~ "

Igor Sikorsky and the first prototype electric rescue hoist in a 1944 demonstration at Floyd Benne" Field. Piloting the Sikorsky HNS-l was USCG Cmdr Frank Erickson-father of the concept of the rescue hoist.

~ ~

Developing the missing link-

how the rescue hoist was born
How wartime innovation and the dreams of a few men made the helicopter's lifesaving role possible.
By Sergei Sikorsky
Contributing Writer copters from the armed forces and the National Guard. Operating from demolished airfields in and around New Orleans LA, the helicopter aircrews and the often unsung service crews performed maintenance miracles while living under the most primitive conditions. At the peak of the rescue operations, more than 400 helicopters were involved. Hovering over halfsubmerged homes, helicopter crewmen were lowered onto the slippery roofs by the rescue hoist. Often they would have to chop holes in the roof to rescue people trapped in the attic by high water. Despite the hazards posed by power lines, broken telephone poles and half-destroyed trees, hovering at night using night vision goggles, the helicopter crews saved an estimated 30,000 people in the hardest-hit areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. Thousands more were supplied with drinking water, food and ice while waiting to be evacuated in small boats. Interestingly, much of the rescue technology displayed on TV screens during Katrina was developed dur-

inland from the Gulf Coast Hurricane late last year,Katrina moved leaving a trail of death and destruction, the first call once again was "Send in the hel icopters!" Among the first to arrive were the US Coast Guard (USCG) helicopters, which had been prepositioned just outside the predicted track of the storm. They were joined by heli-


116 PROFESSIONAL PILOT / February 2006

several ideas were being explored. The helicopter was not considered to be of use in the Battle for the North Atlantic-hence not worth funding. 1943.'J. US Army Air Force (USAAF) Lt Carter Harman flew his YR4 helicopter deep into Japaneseheld territory 4 times to rescue the survivors of an American medevac aircraft which had crashed in the Burmese jungle. A link defined As details of the Burma rescue reached Floyd Bennett. By May. somewhat underpowered HNS-1 (USN's R4) trainer. and the problem of trying to sell that vision to his peers. British.. Their problem was that senior US Navy (USN) and USCG officers were fighting the German submarine threat. with some 20 YR4 Hoverflies already on order. 1944 and the pilot is Cmdr Frank Erickson. In the early morning of Jan 3. Erickson had his service career destroyed by his peers. The date is Aug 15. along with several hand-picked USCG aircraft mechanics. The hel icopter soon began its long history of saving lives. Harman used a village rice paddy as a landing field. The blast was so powerful that it woke the team members at Floyd Bennett. This writer had the honor of serving under him as a helicopter mechanic during WWII. On Dec 1. also assigned to the helicopter program. =-. Like an earlier "maverick" aviator. During the months that followed. Commander Erickson successfully flew critically-needed blood plasma to a Sandy Hook hospital treating the Turner survivors. like Mitchell. Erickson and a few fellow officers in the so-called "helicopter mafia" started building support for a USCG helicopter program. the New York Times said. Newlypromoted Commander Erickson was designated to lead the base. He had visited the Sikorsky factory in Jun 1942. Longrange solutions would have to wait PROFESSIONAL PilOT / February 2006 117 Turning the first corner In early 1943. Despite the near-lethal zero-zero weather. the destroyer USS Turner blew up off Sandy Hook NJ.!fed a small office at the Sikorsky factory with 3 newly-arrived British pilots. 1944. In its Jan 6 editorial. Note the floating "horse-collar" and seat-type sling used in early versions of the rescue hoist. Lt Commander Frank Erickson. the world's first helicopter training base was formally activated at Coast Guard Air Station (CGAS) Brooklyn-otherwise Floyd Bennett Field. was a "missing link"-a winch or hoist that could lift a man from land or water. the helicopter mafia gained credibility when the . US Army Col "Billy" Mitchell." In Apr 1944. they were short-range solutions that could be tested on the light. Erickson was an early convert to the helicopter. Rescuee's name is unknown. Basically. An idea struck him. some 20 miles away. The weather was terrible-winds were gusting to 30 mph.'. What the helicopter needed. "Nothing can dim the future of a machine which can take in its stride weather conditions such as those that prevailed in New York on Monday. In addition. And he knew that the Army had just taken delivery of the larger. 2-place XR4 and had placed an order for 30 more for service trials.--==~~~ Rescue hoist training demonstration at Floyd Bennett Field. and watched a flight demonstration of the small VS300. Erickson studied the mission. literally. This writer was one of them. And. contracts had already been issued to Sikorsky to design 2 larger helicopters-the 450-hp XR5 and the 240-hp XR6. Erickson had the uncomfortable gift of looking into the future. A few draftees-former Sikorsky employees with prior helicopter experience-were culled from the ranks and reassigned to the base. Reluctantly. senior USN and USCG officers agreed that USCG should establish a Helicopter Test and Development Unit (HTDU) for evaluation purposes. and Graham and the British pilots moved out of the Sikorsky plant to Floyd Bennett. and driving snow and sleet had closed all the New York area airports. signed an order for 200 R5s and opened negotiations for another 800 R6s. They sh. with Igor Sikorsky at the controls. ~ ~~~~~~~. where they were transferred to waiting aircraft and flown out to India. flying out the 4 men one at a time to a secret airstrip. And in Jun 1943 Lt Commander Erickson and Lt Stewart Graham were sent to the Sikorsky factory for flight training.)~~ -~-"'~"'-"f"I 't:c~'* ~ - ing WWII by a visionary USCG aviator. and into the cabin of a helicopter. The 4 survivors hid by day and moved by night to the safety of a friendly native village.

