Research & Development


From Legacy to Legendary

Erickson’s Advanced Engineering Capabilities

Engineering services include the entire commercial and defense aircraft spectrum from concept development, requirements gathering, system architecture, hardware and software development, FAA and EASA certification, and field deployment. Our engineers are focused on the most challenging operational environments using advanced technologies.

Check out our Research & Development Playlist on YouTube.

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Areas of Active Development

Next Generation Water Cannon

The next generation water cannon offers the following:

  • Rapid installation on the S-64 Air Crane® helicopter
  • Driven electrically via power generated by the aircraft drive system, rather than with hydraulic pumps, making the product lighter due to elimination of bulky hydraulic equipment
  • Increased water flows from 200 gallons (about the volume of a large refrigerator) per minute to 900 gallons (about half the volume of a storage unit) per minute
  • Increase stabilization of the water cannon through an inertial measurement unit that keeps the water cannon pointed at a fixed location despite movement of the aircraft
  • Improvements in distance of water reach – can shoot 210 feet (approximate 3x the rotor disc diameter) from the ground, and can shoot side-to-side while in the air
  • Articulation of the water cannon is now all directions – shoots forward, right to left, up and down, enabling safe operation and fires to be targeted more effectively

The water cannon is an accessory that can be installed on the S-64 Air Crane® helicopter within a few hours. It is in the final prototyping stage now and will be ready for customer installation by next spring.

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Virtual Reality Trainer

The VR (Virtual Reality) Trainer links together crew members globally in the same virtual environmentThe multi-pilot aspect allows two users to simultaneously be in the same cockpit anywhere in the worl as long as there’s good Wi-Fi connection 

Design and development for the VR Trainer started pre-COVID, in early 2020. It was designed to enhance pilot training without having to access the actual aircraft. Shortly after, COVID created an increased need for remote training, while also proving the technology to be just as valuable. The trainer benefits pilots of the S-64, both experienced and brand new, allowing them to interact in the same virtual cockpit with Erickson training pilots. The engineering team is currently working on use cases for others whom the trainer will benefit, which include additional crew members and maintainers.   

The trainer is equipped with impressive features that include: 

  • High resolution, with 4k display for each eyeball for improved detail, sharpness, and an even wider color spectrum
  • Full-fidelity cockpit model of the aircraft, down to the last switch and dial
  • Linking together cutting-edge optics with multi-player video game technology
  • Designed to take advantage of Virtual Reality instead of the traditional screen-based simulation
    • Allows new mission-specific training, which can’t be done in a simulator
    • Fully immersive long-line training
    • Also, it’s way more fun!

Composite Main Rotor Blades

Several years ago Erickson was faced with a dire situation for its flagship platform, the S-64: Create more main rotor blades or eventually ground the entire S-64 fleet. Over time these blades wore out due to the high-demand for flight hours of the uniquely-capable heavy lifting S-64. Then came the eventual retirement of the old blades — and the opportunity to engineer a new product that would enhance the S-64 legacy fleet.

Erickson’s New Composite Main Rotor Blades:

  • Increases performance at hot and high-altitude conditions
  • Lowers cost with advanced composite materials
  • Reduces fuel burn significantly
  • Extends the performance of the next generation S-64

Testing the Composite Main Rotor Blades

Erickson’s engineers are constantly upgrading the S-64 with improved systems and capabilities, so we have frequent needs to do on-aircraft prototype and certification testing. During this testing, the aircraft is outfitted with a suite of hundreds of sensors, and a data acquisition platform that monitors all types of aircraft system states such as strain levels, torques, pressures, temperatures, etc. Owing to our worldwide operations in extreme environments, we test in all corners of the globe including Europe, South America, Canada, and of course North America’s highest public airport at Leadville, Colorado.

Competitive Advantage: 
With Erickson’s frequent design improvements, the S-64 will continue to have an outsized role in utility aircraft operations well into the future.

Read a Case Study published by Toray Advanced Composites

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Sea Snorkel Development

The purpose of this project is to instrument and test the Sea Snorkel to determine the loads and stresses experienced in flight. This requires designing and building test fixturing, instrumenting and calibrating strain gauges and equipment, and data acquisition that will be used for a conceptually new and improved design.

The Sea Snorkel allows Erickson Inc.’s fleet of S-64 helicopters to rapidly fill our 2,600-gallon fire suppression tank during forward-flight with water from oceans and other sources, which conserves fuel and allows us to reach more remote fires all while executing faster and more frequent water drops.

MATRIX™ Technology

Erickson is integrating Sikorsky’s MATRIX™ Technology autonomy suite with the S-64, enabling autonomous operation in challenging environments. The MATRIX™ system will allow firefighting operations in reduced visibility environments, including in heavy smoke and after sunset, a capability that does not exist anywhere in the world today.

SIKORSKY® and MATRIX are trademarks of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

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The S-64F+

Erickson’s recent aircraft orders and deliveries have signaled a demand for the S-64 as a firefighting platform of the future. We will transition to new production aircraft with the future introduction of the S-64F+. 

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

  • Incorporation of a modern engine, enhancing range and fuel efficiency  
  • New Composite Main Rotor Blades
  • Enhanced cockpit and flight control system
  • Improved water cannon to provide best in class performance 

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Usually at some point during testing, we are required to take the aircraft beyond its normal flight limits into the experimental range, whether that be speed, altitude, weight, or some other limit. But it’s very exciting to go there and see the improvement in whatever system we’re testing.

– Billy Johnson, Sr. Director of Engineering

This effort has been great to be a part of. It has allowed me the opportunity to work closely and create new relationships with fellow engineers, as well as with people from other areas of the company from the machine shop, the hangar, plant maintenance, as well as the pilots and crew to collaborate, work hand in hand, and make this project come together as a team. Additionally, sitting in the aft pilot seat and getting a firsthand view of how skilled our pilots are while using the sea snorkel is downright impressive. The precision required for these operations was incredible to experience.

– Dave Mayer, Structures Engineer


Total Modifications on the S-64


Erickson Announced S-64F+ Model


Of Innovation

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Featured Clients & Partners

  • Bell
  • NASA – Johnson Space Center
  • NASA – Armstrong Flight Research Center
  • Lockheed Martin & Sikorsky Innovations
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Piasecki Aircraft Corporation
  • Vigili del Fuoco


3255 Bell Flight Blvd
Fort Worth, TX 76118

NASA – Johnson Space Center

2101 E NASA Pkwy
Houston, TX 77058

NASA – Armstrong Flight Research Center

4800 Lilly Ave
Edwards, CA 93523

Lockheed Martin & Sikorsky Innovations

6900 Main St
Stratford, CT 06614

Sierra Nevada

444 Salomon Circle
Sparks, NV 89434

Piasecki Aircraft Corporation

519 W 2nd St
Essington, PA 19029

Vigili del Fuoco

Via Alessandro Scarlatti, 16
Palermo, 90134

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