Coast Guard History Day – Honoring Captain Frank A. Erickson


As we discussed previously, the Compass will post a feature story about Coast Guard history on the fourth of every month. This month’s story comes from the Office of Aviation Forces and honors the late Captain Frank A. Erickson and his contributions to Coast Guard Aviation.


Captain Frank A. Erickson
Captain Frank A. Erickson

On June 20, 2009, Captain Frank A. Erickson, United States Coast Guard, of Maryland, was honored as a 2009 inductee into the International Forest of Friendship. He joins the list of internationally recognized aviation superstars such as Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, the Wright Brothers, Sally Ride, Eileen Collins, and Chuck Yeager. The Forest, located in Atchison, Kansas, is a living, growing memorial to the world history of aviation and aerospace.

Frank Erickson was an aviation pioneer who led the Coast Guard’s acquisition and development of rotary-wing aircraft. He was instrumental in convincing the armed services of the U.S. and Great Britain of the helicopter’s potential, particularly for search and rescue and combat operations. He risked his own career by openly supporting what was then an untried and unproven technology.

Erickson earned his wings in 1935 and made his first open-ocean rescue the following year. He piloted amphibian aircraft attached to a newly commissioned class of Coast Guard cutters to test combined aircraft-cutter operations. He was then ordered to the Sikorsky Aircraft Company’s plant at Bridgeport, CT, for training in the new helicopters being manufactured there, thus forming the first Coast Guard Helicopter Detachment. He was designated as Coat Guard Helicopter Pilot No. 1 and became an instructor.

Captain Erickson is pictured on the far left

He organized and trained pilots who participated in joint U.S. and British evaluation trials in November 1943 to ascertain the feasibility of helicopter flight operations aboard ships at sea. He also trained 102 helicopter pilots and 225 mechanics from diverse US and British armed forces. On January 3, 1944, he flew the first ever rescue flight by helicopter when he piloted a Sikorsky HNS-1 with two cases of blood plasma from New York City to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, during a violent storm to treat Navy crewmen from a destroyer which had exploded and burned. He developed equipment such as power hoists, rescue slings, and floats that let helicopters land on water, and pioneered landings and take offs from vessels at sea and hovering in all weather conditions. These advances enhanced the helicopter’s utility, leading to its use around the globe. His impact on the development of the helicopter and all its uses is beyond estimation.

The International Forest of Friendship was a gift to America on the Nation’s 200th birthday (1976) from the City of Atchison (Amelia Earhart’s birthplace) and the Ninety-Nines, the International Organization of Women Pilots. It is made up of trees representing all 50 states and 35 countries around the world, including a “moon tree” grown from a seed taken to the moon on Apollo 14. The Forest honors more than 1200 people for their contributions to aviation and aerospace.

7 comments on “Coast Guard History Day – Honoring Captain Frank A. Erickson”

  1. It’s great having Captain Erickson as an honoree in the International Forest of Friendship! His accomplishments impress all who hear of them and his legacy is in the thousands of lives that have been saved by his imagination, dedication and perseverance. He has made great contributions to Coast Guard history.

  2. As the President, I speak for the 1,300-members of the Coast Guard Aviation Association (current and former members of, and those who support Coast Guard Aviation. I had the pleasure, as a young officer and H-52 helicopter pilot, of meeting Captain and Mrs. Erickson at Aviation Training Center Mobile, Alabama during the dedication of Erickson Hall – the VCTS training facility. I remember CAPT Erickson as a humble person. You could sense his determination to make the helicopter a practical tool for sea and land rescue. The 1946 rescue of Sabena Airline survivors from the Newfoundland tundra demonstrated once and for all that helicopters should become a vital part of the military’s array of rescue vehicles. The Coast Guard Aviation Association honors CAPT Erickson’s memory by awarding an annual rescue trophy to the most outstanding Coast Guard helicopter rescue crew. It is fitting that a Coast Guard aviator of Amelia Earhart’s generation be inducted to the International Forest of Friendship.

  3. I had the pleasure of meeting Capt Frank Erickson during the two years I was the CO of Coast Guard Air Station San Diego from July 1, 1970 to June 30 1972. Frank told me that there was such a jealousy of Frank Erickson because he received flight pay that Frank went to HQ to check his fitnbess reports. When he discovered they were primarily rotten fitness reports, he destroyed all the nasty fitness reports after which he was promoted to Captain USCG. I was pleased to have met Frank Erickson who contributed so much to Coast Guard Aviation Capabilities. Abe Siemens

  4. On 18 March, 1948 Captain Erickson landed the HO3S 230 aboard the CGC Mackinaw. I was a Seaman First Class with six months active duty (I enlisted in Sept. 1947). I had never been in an aircraft at that time. Capt. Erickson announced that any of the crew could ride in the CGNR230. I hurried to get on the list and soon was airborne in the HO3S 230 with Captain Erickson as the pilot. I was hooked!

  5. I received my helicopter training
    at the RWDU under the command of, I beleive at that time it was Cdr Frank Erickson. I was a third class Mech and was with a crew all from E City Air Station. We received several HOS-1’S AND AN HO2S AND HO3S. With the knowledge and experience I received in the Guard I was employed by Sikorsky Acft as a Tech Rep and Instructor and prior to my leaving the company I was WP/PD MGR for the UTTAS program. Later named the Blackhawk. I resigned after nine years and became a Teacher in the public high schools of Pinellas County, Fl. Incidentally my first helo flight was by Lt Graham

  6. Capt. Erickson was guest of honor at a party at Corpus Christi Air Station in the early 70s. We were indeed fortunate to have the honor of meeting him and talking with him.

  7. Back in the 70s, while having lunch with Frank Piasecki over forest fire fighting and helicopters I mentioned I was part of a public relations scoop Cdr Erickson maneuvered during a war bond drive at the Navy Pier in Chicago. It was Thanksgiving, 1945, and all the armed forces had rigged some display of their WWII effort, a large military fair of everything from the CBs and their construction talents, of vehicles, boats, a jeep carrier, to the decorated heroes of the various services and a short depiction of their exploits.
    Nothing compared to the two HNS-1s the Coast Guard sent down from Floyd Bennett, a distance flown record then, herded and delicately maintained by “Rebel” Berry. On the pier atop the Coast Guard AtoN shack sat the strange machine with huge life raft looking landing gear, that routinely went out in the Chicago river to a floating SBD aircraft to rescue the downed pilot. For that day and age it stole the show.
    Piasecki’s comment: “Red Erikson did more than anyone to establish the usefulness and future of the helicopter”. This from one of the great pioneers in rotary aircraft.

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