Guard helicopter, the Fly-in was still something special to them.
The 23rd annual event hosted 22 aircraft, including one international helicopter.
“It gives these students a chance to see what they are looking forward to and to clarify what they want to serve their country in,” said
Matt Bowen a tour guide at the Fleet Fly-in. “It’s worth it for our military to see the fleet.”
Throughout the week, military pilots took up students in the helicopters during the Fleet Fly-in. The exercises gave the students a chance to see what they had to look forward to, including learning about the mechanics of the birds.
Helicopters used in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard were aboard NAS Whiting Field throughout the week-long event. On
Thursday, members of the local Santa Rosa County Chamber Of Commerce got a first-hand look at the helicopters.
While it was a new experience for many of the trainers on Whiting, it was also a chance to reminisce for the older generations who returned to Whiting to see their old birds.
“It gives the fleet aviators a chance to come back to their roots,” Bowen said. “Whiting Field and Milton are very unique in that we train every Navy, Marine and Coast Guard helicopter pilot.”
Bowen said there was even an international bird at the Fly-in. The Royal Canadian Air flew in the CH-124 to participate in the event.
Another reason Whiting hosts the annual event is to give the community a chance to see the ins and outs of military training aboard NAS Whiting.
“If gives us a chance to show them what we are producing,” Bowen said.