Erickson To Begin Flying Optionally-piloted Air Crane Next Year

 - February 23, 2021, 3:59 PM
Erickson's considers the S-64F+ an ideal candidate for certain military heavy-lift applications.

Erickson plans to make the first flight of its optionally-piloted S-64F+ Air Crane next year, with customer deliveries of the new helicopter variant to begin as early as 2024, the company announced February 23. The aircraft will be equipped with all-composite main rotor blades that Erickson certified late last year, as well as Sikorsky’s Matrix optional pilot technology and new turboshaft engines with Fadec. A HUD might also be available for the F+ in concert with Erickson’s new aerial water cannon.

A senior Erickson executive said the high/hot performance of the F+ will be improved over the current production model. The new composite main rotor blades alone will increase the payload at 25 degrees C and 8,000 feet by 88 percent—offering an additional 755 pounds— while climb rate at max gross weight and 2,000 feet will rise 69.2 percent, from 1,300 fpm to 2,200 fpm. These numbers will be improved further with the new engine, he said.

Erickson will seek both military and civil customers for the new helicopter, which it plans to be certifiable for Part 135 operations and capable of external lifts up to 25,000 pounds. The company began dropping hints about the F+ last year, saying it would be available as an upgrade kit to legacy aircraft while projecting a need for 50 to 100 new airframes. Now repurposing Vietnam-era Sikorsky CH-54 airframes for its new-production aircraft, Erickson said it would soon deplete those and need to begin manufacturing new aircraft from scratch. To that end, Erickson has recently upgraded its manufacturing capabilities with 3D printing and digital data.