Vickers' Doe and Henry Laher arrived with the 2 hydraulic pumps and associated hardware. After he had reviewed the British and American airmen. and the parachute shop created various slings and "horse collar" harnesses. upper edge. There was no lack of ideas. Development continued during July. USCG Aviation Mechanic Sergei Sikorsky hangs below a Sikorsky HNS-l. the demonstration converted Chief of . Most "manned" testing was done over the water. allowing easier access for the person being rescued. picked up the 4 men one at a time. while watching the training. The hoist was then limited to 170 Ib. Gregory was the US Army's senior rotary-wing test pilot. Igor Sikorsky visited the USCG facility on Aug 14. a series of demonstrations was flown for him. But. suggested that Erickson contact the Vickers Hydraulic Company. again piloted by Cmdr Frank Erickson. just off the seaplane ramp. 1944. Another unexpected problem was the magnetic brake. lighter members of the base. The Berry-Lubben team went to work. mounted the first experimental hoist on HNS-1 BuAer No 39040. and directly responsible for all its helicopter programs. they removed the old hoist. Robert Barry of the Sperry Gyro Company. Doe agreed to del iver 2 modified Vickers hoist pumps. Another early demonstration of the rescue hoist. while many of the other concepts that were developed are sti II in use today. a small team of USCG aviation mechanics. rebuilt it with the Vickers hydraulic pump and had it ready for test on 39040 the next morning. Some of them (fortunately) stayed as ideas. For roughly 3 hours. USAAF Col H F Gregory visited the base to familiarize himself with its activities.5 ft per see. and scores of civil and military government representatives were put aboard a flotilla of boats to watch. As a result. Enter the hydraulic pump On Sep 23. The key part of the rig was a 12volt rotary actuator that had once been part of a bomb hoist. helicopter 040 took off from a platform on one of the ships." Shortly afterwards. A small boat put out 4 "coasties" in 2 life rafts. The improved hoist could not have come at a better moment. under the direction of Machinist Mates Oliver Berry and George Lubben. braced to the landing gear. Literally overnight. at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn NY on Jul 30. so that it floated semi-submerged. The results were spectacular. the assembled audience watched aircraft dropping rescue teams by parachute into the water and demonstrations of large and small inflatable life rafts and other survival gear. A series of hovers and forward flights were made. Sikorsky was also shown a prototype rescue hoist basket. Last on the program was the helicopter. while gradually increasing the weight hanging at the end of the boom. The outer end of the boom was near the top of the copilot's doorway. That same month. which had a tendency to slip when lifting heavier loads. more importantly. the team fixed a boom to the side of the helicopter. the helicopter captured the majority of the headlines in the press the following day.•. Piloted by Lt Graham. just . promising they would lift 400 Ib at 2. about 12 inches outboard. After scouring local junkyards for parts. He too was intrigued by the concept of a rescue hoist and began to follow its progress . Sikorsky was particularly interested in the hoist. USN had scheduled a major air-sea rescue demonstration off Manasquan NJ on Oct 2. Pilot training was generally done with dummy weights. he returned with Vickers Representative Tom Doe. many call it the "Erickson Basket. To Erickson's delight. it was determined that a 200-lb weight would not pose problems in CG or lateral control authority. A few days later. such as husky USN comU8 PROFESSIONAL PILOT / February 2006 manders. more powerful helicopters expected in a year or two. The first tests showed a problem-the 1000: 1 gear ratio resulted in a painfully slow hoist speed. In Jun 1944. flew 1/4 mile to the rafts. who was aware of a small Vickers pump that might work. Their inflatable life vests were equipped with special harnesses to hook to the hoist cable. If this writer's memory is correct. to minimize injury in case of brake malfunction or sling failurewhich happened more than once. Large cork floats were fixed near the. for the larger. The first rescue hoist was an exercise in low-budget improvisation. Today. which made life more interesting for the younger. and had them all back on deck in less than 10 minutes.large enough to carry a seated man. Not only could it lift a heavier load-the higher hoist speed allowed the helicopter to accelerate from hover to best climb speed much faster. 1945. Erickson raised him carefully in the hoist to an altitude of about 12 feet. After examining the hoist. realizing its potential.

