While some helicopters are designed for speed, others are built simply to lift a lot of weight. Perhaps the best example is the Erickson S64 Aircrane. The S-64 was the first helicopter built as a flying crane with an aft-facing pilot station that allows the pilot to directly view the load being carried and fully control the aircraft during precision operations. This unique helicopter was certified in 1969 and originally manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft as the S-64A Skycrane. In 1992, Erickson purchased the type certificate to the Sikorsky S-64E and S-64F models, and the aircraft designation was changed to the S-64 Aircrane. Today, Erickson owns and operates a fleet of 18 Aircranes throughout the world.
The Aircrane’s rotor system consists of a six-blade fully articulated main rotor and a four-blade tail rotor. The S-64E is powered by two Pratt and Whitney turbine engines generating a combined maximum takeoff rating of 9,000 shp, giving the S-64E model an external load lift capacity of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kg) at sea level. The S-64F features a strengthened airframe, a rotor system with longer chord length, and two Pratt and Whitney engines rated at 9,600 shp which gives the S-64F model an external load capacity of 25,000 pounds (11,340 kg) at sea level.
Initially, the Aircrane’s civilian mission centered on timber harvesting and power line construction; however it has been used in many areas of heavy lift construction. For example, installing ski lifts, air-conditioning systems, and delicate steel artwork.
One of the most publicized jobs involved removing and replacing the Statue of Freedom, which sits atop the United States Capitol dome in Washington D.C. Using its precision maneuvering capability the Aircrane lifted the statue off of its pedestal on May 9, 1993, and placed it back after much needed renovation on October 23, 1993. Another high-profile project was the construction of the CN Tower in Ontario, Canada. In 1975, the Aircrane transported and placed the seven-ton steel sections that made up the antenna and weather metering systems, on at that time what was the world’s tallest freestanding structure, at an altitude of more than 1,850 feet.
In 1992 Erickson created the Helitanker firefighting system with a 2,650-gallon tank that can spray water, foam mix, or fire retardant. Two snorkel attachments take 45 seconds or less to fill up from any freshwater or saltwater source at least 18 inches deep. In 1997 the FAA certified a horizontal monitor water cannon attachment to fight high rise structure fires in congested urban areas. The cannon uses aircraft hydraulic power to propel a focused stream of water or foam mix up to 150 feet at a rate of up to 300 gallons per minute. The helicopter has now become a valuable firefighting tool in California and other parts of the world.
See the AOPA Pilot story on the Sikorsky Skycrane, “Dancing with Lucille.”