The Very First US Naval Helicopters and Their Coast Guard Pilot

CDR Frank Erickson, USCG, the first US Naval Aviation helicopter pilot.

I am sharing a post written by Coast Guard Aviator, Capt. Sean M. Cross, that appeared on his Facebook Page. Captain Cross’s Facebook page provides daily stories about Coast Guard aviation history. I have a bit of a personal connection, because his dad, former Vice Commandant, VAdm. Terry M. Cross, USCG (ret.), served with me, on my first active duty station, USCGC McCulloch. Even then, it was clear he was a standout.


TODAY IN COAST GUARD AVIATION HISTORY – 03 SEPTEMBER 1943: On 3 September, the U.S. Navy Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics requested that Coast Guard CDR Frank Erickson, who was assigned to the Sikorsky Factory in Bridgeport, CT, prepare a weekly report for the Bureau outlining the progress made on various model helicopters, estimates of completion, trial and delivery dates; and in addition, such other technical information determined from time to time which had or may have a bearing on present or future operations of this type aircraft.
[Some excerpts from “1943: Coast Guard Assigned the Sea-going Development of the Helicopter” on the Coast Guard Aviation History website] This arrangement came about because U.S. Navy CDR Charles Booth, the naval aviator in the initial helicopter training class at Sikorsky, was involved in moving the Navy’s flight test facility from NAS Anacostia to the Naval Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland and as a result had not followed through on his qualification. Erickson thus remained the only naval aviator qualified in the helicopter. Hence, in the summer of 1943 Erickson had taken charge of the Navy’s helicopter development program.
Erickson submitted his first report on 18 September. It noted that the YR-4s for the joint evaluation program were on schedule. The two British helicopters had been completed but had not yet been delivered because of rotor problems. He further stated the problems were being addressed. On 25 September a YR-4A was released to the British. On October 16, 1943 – the U.S. Navy accepted its first helicopter, a Sikorsky YR-4B, Navy designation XHNS-1, BuNo 46445, at Bridgeport, Connecticut. However, and this is rich, Coast Guard LCDR Frank Erickson, CGA ’31 flew the one-hour acceptance test flight because the Navy had no helicopter pilots. I will admit – they were pretty busy fighting WWII and winning.
Regardless, the Navy celebrates 16 October as the Birthday of Navy Helicopter Aviation^^^. CDR Charles T. Booth, USN, went to Bridgeport to qualify as a helicopter pilot and to fly the XHNS-1 to the Naval Air Test Center (NATC), NAS Patuxent River, MD. CDR Booth was the first U.S. Navy Officer to become qualified to fly helicopters.
With the acceptance of two additional helicopters at the end of October 1943, the Sikorsky facilities became very crowded. Erickson sought to transfer all operation to Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn at Floyd Bennett Field. The Chief of Naval Operations approved and designated the Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn as the Helicopter Training and Development Base. On 20 November, LCDR John Miller, USN and LTJG Stewart Graham, USCG completed flight training. Graham received Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot Designation Number Two.
[NOTE: the Coast Guard celebrates this anniversary on 15 June 1943 when LCDR Erickson was designated Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot #1 at the Sikorsky Aircraft plant]

1 thought on “The Very First US Naval Helicopters and Their Coast Guard Pilot

  1. Pingback: 18 September 1946, Crash of Sabina DC-4 and Rescue of Survivors | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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