joined United Aircraft (later United Technologies) in 1951 and retired from Sikorsky Aircraft as vp special projects in 1992. Shortly afterwards." but now the HTDU. too. That summer. In the fall. started at Floyd Bennett in 1945. rather than the owners. Much later. but the timing was premature. improved hydraulic hoist. Germany surrendered. despite a num90 PROFESSIONAL PILOT / February 2006 ber of rides in the covered Stokes litter. Col Gregory ordered several hoists from the Vickers Company. Erickson had the helicopter reassigned to CGAS St Petersburg in Florida. a team member suggested a hinged cover for the litter "to keep the patient warm" in flight. the first rescue of civilians by a hoistequipped helicopter. 1945 saw what is believed to be . and the school closed. it had a small window in the top. Graham proved the concept of helicopter antisubmarine warfare in a series of tests off Block Island NY. but found that rotor downwash from the hovering helicopter tended to rotate the litter.Nov 29. Undaunted. Today he is a Phoenix AZ-based aviation consultant for several companies. and Erickson himself. Erickson retired as a commander and became a helicopter test pilot. I can clearly remember the feeling of floating on the water in a one-man life raft. this writer never felt comfortable in the casket. The first was to test the helicopter as a crop sprayer-the objective being to fight malaria around US bases in Africa and Asia. Slip lines were then used to align the litter with the helicopter while it was being hoisted. Much more sonar development would follow before it became viable. Another program. By then. the USCG would recognize him by naming a training facility at Mobile AL-Erickson Hall-after him. After the Manasquan demonstration. cropdusting by helicopter is a worldwide industry. The Army's hoists were ready in late Oct 1944. CGAS Brooklyn began to reduce manpower as personnel became eligible for discharge and return to civilian life. but the mosquitoes had gone south for the winter. and today. Berry designed the installation of a 30-gallon tank. hooking up to a cable. The tests were highly successful. saw the modification of an HOS-1 (USN's R6) to carry a prototype sonar installation. the unit had been reduced to 3 hel icopters and a handfu I of "rotorheads" who would continue the fight. this writer also returned to civilian life. The only thing one saw through the window was the rotor head-as long as it was turning. Eventually. ~ Sergei Sikorsky. In the spring of 1945. . A coffinlike contraption. just before Erickson and the HTDU moved to CGAS EI(zabeth City in North Carolina. Engi neers from Wright Field. A limited number of helicopters remained under Erickson's command. off Fairfield C1 Naval Operations Admiral Ramsey from a skeptic to a supporter of the hel icopter. In Feb 1946. as well as an active freelance writer and historian. things began to change. both during tests and later demonstrations. Commander Erickson was relieved of his command of the air station. Erickson's replacement was a fixed-wing officer who was convinced that the future of Coast Guard aviation lay in large flying boats. and Erickson sent Chief Petty Officer Leo Bryzicki to Wright Field to assist in the first installation of the hoist in one of USAAF's R4s. However. one presumed that all was well. and the war was over. spray booms and associated plumbing. Two special projects that Erickson preserved deserve mention. Graham later retired as a commander. The rig was ready by Nov 1945. The team tried hoisting a "Stokes" litter. the sea got further away and that friendly cabin door drew closer. A Sikorsky YR5 flown by Sikorsky Chief Pilot D D "Jim" Viner and USAAF Pilot Capt J Beighle picked up 2 men trapped on an oil barge that had been driven onto Penfield Reef. for "special projects. but the seed had been planted. His vision of converting the USCG to helicopters was on target. Sikorsky Aircraft and the Kellett Aircraft Company visited Floyd Bennett Field to study the new. were mere "guests" at the air station. son of the late Igor Sikorsky. World War II was clearly coming to an end-the last class for helicopter pilots and mechanics finished training in Feb 1945. after founding and leading for several years the prestigious Helicopter Test Pilots School at Naval Air Test Center Patuxent River in Maryland. In May 1945. Some 60 years on. and then being lifted up as the engine noise and airspeed increased. Refining the hoist and sling Development of the rescue hoist and accessory slings continued through 1944. followed by Japan in August.