Greatest Inventions of All Time

Learn more about the innovations that Erickson employees have compiled over the years

By Adrienne Harvey

Erickson employees have created fascinating, industry-changing products throughout the company’s 50 years of operation. From the moment Jack Erickson had the idea to use heavy-lift helicopters for logging to the debut of the Water Cannon and the Composite Main Rotor Blades, several key innovations that stand out as revolutionary.

Erickson is proud to be the operator and OEM that it is today, all thanks to the journey taken so far. Jack Erickson founded the company in 1971. He pioneered heli-logging techniques and later expanded into powerline construction and aerial firefighting. Just three short years later, in 1974, Erickson invented a device to stabilize loads, called the Anti-Rotation Device, designed to improve the HVAC service performance, enabling finesse which allowed the company to enter into building powerline towers.

The following year in 1975, Erickson invented the ‘Shock & Pendant’; which was a device used for long line timber harvesting operations. It decouples the load from the aircraft, eliminating the inherent low-frequency vibrations from the rotor system and dampening the effects of cable stretch.

Fast forward to 1992, Erickson became the type certificate holder for the S-64 Skycrane, later dubbed as the S-64 Air Crane® Helicopter, and built the first tanked helicopter. Erickson took its new type certificate and created a 2,600-gallon fire suppression system; bolted into the aircraft, the tank revolutionized our aerial firefighting capabilities.

In 1998, Erickson engineers and designers developed another game-changing product for aerial firefighting, the Water Cannon. The Water Cannon provides the ability to get water to the fires in a more precise way without disturbing the balance of the helicopter. Erickson is now developing the next generation of Water Cannon, with 70 meters of effective range, infrared cameras for targeting, infrared fire mapping, and auto stabilization. The goal of the refined cannon is to support firefighting efforts in metropolitan areas, provide additional precision for wildland firefighting, and other use cases like transmission line washing.

Another innovation was developed in 2000 when it became apparent that when the aircraft hovers over a body of water to fill a tank, rotor wash will pick up water and drop it back over the helicopter, affecting engine performance if it is saltwater. To solve this problem, the “Sea Snorkel” was invented. The Sea Snorkel allows for dynamic filling of the fire suppression tank with saltwater from oceans and other water sources, which is great for conserving fuel and reaching more remote fires. By utilizing the Sea Snorkel, pilots have the opportunity of filling tanks with either fresh or saltwater within 60 seconds or less, saving precious time during a fire event. Meanwhile, there was another innovation during the same period in logging with the launch of the hydraulic grapple, eliminating the need for ground crew in logging. The S-64 Air Crane® helicopter is entirely operable by the pilot during logging, dramatically increasing safety.

Photo from: Thanos Manolis

The launch of the Composite Main Rotor Blade (CMRB) was in 2015, designed to improve performance and extend the life of the helicopter. By utilizing modern design and manufacturing techniques, Erickson produced a robust, safe, and supportable, and cost-effective blade. In 2020, the CMRB was officially approved by the FAA and configured on its first aircraft.

“Erickson’s composite main rotor blade (CMRB) program is the type of complex project typically done only at much larger manufacturers. Our work on the CMRB reflects a level of sophistication here at Erickson that the aerospace and manufacturing industries are becoming much more aware of now.”

Bill Johnson, Chief Engineer at Erickson. 

Read the full story behind the fascinating development of the Composite Main Rotor Blade.

Fifty years later and Erickson is still innovating the S-64 Air Crane® helicopter. Originally designed for use in the Vietnam War, the aircraft is now looking at another innovation with the introduction of the S-64F+. This new model aircraft redefines aerial firefighting and heavy-lift capabilities by combining time-tested features with game-changing innovations and upgrades.