Helicopters Magazine

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Twirly Bird founder at Heli-Expo

February 22, 2011  By Carey Fredericks

Feb. 22, 2011, Dallas, Tx. - Commander Stewart Ross Graham, a Founding Member of Twirly Birds, will be the honored guest during the annual meeting of the Twirly Birds to be held during the HAI Heli-Expo at the Orlando Florida Rosen Centre Hotel, Signature Room 1, on Sunday, 6 March beginning at 1700 hours.  Commander Graham, USCG, (Ret.) first soloed in a helicopter in 1943 and signed the original membership roll helping form Twirly Birds in 1945.

 Graham is credited with countless aviation firsts, awards, designations, and multiple helicopter records during the early years of helicopter evolution.  He is also largely responsible for helping develop the helicopter into the true multi-mission aircraft that it is today.

The 24 year U.S. Coast Guard career of Commander Graham began in 1937 as a surfman, later earning his wings on 5 SEP 1941 as a naval aviation pilot (airplane).  After witnessing a helicopter demonstration by Dr. Igor Sikorsky, Graham requested helicopter flight training.  He soloed in a helicopter after only three and a half hours of helicopter experience and was designated as Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot Number 2 — having received his instruction from Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot Number 1, Captain Frank Erickson.    Graham later wrote, "It was an extraordinary way to graduate; no written test, no diploma and no curriculum to follow thereafter.  Dr. Igor Sikorsky  identified those men who soloed at his factory as pioneers.  As such, I was set free to penetrate the unknown, with an unleashed, unreliable underpowered vibrating revolutionary type of flying machine." 

Graham played a leading role during one of the world’s first documented helicopter rescues in Gander, Newfoundland on 18 SEP 1946 after a Sabena DC-4 crashed on a hillside 20 miles southeast of Gander.  The rescue was dubbed the “Miracle of Gander” and resulted in the rescue of 18 survivors from the ill fated airliner.   Commander Graham and other pilots involved in the rescue were awarded the Air Medal and the Belgian “Knight of the Order Leopold” medal.  The rescue also ensured a permanent place for helicopters in the Coast Guard’s aviation inventory.

Commander Graham is credited with many helicopter achievements such as; the first night offshore helicopter hoist rescue over the Gulf of Mexico in 1955, and was also instrumental in developing techniques for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) that are still in use today by Naval ASW squadrons around the world.  Graham successfully completed the first night helicopter medical evacuation flight when he flew a patient in North Carolina from Cape Hatteras to Elizabeth City, using the phosphorescence from the waves as they washed up on the beach as a navigation aid until he spotted the lights of Elizabeth City in December 1947. He also served as the first helicopter test pilot at the U.S. Navy Patuxent River Flight Test Center.


CDR Graham received the Twirly Birds Les Morris lifetime achievement award in 1990 and was inducted into the Coast Guard Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995.


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