When the Wright brothers conducted their experiments at Kitty Hawk in 1903, surfmen serving at the Kill Devil Hills Life Saving Station helped the two inventors by hauling supplies, delivering mail, and photographing their first flight. Further down the North Carolina coast, another chapter in Coast Guard and aviation history was written seventeen years later. The scene was a sand bluff overlooking Bogue Sound, just west of Morehead City, the site of Carolina City. In 1905 the state acquired the tract for use by the National Guard. An installation was built and in 1906 it was named Camp Glenn for former Gov. Robert Broadnax Glenn (1905-1909). During World War I, the camp was converted into a naval refueling base. Barracks, sewers, etc. were built to accommodate 400-500 men.
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Although the Coast Guard dates its origins to 1790, it was only in 1915 that the U. S. Life Saving Service and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service were combined to form the modern United States Coast Guard. In 1920 Rear Admiral William R. Reynolds, Commandant of the USCG, persuaded the Navy to permit the Coast Guard to use the Morehead City facility. He also obtained on loan from the Navy six seaplanes (Curtiss HS-2L flying boats).
The air station, staffed and opened on March 24, 1920, became the first of its kind in Coast Guard aviation history. For fifteen months it operated on an experimental basis, demonstrating the value of aviation in performing Coast Guard duties. This entailed locating vessels in distress, rescuing crews, and, at that time, surveillance of rumrunners. In 1921 Admiral Reynolds appealed to Congress for funds to continue operation, but none were forthcoming, and the station was decommissioned on July 1, 1921. The aircraft were returned to the Navy, declared obsolete, and destroyed. The Coast Guard did not reestablish an air capability until 1926. Today an exhibit at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, is devoted to the history of the Morehead City site.
Charles E. Matthews, “History of U.S. Naval Operations During the World War,” (Navy Department Historical Section, n.d., ca. 1935)
Robert H. Rankin and Norman N. Rubin, “The Story of Coast Guard Aviation,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (June 1959), pp. 86-99
Bernard C. Nalty and Truman R. Strobridge, “The OL-5 and the Beginnings of Coast Guard Aviation,” Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society (Fall 1974), p. 200
T. Michael O’Brien and Robert L. Scheina, “Coast Guard—In at the Beginning,” Wings of Gold (Winter 1977), pp. 8-13
(Morehead City) Beaufort News, April 1, 1920
(Morehead City-Beaufort) News-Times, April 27, 1981
Carteret County Deed Books, North Carolina State Archives