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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot Nelson, CN-020000-01, -20, -21, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC.


Your copy of the "Davis-Monthan Airfield Register" with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.


"Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936" is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.


See links for Nutt and Crumrine for other information about the Alaska flight.

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Born June 12, 1888 in Stockholm, Sweden, Erik Nelson landed at Tucson and signed the Register five times between 1929 and 1931. He had been a military aviator up until 1928 when he resigned from the Army and took a position with Boeing Aircraft Company. It is in this capacity that we find him at Tucson. For his five landings he flew Boeing aircraft NC397E (three times), NC842M and NC843M. Please follow the links to learn the fates of these airplanes.

He was educated through technical school in Stockholm. Being a roving type in his early years, he shipped out on a German sailing vessel, and consequently over the next five years sailed under almost every flag, in all parts of the world.

His family prevailed upon him to finish his education. He took up engineering and came to New York in 1909. He became a naturalized American November 16, 1914. He spent a short time in the automobile business (A.T. Demarest & Co.). He made one of the first transcontinental automobile trips from New York to San Francisco. By 1917 he worked for the Curtiss Aeroplane Co. and got interested in aircraft.

Erik H. Nelson, 1970

During WWI he enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps and was sent to Ellington Field, Houston, TX for flight training. He remained at Ellington as an instructor (aerobatics) and 2nd Lieutenant. Photograph, left, from a news article in his NASM biographical file (cited, left sidebar).

Nelson packed a lot of remarkable flying into his ten-year military career. In 1919 he carried a photographer into the Grand Canyon for the first aerial pictures there. During the summer he led a squadron on a 7,000 mile recruiting tour of 32 cities.

From July 15 to August 24, 1920 he served as engineering officer and navigator in the Army-sponsored New York to Nome, AK flight (his pilot was Clifford C. Nutt). A saga coming out of that mission was that he spent part of a five-hour leg over the mountains of British Columbia astride the fuselage of his airplane in order to balance nose-heaviness. Upon landing, the wheels struck holes and Nelson was tossed off on to the frozen ground. When the other pilots landed they found him busily attending the damaged landing gear. The aviators on the Alaska mission were awarded the Mackay Trophy for 1920 for their effort. An image of Nelson in a group photo taken around the time of the Alaska flight is available here on this site. The same photograph, from a different source, is displayed on the Group Photographs page.

Nelson was an experienced pilot of Douglas aircraft for the Army. Because of this, he was chosen to be in charge of engineering officer (mechanical upkeep of engines and airplanes) and pilot for one of the World Cruiser ships on the first around-the-world flight between April 6 and September 28, 1924.

Nelson was one of the proposers of the globe-girdling flight, and worked closely with Donald Douglas, Sr. in the design, testing and construction of the Douglas World Cruisers. He was pilot of the New Orleans, and one of two of the original starters to complete the 24,000-mile flight. Please follow the link to the around-the-world flight for an entire section of photos on this site devoted to the people (Nelson among them) and aircraft of the World Flight. Refer also to the book by Lane in the REFERENCES. The around-the-world team won the Mackay Trophy for 1924.

As well, Nelson won the Distinguished Service Medal, a number of foreign decorations and an honorary degree of Master of Science from Tufts University. He went on to become Air Corps representative at Santa Monica, CA, supervising the first Douglas production order of 75 observation craft for the Air Corps.

In 1928, with Boeing, he became vice president and later director. He was largely responsible for developing the Boeing Air Transport Company, which later became United Air Lines, and for sponsoring the Boeing Model 247 as the first low-wing, high-speed, retractable-gear, twin-engined airliner. Despite the hyphens, the 247 was quickly superceded by the Douglas DC-3.

On September 15, 1929 he flew from Cleveland, OH to New York flying a pair of Boeing 95s in formation with fellow Register pilot Bernard "Mique" Doolin. Doolin was a sketch artist who drew the image below of Nelson somewhere enroute, probably flying NC397E.

Bernard "Mique" Doolin Drawing of Erik Nelson, September 15, 1929 (Source: Site Visitor)
Bernard "Mique" Doolin Drawing of Erik Nelson, September 15, 1929 (Source: Site Visitor)

In an email, our photograph donor states, "Attached is Mr. Doolin's pen and ink drawing of Erik Nelson (THE SWEDE). It is from my collection of photos and other items given to me by Erik Nelson in the late 1960s before his death.  My father was his friend and attorney. Erik was my Godfather and visited our home in Yakima, Wa on several occasions. I remember him well. A tall, kind, and humble man who spoke with a wonderful accent. A real class act." Please direct your browser to Doolin's biography page for more context around this flight.

Nelson left Boeing in 1936 and organized an aircraft parts enterprise. He reentered military service in 1942 after advising the war production effort in 1940-41. He worked on a wide range of technical problems, and from 1943-45 he was associated with putting the first B-29s into service. He was promoted to Brigadier General on October 25, 1945 and retired from the service February 11, 1946.

After retirement he served as assistant to the president of Scandinavian Airlines System and advised on trans-Atlantic and transpolar air routes. He lived in Toppenish, WA, but moved to the Kona coast of Hawaii in 1955. Retired Brigadier General Erik Nelson passed away at Honolulu at age 81 May 9,1970.


Dossier 2.1.123

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 10/13/07 REVISED: 03/11/10, 09/08/16

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