TRAVERSE CITY -- Traverse City visitors will see a surprise when they look to the skies next summer.
A U.S. Coast Guard directive calls for Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City officials to transition from using four MH-65 Dolphins to three of the larger MH-60 helicopters, according to Command Master Chief Al Wiltse. The shift will allow the MH-65s to be used in missions elsewhere.
Pilots and crew who fly the MH-65s and the MH-60s likely will relocate with the aircraft to and from Traverse City, he said.
"There's going to be a larger than average turnover in Traverse City this summer," Wiltse said.
The MH-60 helicopters are modeled after the Blackhawk helicopter used by several other military branches, he said.
The helicopters will be configured differently to adhere to the variety of situations the Coast Guard responds to and feature more fuel storage to allow long-distance flights, like to northern Lake Superior.
Additionally, light anti-icing technology will help with a number of different types of response.
The advantages over the MH-65 helicopters should assist Traverse City Coast Guard officials, even though the change will leave their squadron with one less helicopter.
"We have no concerns being down," Wiltse said. "There will not be any change in services from what we currently offer."
The slow transition will occur during the spring and summer months, according to plans he said could change.
The "pre-logistics" of the transition already are underway, Wiltse said. The station is stocking parts for the new helicopters and identifying pilots and crewmembers to transfer to Traverse City to train and fly them.
The new helicopters will come from around the country -- two currently expected to depart Elizabeth City, North Carolina, he said. They will feature a different paint scheme -- approximately 60 percent white and 40 percent orange -- compared to the signature, mostly-orange helicopters currently used.
Wiltse said the change will be exciting, but it won't be easy.
"It's going to take a lot of coordination and a tremendous amount of work," he said. "When you start factoring in the moving of the aircraft themselves, all the tools, parts and equipment and, of course, all of the people who will be forced to move, there is a whole lot of logistics and coordination involved."