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Captain Frank A. Erickson, USCG


1907-1978


 

Frank Arthur Erickson was born on 6 November 1907 at Tillamook, Oregon, and was raised in Portland, Oregon.  He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1925 and received an appointment to the Naval Academy in 1927.  He reported to Annapolis on 15 June 1927 but resigned his appointment on 7 February 1928.  He then enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard on 26 April 1928, and he was then ordered to the CGC Algonquin in the Northwestern Division.

He received an appointment to the Coast Guard Academy on 11 August 1928 when the Academy at that time was at Fort Trumbull.  Erickson graduated and was commissioned Ensign on 15 May 1931.  While at the Coast Guard Academy hi interest in aviation curiously was aroused when he witnessed the wreckage of a Coast Guard plane being dragged from the Thames River onto the beach.  After serviced the required three years of sea duty as assistant navigator and assistant engineer in the CGC Chelan based out of Seattle, Washington, he applied for flight training.  At that time there were only 13 planes and 13 aviators in the Coast Guard.  He became a flight student at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, on 1 April 1934 and earned his wings with the designation of Coast Guard Aviator No. 32 in July, 1935.

While serving his first assignment as an aviator at Coast Guard Air Station Miami, Florida, he piloted Fokker PJ Arcturus in the rescue of the government-chartered boat V-2395 with seven persons on board near Rebecca's Shoals in the Gulf of Mexico on 7 January 1936.  The 30-foot cabin cruiser was en route to Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas Island, when its motor pump failed and the anchor was lost.  The boat drifted for 30 hours off the regular shipping lane and several persons suffered from exposure.

In March, 1938, Erickson reported for his next tour of duty at Coast Guard Air Station San Diego, California.  While there he was in command of a plane attached to Coast Guard Base Eleven at Oakland, California, and served temporary duty as pilot of planes attached to the cutters Hamilton and Duane on the Bering Sea Patrols of 1938 and 1939.  After piloting a Grumman JRF-2 amphibian attached to USCGC Taney, stationed at Pearl Harbor, from August, 1939 until January, 1941, he was assigned to the Coast Guard district office in Honolulu.  He was just coming off duty as the watch officer on Ford Island when the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

In May, 1942, then-LCDR Erickson was transferred to Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn, New York, at Floyd Bennett Field.  After reporting there, he was ordered to the Sikorsky Aircraft plant at Bridgeport, Connecticut, for training in the construction and operation of helicopters and to establish liaison with the manufacturer.  On this detail he headed a group of two other officers and five aviation machinist mates who formed the first Coast Guard Helicopter Detachment.

From the Sikorsky plant Erickson sent memos to his superiors evaluating the operations of the helicopter and sparking a number of ideas for practical uses of it--many of which he later proved in tests and which ad far reaching effects.  He recommended the helicopter as ideal for lifesaving, for law enforcement patrols, and among others of his ideas as "eyes and ears" of convoy escorts in spotting submarines.  He insisted that helicopters could be carried on board ships that could provide a suitable landing platform.

A photo of helicopter pioneer and Coast Guard officer Frank Erickson at his deskCompleting his training at Sikorsky, Erickson was designated as the first Coast Guard helicopter pilot (Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot No. 1) as well as instructor in September, 1943.  He then returned to Air Station Brooklyn, which became a helicopter training base, to serve as its executive officer until May, 1944, and then as its commanding officer for a year.

During that tour he organized a detachment and trained pilots who participated in the joint U.S.-British evaluation trials held on board the SS Daghestan in November, 1943, off Bridgeport to ascertain the limiting conditions for carrying out helicopter flights from a ship underway at sea.  He also trained 102 helicopter pilots and 225 mechanics, including personnel from the U.S. Army Air Force and Navy, the British Army, Royal Air Force and Navy, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard.

He was promoted to Commander on 1 December 1943.  He received an official commendation for his actions the following month when he piloted a Sikorsky HNS-1 that carried two cases of blood plasma lashed to the helicopter's floats from New York City to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, for the treatment of Navy crewmen of the Navy destroyer USS Turner, which had exploded and burned off New York harbor on 3 January 1944.  Having performed that heroic deed in violent winds and snow that grounded all other aircraft Erickson became the first pilot in the world to fly a helicopter under such conditions.  It was also the first "lifesaving flight" ever performed by a helicopter.

CDR Erickson developed the idea and the techniques of power hoist equipment for practical use in helicopters.  He demonstrated this in Jamaica Bay in 1944 as the pilot of the first helicopter pickup of a man on 11 August 1944; the first pickup of a man floating in water on 14 August; and the first pickup of a man from a life-raft on 25 September.

Those demonstrations led to an official commendation which he received in February, 1945.  His techniques in the use of the hydraulic hoist and related lifesaving equipment proved of invaluable service to military services and to non-military in the use of the helicopter for rescues, lifting of personnel, equipment, and cargo among other uses.  His early demonstrations influenced the Army to use that equipment overseas and influenced the design of numerous machine4s in their development stages.  He later developed and patented a flight stabilizer for helicopters (Patent 2,581,396 awarded 8 January 1952) and developed inflatable pontoons for landing helicopters on water.

In April, 1945, though remaining at the Brooklyn air station, he was relieved of his command so that he could devote full-time to testing and developing the use of helicopters with the title of Chief, Research and Development Office.  He was involved with official demonstrations held on board the Coast Guard-manned USS Cobb, which was being used as the testing platform for helicopter-shipboard operations.

