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