Leading the S-64 aircraft into the future: introducing the S-64F+



•     S-64 Sikorsky Skycrane was becoming obsolete
•     Inadequate S-64 support and failing supply chains
•     Complicated pilot workload, and ocassionally obsolete analog instruments
•     Restricted use as a construction platform
•     Frequency of in-flight engine shutdown
•     Dangers associated with nighttime firefighting missions


  • Purchased Type Certificate from Sikorsky, assuming responsibility as the OEM of the S-64 Air Crane® aircraft
  • Reinvented supply chain and achieved economies of scales through optimized supply sources & new supplier agreements
  • Enhanced supportability and reliability of systems
  • Development of large scale in-house manufacturing capability to produce complex and scarce parts
  • 4,000 modifications made to the S-64


Future of Fire Initiative and introducing the newest model, the S-64F+


Erickson began operating the S-64 in 1971, leasing three Skycrane from Sikorsky Aircraft and using it to revolutionize the aerial harvesting of timber. By 1992, with a full fleet of S-64s moving towards obsolescence, Erickson realized it needed to gain control of the aircraft’s future and purchased the Type Certificate from Sikorsky, starting on its path to become one of the world’s leading specialists in legacy helicopter support.

As the OEM, Erickson effectively targeted systems, components, and materials that were scarce, unreliable or obsolete, gaining control of the supply chain as well as MRO and technical support, and optimizing its services to provide worldwide support to Air Crane® operators.

From a commercial fleet of six S-64s flown in 1992, and the CH-54 military versions beginning to phase out, the global fleet has grown to more than 40 Air Crane® helicopters, thanks mainly to Erickson’s continued investment in engineering upgrades, modifications, and manufacturing capabilities.

By recently adding the Type Certificate for the JFTD12-4A powerplant to its name, Erickson has further ensured the Air Crane® aircraft is sustainable, ready to provide 40 more years of reliable, cost-effective, and efficient operations.


Reinventing the Supply Chain

Faced with an inadequate S-64 supply chain, Erickson set up a strategically integrated support solution to ensure business continuity, giving operators the confidence that they can continue to operate their fleet. This process required the development of a large scale in-house manufacturing capability to produce complex and scarce parts as well as sub-assemblies, new supplier agreements with nimble partners, and optimized supply sources to achieve economies of scale.

Furthermore, Erickson used its design engineering resources to develop and in some cases, redesign products with increased reliability and lower costs, while at the same time maintaining the highest quality standards.

Bringing Instrumentation Up to Date

Beginning in the mid-90s, Erickson designed and updated avionics for the S-64, including glass cockpit displays for primary flight information and engine monitoring. In addition to reducing pilot workload by presenting aircraft information more clearly, the upgrade eliminated the complications of repairing and maintaining expensive, and occasionally soon to be obsolete analog instruments. Since then, numerous upgrades have enhanced the supportability and reliability of these systems. This included the design, the certification, and installation of a new autopilot flight control system, which modernized the entire avionics system, replacing obsolete, non-supportable components with a modern dual-stage system, featuring an Erickson-designed computer and newly certified ADHAR units. This enhancement increased system reliability by 50%, improved control effectiveness of the aft pilot station, and resolved regulatory issues that previously restricted the S-64’s use as a construction platform over populated areas.

New Composite Rotor Blades

As the original designer of the aluminium main and tail rotor blades for the S-64, Erickson built on its experience and began the design and fabrication of a new technology composite main rotor blade. By utilizing modern design and manufacturing techniques, Erickson set out to produce a blade that was robust, safe, but also supportable and cost-effective.

Versions of the new rotor blade, currently being certified for all models of the Air Crane® aircraft, in both commercial and restricted categories. Benefits expected to include higher lift capacity in almost all flight conditions, including a greater than 3,000-lb lift increase at hot and high conditions, a 33% lower manufacturing cost, 75% lower maintenance costs, and 3% lower fuel consumption.

Supporting the Mission

Erickson has designed, certified, and installed a wide range of mission-specific products for S-64 customers. These include a world-class firefighting tank, a foam cannon, a dynamic sea snorkel, an anti-rotation device, and a hydroseed delivery system. All were designed and built entirely by Erickson with one objective in mind: enable S-64 operators to perform their missions more effectively.

More recently, Erickson announced the Future of Fire initiative, innovating the aircrane with the latest technology to tackle the dangers of night firefighting missions with one goal in mind — to increase the safety for pilots and crew. 


Over the last 50 years, Erickson has built on its experience as the Air Crane® OEM, as the leading Air Crane® operator, and as a legacy MRO service provider, to develop a robust, proven and fully integrated support capability. The S-64, continuously perfected over the past 20 years, that capability has focused on what matters most to legacy helicopter operators; safety, lower direct operating costs, increased aircraft reliability and availability, greater mission capabilities, and of course, optimal business continuity.

Erickson is now applying its legacy support capability to other legacy platforms, with a comprehensive range of MRO capabilities, supply chain management expertise, component manufacturing, and reliability or design engineering services. All too often, owners and operators of what is still a robust and viable legacy platform, are facing the difficulties that Erickson experienced with the Air Crane® aircraft. Challenges such as inadequate support and failing supply chains that threaten the efficiency of their assets and the sustainability of their operations. Rest assured, Erickson’s experience, custom-built supply chains, and vertically integrated capabilities are available and committed to lead your legacy forward into the future.

Erickson has practiced comprehensive reliability engineering over the last decade resulting in significant improvements. Erickson has practiced extensive reliability engineering over the last decade resulting in significant component reliability improvements.

Examples include:

  • Increased S-64F MGB ATI by over 100% through design changes and overhaul process improvements.
  • Reduced frequency of in-flight engine shutdown by 75% by implementing multiple revisions such as fuel control redesign, airframe fuel filter installations, compressor build standard enhancements, engine failure audio system, and development of fuel lubricity specifications.
  • Reduced S-64F compressor DMC costs by 30% by developing overhaul criteria based on rigorous analysis of individual part reliability/cost curves while implementing safety inspection requirements.
  • Increased reliability of S-64E MRB reliability by 200% by developing and implementing improved metal bonding processes.
  • Improved reliability of S-64 TRB by almost 500% by redesigning the trailing edge joint, designing new assembly fixture, and developing enhanced assembly procedures.

Over the years, Erickson has made over 4,000 modifications to the S-64.


In 2020, Erickson’s Innovation Lab announced the intent to manufacture the S-64F+ Air Crane® aircraft. Erickson’s recent aircraft orders and deliveries have signaled a demand for the S-64 as a firefighting platform of the future. The transition to new production aircraft was announced during the 2020 HAI Heli Expo tradeshow.

The future S-64F+ will include the following innovations and enhancements:  

  • Incorporation of a modern engine, enhancing the range and fuel efficiency
  • New Composite Main Rotor Blades
  • Enhanced cockpit and flight controls
  • Digitally integrated nighttime firefighting solution
  • Improved water cannon to provide best-in-class performance

Find out more information on Erickson’s Aerosystems: Manufacturing & MRO capabilities


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