Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

1896 - 1945

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 27, 1896, William J. Kossler graduated from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1921 and then began a lifelong career in the Coast Guard, serving in a multitude of aviation and engineering assignments. Kossler, in concert with his friend and colleague Frank Erickson, urged the development of the helicopter for military use and rescue work.  Because of his vision and confidence in the principle of rotary wing aircraft, Captain Kossler was greatly responsible for the adoption of the helicopter by both the United States Coast Guard and the United States Navy. Captain Kossler was inducted as one of its first members of the Coast Guard Aviation Hall of Fame.

In 1940, then Lieutenant Commander Kossler was assigned as the Aviation Engineering Officer at the Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC. He immediately acquired the collateral assignment as the Coast Guard’s representative on an Inter-Agency Board, chaired by the Army Air Corps, to investigate and purchase an experimental helicopter. The Platt-LePage Aircraft Company initially won the bid, but Igor Sikorsky flew his experimental VS-300 in a public demonstration on May 13, 1940, causing the board members to eventually split the prize money between Platt-LePage and Vought-Sikorsky.

Nearly two years later, on April 20, 1942, at the Vought-Sikorsky plant, the first official American helicopter demonstration took place. As a member of the Inter-Agency Board, Commander Kossler witnessed firsthand the flight of the new Sikorsky XR-4, Sikorsky’s first attempt at a production helicopter intended for military use. Kossler was so impressed by this demonstration that he dedicated the rest of his life to executing plans for integrating the helicopter into the Coast Guard organizational structure.

Commander Kossler immediately invited Lieutenant Commander W. A. Burton, Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Air Station New York (Floyd Bennett Field), to a Sikorsky demonstration. Impressed, Burton wrote a letter to the Commandant listing the many advantages of using the helicopter for rescues at sea. But open opposition from both the Coast Guard’s Engineer-in-Chief and Assistant Commandant arose: they were convinced that helicopters were too costly and that their limited performance capabilities could not support missions essential to the war effort.

Kossler continued to meet rejection everywhere until he heard that military strategists were searching for ideas to help combat German submarines and to reduce the extraordinary losses they were inflicting on the US Atlantic convoys. On February 8, 1943, Kossler wrote to the Coast Guard Commandant, Vice-Admiral Russell R. Waesche, arguing that the helicopter might help solve the submarine menace. Waesche then requested to see Sikorsky’s helicopter. He along with Kossler and Erickson visited Sikorsky’s Bridgeport plant on February 13, 1943, for a flight demonstration. Immediately upon his return to Washington, Waesche met with Admiral Ernest J. King, Chief of Naval Operations; and on February 15, 1943, King issued a directive ordering a test and evaluation program for helicopters (the Coast Guard was still, at that time, under Navy control, which procured and managed all operations of aircraft). Fortunately for Kossler, the final paragraph of King’s directive stated that the seagoing development of helicopters, including their operations in convoys, would be the function of the Coast Guard.  

On February 16, 1943, Vice-Admiral Waesche ordered Commander Kossler to create a training program for pilots and maintenance crews, and to direct the organization of supporting stations. After recruiting Frank Erickson to take the lead on the training program, Kossler ordered a landing deck to be built amidship on the SS Bunker Hill. The first helicopter landings on board a ship occurred on May 6th, with formal flight demonstrations on May 7th, both using the Sikorsky XR-4 helicopter, equipped with flotation gear which allowed it to land and take off from the surface of the ocean. As a result of these tests, written reports then supported the use of the helicopter for search and rescue operations. Pilot training started in June 1943 at the Sikorsky plant and moved to Floyd Bennett Field in November of 1943. Captain Kossler was instrumental in having Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn designated as the first military “Helicopter Training and Development Base.” It was used for all US military services, as well as for the British Admiralty. Kossler himself completed the helicopter course on July 1st, 1944, becoming Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot number twenty-five.

In March of 1945, Kossler became ill. Later hospitalized and in grave condition, he surrendered his office; the Coast Guard Helicopter Project was no longer under his protective mantle. William J. Kossler died on November 16th, 1945, and was survived by his wife, Lois, and young son, Jack. Kossler received a Letter of Commendation from the Coast Guard’s Assistant Commandant, Lloyd Chalker, dated March 6th, 1945; and, posthumously, a Letter of Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal in May of 1946.

Captain William J. Kossler, USCG Award

The Kossler Award, established in 1951 by the Vertical Flight Society, is given for the greatest achievement in the practical application or operation of a vertical flight aircraft, the value of which has been demonstrated by actual service during the preceding year. The award honors the memory of Captain William Kossler, a US Coast Guard airman, aeronautical engineer, and early advocate of helicopters for search and rescue operations.

Written by Paul J. Fardink