In June, 1946, he was assigned to Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where the helicopter training and equipment were moved to because of better flying conditions.  Consequently the Rotary Wing Development Project Unit was established there. 

From April, 1950 to November, 1951 now-Captain Erickson served as Coast Guard Liaison Officer at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland.  He completed and graduated from Navy Test Pilot School on 27 January 1951.  He was appointed as a member of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics' Committee on Helicopters in 1951 and was reappointed in 1952 and again in 1953, serving in that capacity while still carrying out his Coast Guard assignments. 

After graduating from Navy Test Flight School, he was assigned to Coast Guard Headquarters to duty as the Assistant to the Chief of the Aviation Division until July, 1952, when he was assigned to the Civil Aeronautics Administration in Washington, D.C.  He returned to New York in January, 1953, where he served in the Operations Division  as the Chief of the Search and Rescue Section at the Third Coast Guard District Office headquarters until he retired on 1 July 1954.  He then went on to serve as the Chief Test Pilot of Brantly Helicopter Corporation while continuing to design a helicopter flight-path stabilizer.  He assisted NASA's Gemini program in developing a hoist system to lift an astronaut out of the water in emergency situations and consulted with the designers of the Coast Guard's new 210-foot Reliance Class cutters in designing those vessel's helicopter landing pads.

Captain Erickson crossed the bar on 17 December 1978.

 


More Information:

"Despair and Visions: The Birth of the Rescue Helicopter", by Lieutenant Commander Barrett T. Beard, USCG (Ret.)

 


Images:

 

Air Station Miami, 1936


Hand-written on back of photo: "Formation: Bill Clemmer was presented with a Silver Life Saving Medal for his work after last year's Labor Day hurricane. (Frank Erickson 3rd from left, Miami, Fla. probably 1936)".  No photo number; photographer not listed.

Award ceremony at Air Station Miami, circa 1936.  Note the two Douglas RD Dolphin amphibians.

Photo from Frank Erickson collection.


 

Coast Guard's first Helicopter Detachment at Sikorsky HQ, 1943


The first Coast Guard helicopter pilots, airmen &
 ground support personnel, 7 July 1943 at Sikorsky's helicopter airport.


 

Commander Frank Erickson

Then-Commander Frank Erickson, Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot No. 1, in the cockpit of a Sikorsky HNS-1 Hoverfly.




Sikorsky HNS-1 Hoverfly


Commander Frank Erickson poses with a Hoverfly.


 

Frank Erickson hoists Igor Sikorsky while flying Sikorsky's HNS Hoverfly

Commander Frank Erickson hoists Igor Sikorsky.





The Coast Guard's first three helicopter pilots

The first three U.S. Coast Guard helicopter pilots.


Sources:

Beard, Barrett Thomas.  Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1996.

Erickson, Frank A. (Personnel Subject File), Coast Guard Historian's Office.

Erickson, Frank A. "Aviation Notes: Aircraft Radio Navigational Equipment." Coast Guard Engineer's Digest: AVIATION NOTES (Nov 1941), pp. 1-6.

________. "Aviation and Safety."  U.S. Coast Guard Magazine (Mar 1940), pp. 6, 38-40.

________. "A Brief History of Coast Guard Aviation."  The Bulletin (Nov-Dec 1966), pp. 418-427.

________. "Coast Guard Aviation: Helicopters vs. Airplanes."  The Bulletin (July 1947), pp. 193-195.

________. "The Coast Guard Cutter-Helicopter Team."  The Bulletin (Feb 1948), pp. 553-554.

________.________. Coast Guard Engineer's Digest No. 51 (Jul-Aug, 1948), pp. 1-3.

________.  "David and Goliath."   The Bulletin (Jan-Feb 1975), pp. 35-36.

________. "Description of Proposed Floating Stabilizer for Helicopters." Coast Guard Engineer's Digest No. 81 (Jul-Aug, 1953), pp. 7-11.

________. "The First Coast Guard Helicopters." Naval Institute Proceedings 107 (July 1981), pp. 62-66.

________. "The First Transatlantic Flight."  The Bulletin (May-June 1977), pp. 18-23.

________. "Helicopter Air-Sea Rescue Developments." Sperryscope X (Jan 1945), pp. 3-6.

________. "Helicopters for the Coast Guard."  The Bulletin (Jan 1944), pp. 168-171.

________.________. Coast Guard Magazine 17 (Feb 1944), pp. 26-27.

________. "Helicopters are Here to Stay!"  U.S. Coast Guard Magazine 19 (Feb 1946), pp. 42-44.

________. "Helicopters vs. Airplanes."  The Bulletin (July 1947), pp. 193-195.

________. "New Helicopter has Novel Feature [ Brantly B-2 ]."  The Bulletin (Sep-Oct 1956), pp. 63-66.

________. "1: A Helicopter Pilot; Fishers of Men (an account of) The Development of Sea-going Helicopters: Introduction."  Flight-Lines: The U.S. Coast Guard Safety Newsletter (Nov/Dec 1971), pp. 18-19.

________. "Role of the Helicopter in the Coast Guard." Coast Guard Engineer's Digest No. 27 (May 1945), pp. 1-5.

________. "Wings of the Coast Guard."  U.S. Coast Guard Magazine (Feb 1937), pp. 6-8.

U.S. Coast Guard.  "Biography: CAPT F. A. Erickson, USCG (Ret)." Erickson, Frank--Personnel Subject File, Coast Guard Historian's Office.

 


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Last Modified 11/17/2014