By Garrett Reim | February 24, 2021
Erickson is pitching the US Military on an autonomous variant of its heavy lift Air Crane helicopter, the S-64F+.
The company believes the S-64F+ could complement the service’s fleet of Boeing CH-47 Chinooks, and also Sikorsky CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters, which are operated by the US Marine Corps, by supporting training and logistics operations, it said on 23 February.
The S-64 is a commercial variant of the 1960s-era Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe, a twin-engined heavy lift helicopter built for the US Army. The rotorcraft has an empty space where a passenger cabin is typically placed and that allows for carrying special loads, including a shipping container, a water tank or a large sling load.
Erickson purchased the intellectual property of the S-64 from Sikorsky in 1992. The company produces a few of the helicopters each year as new-builds or via remanufacturing legacy CH-54 airframes at its facilities in Medford, Oregon.
The firefighting version of the S-64 can carry a 10,000 litre (2,650gal) water tank in its belly. The airlifter configuration of the helicopter is sometimes used for timber harvesting, powerline tower construction and HVAC system placement on tall buildings.
Erickson announced in 2020 that it had partnered with Sikorsky to give the S-64 autonomous flight abilities. The helicopter’s mechanical flight controls are to be removed and replaced with fly-by-wire controls and Sikorsky’s Matrix autonomous flight control technology. Sikorsky’s Matrix-controlled helicopters, such as a retrofitted UH-60A Black Hawk, have relied on sensors, such as Lidar and cameras, as well as digital terrain obstacle databases, to guide their autonomous flights.