Celebrating Heroes, Celebrating Flight at Wright Memorial

Commandant of the US Coast Guard Admiral Zukunft.
Commandant of the US Coast Guard Admiral Zukunft.

We had one of the best Celebrations of Flight at the Wright Brothers Memorial we’ve had in a while.

The annual event held on December 17, marking the date of the Wright Brothers first flight, is held a the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.

It’s a time to recall the heroes of flight. This year the honorees were the first two Coast Guard helicopter pilots, Captain Erikson and Commander Graham.

Erikson graduated first in 1940s and Graham soon after in 1943. Both were personally trained by helicopter pioneer Igor Sikorsky.

How and what a helicopter could do was a blank slate at that time and almost everything we now take for granted that rotary wing aircraft can do was done first by Erikson and Graham.

Telling their story was Commandant of the US Coast Guard Admiral Zukunft.

Mixing humor with good story telling, he laid out both what Erikson and Graham accomplished and how it has led to the modern use of helicopters.

Frank Erikson was the first person to use a helicopter to pull someone from the sea using a hoist. That first hoist, Admiral Zukunft mentioned was a tow truck hoist.

He brought that into the present, talking about the many lives the Coast Guard has saved, describing the sound of the whirr of the helicopter as the sound of God to someone being rescued at sea.

As it turns out, the Outer Banks did figure in some of the helicopter firsts. The first aerial delivery of mail by a helicopter was flown by Graham, flying mail from Elizabeth City to Hatteras.

Perhaps more significantly, Commander Graham flew the first night helicopter medical evacuation in December of 1947, flying a patient from Cape Hatteras to the hospital in Elizabeth City. According to his notes, he flew along the coast, using the bioluminescence of the breaking waves until he could see the lights of Elizabeth City.

This really was one of the more interesting Celebrations of Flight. It was a bit disappointing that the hoped for flyover of Coast Guard aircraft could not be accomplished.

The weather at the Wright Brothers Memorial was fine, but at Elizabeth City where the aircraft was stationed it was foggy with a very low ceiling. One twin engine Coast Guard plane did make the flight, but we didn’t see any others.

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