Erickson has begun preparations for what it describes as the next generation of heavy-lift helicopters, the Oregon-based company announced on the opening day of Heli-Expo 2020.
CEO Doug Kitani described the concept, which has been designated as the S-64F+ Air Crane in general terms. “We will build the world’s most advanced heavy-lift and heavy-aerial-attack platform,” he told the crowd gathered at the company’s booth (7545). “Our goal is to improve the performance of the aircraft and to provide unmatched night, terrain, and obstacle-awareness systems.”
Kitani mentioned that more specific details on the helicopter’s planned capabilities, as well as partnerships, would be disclosed over time. In fact, a partnership with a major OEM on a new flight control system and cockpit awareness system is expected to be unveiled on Wednesday at Heli-Expo.
“The technology to accomplish what we want is out there, and it’s really a systems integration exercise,” he said. “We don’t see a huge amount of technology risk, but we are going to focus on the things that we think are important for bringing the aircraft to market sooner rather than later.” Kitani added that the process will be subject to FAA approval, which could extend several years.
Among the upgrades will be a new zero-hour airframe—Erickson’s first to incorporate a new design—as well as composite rotor blades that are pending FAA certification. Kitani demurred on detailing the performance improvement the blades will impart to the aircraft until certification is granted, but allowed it would be significant.
Another improvement will come from more powerful Fadec-equipped engines, which would replace the original Pratt & Whitney models that have powered the Air Crane since the late 1950s. Erickson has engaged Philadelphia-based Piasecki Aircraft, which has enjoyed a long association with the Air Crane, in a consultant role over the re-engining process.
While its initial effort will be to upgrade existing S-64s to the new F+ standard, Erickson sees global demand for 50 to 100 new airframes. “We’re seeing things like in firefighting where there are not enough aircraft to go around,” Kitani said, using the recent fires in Australia as an example. “We’re seeing where operators used to go between Northern and Southern hemispheres, and we’re seeing that model break down.”
While the upgrade process begins, the company anticipates its sovereign customers that own their own S-64 fleets, including South Korea and Italy, will request new models, while other governments such as Australia, which currently leases the Air Crane, will desire its own.
“It’s a specialist aircraft in terms of being this ultra-heavy-lift aircraft, we’re not moving people around per se, like a Chinook,” explained Kitani, “but for its mission—firefighting and precision construction—it’s a phenomenal machine. With these improvements, we think it's going to just be incredibly compelling.”