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Captian Frank A. Erickson, USCG
U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot Number 1
By Brad McNally - Contributing Editor
In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s few ickson was preparing to be relieved as the
people could see the helicopter as much Air Station Duty Officer. As he waited
more than an overly complex novelty in- for the National Anthem to be played he
capable of being of any real value. It took heard the first sounds of the Japanese in-
a small group of enthusiastic and deter- vasion of Pearl Harbor. His post was lo-
mined men to make helicopter flight pos- cated in the airfield control tower on Ford
sible and another small group of men with Island. This location gave him an unfor-
an equal amount of determination and en- tunate view of all the carnage and de-
thusiasm to make helicopter flight prac- struction that occurred that day. Frank
tical. Leading this second group was a Erickson never forgot the images of
Coast Guard officer named Frank Erick- sailors stranded in fiery, oil covered wa-
son. His vision and resolve were born out ters desperately trying to get ashore.
of one of the darkest days in American More than 2,000 people were killed that
history; after which he made developing
the helicopter into a practical tool for Captain Frank A. Erickson, U.S. Coast Guard
search and rescue his lifelong goal. His
Helicopter Pilot Number 1
foresight and perseverance in the face of
(Photo courtesy of the Coast Guard
Aviation Association)
many seemingly insurmountable obsta-
cles and persistent naysayers left an in-
delible mark on the history of the Coast Guard Academy in 1931 and sev- day and thousands more wounded (Beard,
helicopter. eral years of sea duty he reported to Navy T., 1998). It was not lost on Lieutenant
Frank Erickson began his military ser- Flight School in Pensacola, FL. He was Erickson that had a hospital not been
vice after enlisting in the Navy. He designated as Coast Guard Aviator Num- nearby the death toll would have easily
briefly attended the U.S. Naval Academy ber 32 in 1935 and began his career as a been much more. Lieutenant Erickson
before enlisting in the Coast Guard and fixed wing pilot. (Erickson, F., 1966) He was a Coast Guard Officer, trained to help
later attending the U.S. Coast Guard spent time stationed on both coasts before save lives and he recognized the need for
Academy. After graduation from the being assigned as a shipboard aviator fly- a better, quicker, more capable rescue
ing seaplanes. In 1939, he reported method. Soon this method would appear
Then Commander Erickson is shown here
aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter in the form of the helicopter but it would
piloting a helicopter at Floyd Bennett Field in
Taney. It was during this assignment that take a man with Frank Erickson’s vision
Brooklyn, N.Y. while testing out his newly his vision for the usefulness of the heli- and determination to make the rescue he-
developed rescue hoist. The person being
copter was born. While stationed on the licopter a reality.
hoisted is none other than Dr. Igor Sikorsky.
(Photo courtesy of the Coast Guard
Taney his plane was based out of Naval In 1942 Lieutenant Commander Erick-
Aviation Association)
Air Station Pearl Harbor. On the morn- son was transferred to the Coast Guard
ing of December 7, 1944, Lieutenant Er- Continued on page 16 • January 2010 15
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