Official portraits of Commander Graham and Captain Erikson.
The only thing missing from this year’s Celebration of Flight was the flyover. The weather at the Wright Brothers Memorial was fine for flight—a little windy but not too bad, but the aircraft scheduled to overfly the Wright Brothers Monument were Coast Guard airplanes and helicopters and they were grounded by fog and low clouds.
One plane finally did make to the Monument, an hour after the 10:35 time marking when the Wright Brothers first flight, but there was at least an aircraft to mark the day.
The celebration itself, was one of the best in years.
The two pilots being inducted into the Paul Garber First Flight Shrine were Coast Guard Captain Frank Erikson and Commander Stewart Graham—the first two helicopter pilots in the service.
What really helped make this a special presentation this year was Admiral Zukunft, Commandant US Coast Guard, the keynote speaker.
Mixing humor with fact he created a timeline from the efforts of Erikson and Graham to the role the Coast Guard plays today in the world.
Admiral Zukunft described the first time anyone lifted a victim from the sea to a helicopter, a technique Captain Erikson developed. Noting, because no one had ever done it before, there was no equipment available, he said, “They actually used a … tow truck hoist for that first hoist.”
It was also Erikson and Graham that pioneered many of the security applications that rotary wing aircraft routinely perform today. The were the first to show sonar could be used from a helicopter; in 1944 Graham was the first person to takeoff and land a helicopter on a ship at sea.
Between the two of them, they trained the entire first classes of helicopter pilots for the United States and British militaries immediately after WWII, leading Admiral Zukunft to say, “They were truly the fathers of the military use of rotary wing aircraft.”
The Centennial of Flight is about honoring heroes and this year, the First Flight Society who selects the honorees got it right.