On January 3, 1944, LCDR Frank A. Erickson USCG, flew his tube-framed, canvas-covered Sikorsky HNS-1 Hoverfly helicopter from Floyd Bennett Airfield in Brooklyn to Battery Park and then to Sandy Hook, NJ in a storm that grounded all fixed wing aircraft. Strapped to the pontoons were two cases of blood plasma desperately needed in the NJ hospital to save the lives of sailors badly wounded when their ship, the USS Turner, exploded. That flight saved the lives of many sailors and pointed the USCG down the path of adopting the helicopter as the life-saving tool which saw its greatest use to date with the rescue of 12,535 people during hurricanes Katrina and Rita by USCG pilots and crews who flew 4,945 missions.
On January 3, 2019, 75 years after Erickson’s first life flight, Jim Brewster, former USCG officer and Maryland, honors Erickson’s accomplishments in Heroes of the USCG - Capt Frank A. Erickson - Helicopter Pilot #1. “Erickson was one of the few people who understood Igor Sikorsky’s quote, ‘If you are in trouble anywhere in the world, an airplane can fly over and drop flowers, but a helicopter can land and save your life.’” Brewster said. “Erickson read about the newly invented helicopter just before World War II and from that moment forward Erickson dedicated his career to integrating the helicopter into the USCG.”
Erickson started his USCG flying career in Miami as the pilot of the flying boat, Arcturus, where he found and rescued the crew of a cabin cruiser disabled and adrift for 30 hours. Later he was assigned to Arctic Patrol and eventually ended up at Pearl Harbor. In August 1941, he read an article about the newly developed helicopter and immediately realized that if the helicopter’s vertical lift technology could be perfected, it would change how the USCG rescued people. Four months later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Erickson ended up in the airport control tower with a birds-eye view of the entire event. He saw men jump into burning water and die and realized that with a working helicopter he could have saved them all. In his book, Heroes of the USCG - Capt Frank A. Erickson - Helicopter Pilot #1, Brewster recounts how Erickson, motivated by his experience at Pearl Harbor, dedicated his career to making the helicopter an essential tool of the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue response capability. In spite of his accomplishment with the first life flight, it took LCDR Erickson another seven years and a sacrificed career to convince the Coast Guard that the helicopter was a valuable search and rescue tool.
On January 4, 2019, the Coast Guard Commandant is schedule to posthumously award Erickson a medal honoring his first life flight and the legacy he created, in a ceremony at USCG Headquarters in Washington, DC.
I have worked and served with many USCG helo pilots,” Brewster commented, “and am pleased they continue saving lives after leaving the USCG. In Maryland alone, I have an Academy classmate and know of two other USCG pilots keeping Erickson’s legacy alive by flying MEDIVACs for the Maryland State Police. I am sure there are many more flying for other organizations nationwide.”
US Coast Guard
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Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a
CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long
career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM
instructor for Oregon Aero.
He may be contacted at email@example.com