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Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe / Erickson S-64 Skycrane Heavy-Lift Cargo / Firefighting Helicopter (1962)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 11/18/2015

The unique Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane heavy-lift helicopter also spawned a military form in the CH-54 Tarhe for the United States Army.

The original Sikorsky S-60 proved itself as a heavy-lift helicopter through its sole example completed. This model was born from the established CH-47 "Mojave" (detailed elsewhere on this site) of the United States military and used as the basis for the dimensionally larger S-64 "Skycrane" heavy-lift series. The large helicopter - easily identifiable by its largely missing fuselage section - has seen consistent service in the civilian market since introduction in the 1960s. It served as the base design for the military-minded CH-54 "Tarhe" line as well. A prototype went airborne for the first time on May 9th, 1962 and, in 1992, production rights for the series was obtained by Erickson Air-Crane which has taken on manufacture of the large helicopter from Sikorsky since.

Total production of S-64 units was 110 beginning with the original S-64 built in three examples. These were followed by six evaluation models for the United States Army as the S-64A. From that came the S-64B which was the civilian-minded version of the Army's CH-54A model and seven were produced. Under Erickson, the line was broadened to include the S-64E and S-64F model marks, these becoming upgraded forms of the CH-54A and CH-54B respectively - the F-model introducing Pratt & Whitney JFTD12-5A series engines.

Civilian market operators of the S-64 are found in Italy, South Korea and the United States. Its primary role is in firefighting where its unique configuration allows the helicopter to carry a considerable water load over uneven terrain, dropping its contents onto raging wildfires with the hope of putting the fire source out.

Production of the military-minded Tarhe yielded 105 total units of its own beginning with the six YCH-54A pre-production models. These were followed by the CH-54A production form which fitted 2 x PW T73-P-1 series turboshaft engines of 4,500 horsepower and 54 examples were built to the standard. The CH-54B saw an increase in overall weight as well as a twin-wheeled undercarriage introduced while power was now served through PW T73-P799 turboshaft engines of 4,800 horsepower. 37 examples were manufactured.

Beyond its service with the United States Army, the CH-54 has been featured by the NASA service of the United States for various program work. In military use, the Tarhe has hauled all manner of heavy objects - from oversized bombs and attack helicopters to combat tanks and cargo containers. A special version even featured skies as its undercarriage.

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Specifications for the
Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe / Erickson S-64 Skycrane
Heavy-Lift Cargo / Firefighting Helicopter

Focus Model: Sikorsky CH-54B Tarhe
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Sikorsky Aircraft / Erickson Air-Crane - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1962
Production Total: 215

Crew: 3

Length: 88.48 ft (26.97 m)
Width: 72.01 ft (21.95 m)
Height: 25.43ft (7.75 m)
Weight (Empty): 19,798 lb (8,980 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 46,297 lb (21,000 kg)

Powerplant: 2 x Pratt & Whitney T73-P-700 turboshaft engines developing 4,800 shaft horsepower each powering a six-blade main rotor and a four-blade tail rotor.

Maximum Speed: 149 mph (240 kmh; 130 kts)
Maximum Range: 230 miles (370 km)
Service Ceiling: 18,373 ft (5,600 m; 3.5 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 1,330 feet-per-minute (405 m/min)

Hardpoints: 0
Armament Suite:

YCH-54A - Six Pre-Production Aircraft

CH-54A - Initial Production Model; fitted with 2 x T-73-P1 series turboshaft engines of 4,500 shaft horsepower; 54 examples produced.

CH-54B - Second Production Model; increased weight; based on the CH-54A; fitted with 2 x T-73-P700 turboshaft engines of 4,800 shaft horsepower; 29 examples produced.

S-64 "Skycrane" - Civilian Variant of the US Army CH-54 Tarhe; 3 examples produced.

S-64A - Evaluation Models for the US Army; 6 examples delivered.

S-64E - Civilian Version based on the CH-54A production model for the US Army; 7 examples produced.

S-64 "Aircrane" - Current Civilian Production Form.

S-64E - Upgraded CH-54A production models; single new-build example.

S-64F - UPgraded CH-54B production models; fitted with 2 x Pratt & Whitney JFTD12-5A series engines.

Italy; South Korea; United States