The largest, most powerful and arguably most impressive helicopter ever made. Originally designed for the Army and one of the last machines Igor Sikorsky was personally involved with. If you have anything big, and I mean Sherman tank big, to move someplace too high for a regular crane or too remote and inaccessible for a truck, you need one of these bad boys.

Known as the CH-54 Tarhe in military trim and the S-64 when in civvies, the Skycrane was first flown for the military in 1962 and saw lots of action during the Viet Nam War. Designed to be a versatile beast of burden the S-64 looks like a splay legged dragonfly: crew capsule up front, a long boom flanked by outrigger landing gear. It has space under its almost ninety foot length for field hospitals, artillery pieces, large "blockbuster" bombs, downed aircraft (recovered 380 of them in Viet Nam), machinery, troop transport pods with capacity for 100, containers from ships that could not come to shore as there were no deep harbors in Viet Nam and other Skycranes. The awesome lifting power of the two Pratt and Whitney T73-P-1 turboshaft engines provide 4,500 shaft horsepower (3,356 kilowatts) each allowing the S-64 to lift as much as 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) (picture three african elephants). Later versions with improved structural rigidity and more powerful engines lifted almost double that weight.

In its civilian incarnation, the Skycrane is used for logging operations, erecting long haul power transmission towers in remote areas, lifting machinery like HVAC systems to high rise rooftops, fighting forest fires, hydro seeding on a massive scale, ski lift construction, oil exploration, drilling and support, etc. In 1967 tests were even conducted in Los Angeles of the future that never was Budd XB-1 Skylounge pod that was supposed to whisk travelers from airport to airport in a self-contained salon atmosphere.

Ultimately, the modular design of the S-64 doomed it as you always had to configure it for every mission which turned out to be a pain in the ass. The military version has been superseded by the Boeing Chinook CH-47 which is a two rotor transport/crane hybrid though the CH-54 was flown by the National Guard into the early 1990s. A company by the name of Ericson Air-Crane operates most of the S-64 aircraft still in civilian service including most of the surviving military CH-54s.

My own personal encounter with the Skycrane was totally unexpected and since I am all boy, a magical moment. I was driving to work early one weekend morning in Boston and felt the thump of something vibrating against my car window as I stopped for the light near the Mother Church. There it was, parked near the reflecting pool, its six rotor blades thumping in the early morning crisp air with a huge HVAC unit under it. I stopped at the side of the road and waited until it rose majestically in a maelstrom of tossed debris, delivered its payload to the roof of a nearby hotel and then slowly sailed into the rising sun.

  • Rotor Diameter: 21.95 m (72 ft)
  • Length: 26.97 m (88 ft 6 in) rotors turning
  • Height: 7.75 m (25 ft 5 in)
  • Weight: maximum take-off 21,319 kg (47,000 lb)
  • Powerplant: two 3579 kW (4,800 shp) Pratt & Whitney
  • T73-P-1 turboshaft engines
  • Max Speed: 169 km/h (105 mph)
  • Max Range: 370 km (230 miles)
  • Climb rate: 1,330 ft/min (405 m/min)
  • Ceiling: 18,330 ft (5,600 m)

Erickson Air Crane Company,,9/10/2004
Sikorsky S-64 Flying Crane (CH-54) Helicopter,, 9/10/2004

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