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.
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.
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.