The December 17 National Park Service ceremonies commemorating the Wright Brothers first flight are usually pretty staid affairs. This year, though, promises to be a little bit different.
In conjunction with the anniversary of flight, the First Flight Society inducts a nominee or nominees into the First Flight Shrine, a wall of fame that remembers aviators who have contributed to our ability to fly.
The inductees this year are Captain Frank Erickson and Commodore Stewart Graham of the US Coast Guard. The pilots were the first to be awarded Coast Guard helicopter pilot designations.
Every time a helicopter flies a rescue mission Erickson and Graham are the people to thank. In 1943 when they earned their helicopter pilot wings from Igor Sikorsky rotary wing aircraft were considered an unproven oddity of flight.
Their exploits changed the way the world saw helicopters.
On September 18, 1946 an airliner crashed approaching Gander Airbase in Newfoundland. Erickson and Graham loaded helicopters into transport planes, flew to Gander and used the helicopters to rescue 18 survivors, some of whom were so badly injured that they had to be flown out in stretchers—something that had never been done by a helicopter before.
The Gander mission was the first time a helicopter had been used to effect a rescue in a remote location.
Although the Gander rescue was the first of its kind, Erickson and Graham had a number of other helicopter firsts under their belt.
They demonstrated that a helicopter could successfully rescue people at sea and take off and land from the deck of a ship. In addition to that Erickson trained over 250 pilots in the US and Great Britain.
The keynote speaker for the Centennial of Flight will be Admiral Paul Zukunft, the 25th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The flyover this year will feature only Coast Guard aircraft.
Ceremonies begin at 9:00 a.m. at the Wright Brothers Monument.