Former Naples resident inducted into Flight Shrine Memorial

Ross Graham was in attendance when the portrait of his father, Stewart, was unveiled as part of the Flight Shrine induction.

Ross Graham was in attendance when the portrait of his father, Stewart, was unveiled as part of the Flight Shrine induction.

The late Commander Stewart Ross Graham Sr., a resident of Naples from 1960 to 2016, was inducted into the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine at Wright Brothers National Memorial on Dec. 17.

The induction was part of the 113th Wright Brothers Anniversary of Powered Flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

In 1966, the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association was rekindled as the newly-incorporated First Flight Society. A keystone of the Society’s work today is the close support it offers the National Park Service at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

The Society established the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine, a portrait gallery that surrounds the Wright Flyer reproduction displayed in the Park’s visitor center at the Memorial. The Shrine is named for Paul E. Garber, the first director of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.  The Shrine honors those individuals and groups that have achieved significant “firsts” in aviation’s development.

A new member of the First Flight Shrine has been inducted during Dec. 17 ceremonies every year since 1966 and is honored with the unveiling of their portrait.

Commander Graham (USCG Helicopter Pilot #2) joined Captain Frank A. Erikson (USCG Helicopter Pilot #1) as 2016 inductees.

Commander Graham passed away at the age of 98 on Aug. 13, 2016.

His son, Ross Graham of Naples, attended the induction ceremony.

“Both were true U.S. Coast Guard pioneers in helicopter operations and in its humanitarian mission of helicopter rescue and lifesaving,” according to the induction brochure.

Stewart Graham joined the Coast Guard in 1937 as a surfman. His interest in aviation developed quickly and he entering flight training, earning his wings in September 1941 as a naval aviation pilot. He then flew seaplanes and amphibians on wartime anti-submarine patrols, but was “awestruck” when he witnessed a demonstration of the helicopter by rotary-wing pioneer Dr. Igor Sikorsky. He quickly requested training on this new aircraft, and graduated from helicopter flight training in 1943. Graham was designated Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot #2. He then embarked on a remarkable career as rotary-wing instructor.

Stew’s pioneering efforts in helicopter resulted in the rescue of thousands of people in distress around the globe over the past 70 years. He helped prove the value of the helicopter as a revolutionary aircraft through his own imagination, tenacity and exceptional skills.

Both Graham and Erickson played an instrumental role in one of the earliest rescue missions undertaken by helicopters in the “Miracle of Gander” rescue. With 37 passengers and seven crewmembers, a Sabena Airlines DC-4 had crashed in a remote location when approaching the airport at Gander Island, Newfoundland. Graham supervised the disassembly, transport and reassembly of a HNS helicopter for the rescue mission in Gander. The Coast Guardsmen rescued 18 survivors, demonstrating the usefulness of the new helicopters in saving lives in remote locations, and securing a permanent place for rotary-winged aircraft in the Coast Guard’s flight line.

Graham was the pilot for the first “air mail” to the remote Outer Banks. He also set a record in the area when he completed the first night helicopter medical evacuation flight, flying a patient from Cape Hatteras to Elizabeth City at night under adverse conditions, having to fly at low altitude along the shoreline and using the phosphorescence from the waves as they washed up on the beach as a navigation guide until he saw lights in Elizabeth City.

Graham taught Navy helicopter pilots and crewmembers the techniques he had pioneered while testing the dipping sonar. He flew the first night hoist pickup in a rescue mission in the Gulf of Mexico, and provided air coverage for the King and Queen of England when they were in the United States.

Commander Graham was recognized for his contribution to aviation in the Coast Guard Aviation Hall of Honors in 1995, and in the U.S. Naval Aviation Hall of Honor in 2004. During his career, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Air Medals, knighthood by the Belgium government, and numerous other awards for helicopter development.

“The First Flight Society is honored to add the portraits and legacies of Captain Frank Arthur Erickson and Commander Stewart Ross Graham in its Shrine of aviation greats,” the induction brochure stated.

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