Tag Archives: Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation

16 February 1946

The prototype Sikorsky S-51 commercial helicopter, NX19800, in flight between Bridgeport and East Hartford, Connecticut, 1946. (Sikorsky Historical Archive)
The prototype Sikorsky S-51 commercial helicopter, NX92800, in flight between Bridgeport and East Hartford, Connecticut, 1946. (Sikorsky Historical Archive)

16 February 1946: The Sikorsky S-51 prototype, NX92800, made its first flight. The test pilot was Dimitry D. (“Jimmy”) Viner, who later made the first civilian rescue using a helicopter. The S-51 was the first helicopter intended for commercial use, though it was also widely used by military services worldwide. (The prototype was later delivered to Aéronavale, French Naval Aviation.)

Dimitry D. ("Jimmy") Viner with a Sikorsky S-51, the civil version of the R-5. (Sikorsky Historical Archive)
Dimitry D. (“Jimmy”) Viner with a Sikorsky S-51, the civil version of the R-5. (Sikorsky Historical Archive)

The S-51 was a commercial version of the Sikorsky R-5 series military helicopters. It was a four-place, single engine helicopter, operated by one pilot. The cabin was built of aluminum with Plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood, and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction.

The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of metal spars and plywood ribs and covered with two layers of fabric. (All metal blades soon became available.) The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.)

Sikorsky S-51 three-view illustration with dimensions. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 1¾ inches (12.541 meters). The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet, 0 inches (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.568 meters) giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, ½ inch (17.386 meters). It was 12 feet, 11-3/8 inches (3.947 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet, 0 inches (3.658 meters).

The S-51 had an empty weight of 4,050 pounds (1,837.05 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 5,500 pounds (2,494.76 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

Sikorsky S-51 NC92813, Los Angeles Airways, departs on a commercial flight, Los Angeles, California, 1947. (LAT)
Sikorsky S-51 NC92813, Los Angeles Airways, departs on a commercial flight, Los Angeles, California, 1947. (Los Angeles Times)

The helicopter was powered by a 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. T1B4 (R-985 AN-5) direct-drive,  nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine had a compression ratio of 6:1 and was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The S-51 had a maximum speed (VNE) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

Of 220 helicopters in the S-51 series built by Sikorsky, 55 were commercial models. Westland built another 159 helicopters under license.

One of Los Angeles Airways' Sikorsky S-51 helicopters takes off from roof of the the Terminal Annex Post Office, Los Angeles, California, 1 October 1947. (Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA Library)
One of Los Angeles Airways’ Sikorsky S-51 helicopters takes off from roof of the the Terminal Annex Post Office, Los Angeles, California, 1 October 1947. (Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA Library)
Dimitry D. Viner, circa 1931

Дмитро Дмитрович Вінер (Dimitry Dimitry Viner) was born in Kiev, Ukraine, Imperial Russia, 2 October 1908. He was the son of Dimitry Nicholas Weiner and Helen Ivan Sikorsky Weiner, a teacher, and the sister of Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky.

At the age of 15 years, Viner, along with his mother and younger sister, Galina, sailed from Libau, Latvia, aboard the Baltic-American Line passenger steamer S.S. Latvia, arriving at New York City, 23 February 1923.

“Jimmy” Viner quickly went to work for the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Company, founded by his uncle, Igor Sikorsky.

Dimitry Viner became a naturalized United States citizen  on 27 March 1931.

Viner married Miss Irene Regina Burnett. The had a son, Nicholas A. Viner.

On 29 November 1945, Jimmy Viner and Captain Jackson E. Beighle, U.S. Army, flew a Sikorsky YR-5A to rescue two seamen from an oil barge which was breaking up in a storm off of Fairfield, Connecticut. This was the first time that a hoist had been used in an actual rescue at sea.

A Sikorsky R-5 flown by Jimmy Viner with Captain Jack Beighle, lifts a crewman from Texaco Barge No. 397, aground on Penfield Reef, 29 November 1945. (Sikorsky Historical Archive)

In 1947, Viner became the first pilot to log more than 1,000 flight hours in helicopters.

Dimitry Dimitry Viner died at Stratford, Connecticut, 14 June 1998, at the age of 89 years.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 February 1947

Major E.M. Cassell, USAF. (FAI)
Major Ernest M. Cassell, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army. (FAI)

10 February 1947: At Patterson Field, Dayton, Ohio, Major Ernest Murray Cassell, Jr., Air Corps, United States Army, flew a Sikorsky YR-5A helicopter, serial number 43-46628, to an altitude of 5,842 meters (19,167 feet), setting a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Altitude Record for helicopters.¹

Major Cassell took off from Patterson Field at 11:05 a.m., and landed at 12:02 p.m. He said that he knew the helicopter had reached its absolute ceiling. “She just wouldn’t go any higher. At the peak I dived to pick up speed, pulled up and the ship just quivered in a tip-stall as if to say, ‘That’s all I can do.’ ”

At that altitude, Cassell encountered winds of 40–50 miles per hour (18–22 meters per second), and an air temperature of -19 °C. (-2.2 °F.). He wore an electrically-heated flight suit.

Cassell was one of the most experienced helicopter pilots in the U.S. military services, with more than 700 hours flown to date.

Observers for the National Aeronautic Association, Dr. Daniel P. Johnson of the National Bureau of Standards, and C.S. Logsdon, director of the contest division of the N.A.A., flew aboard a North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. The B-25 flew along with the helicopter. Both carried barographs. A second B-25 acted as the camera ship.

The Sikorsky YR-5A (Model S-48) was a single-engine, two-place helicopter. The cabin was built of aluminum with plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction. The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of wood spars and ribs and covered with fabric. The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.

YR-5A 43-46608 was one of one of twenty-six service test helicopters built between November 1944 and July 1945. There were slight changes from the earlier five XR-5A prototypes. The R-5A went into production in July 1945 and more than 300 had been built by the time production ended in 1951.

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7½ inches (12.687 meters) long. The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet, 0 inches (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.565 meters), giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters) with rotors turning. It was 13 feet, 1½ inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters). The R-5A had an empty weight of 3,780 pounds (1,715 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 4,900 pounds (2,223 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

Sikorsky S-48 (R-5) three-view illustration with dimensions. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. T1B4 (R-985 AN-5) direct-drive, nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 4 feet, 0.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 3 feet, 10.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The R-5 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

Sikorsky YR-5A 43-46628. (FAI)
Sikorsky YR-5A 43-46628. (FAI)

Ernest Murray Cassell, Jr., was born at Indianapolis, Indiana, 26 February 1912. He was the first of two sons of Ernest Murray Cassell, a traveling salesman, and Irene Eidola Adams Cassell.

Ernest Cassell served in the United States Navy as a seaman, first class, from 14 February 1931 to 3 December 1934. He enlisted as a private in the Indiana National Guard (Air Corps) on 11 March 1935. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 11 March 1937.

Lieutenant Cassell graduated from the National Guard Officers’ Communication Course of the Air Corps Technical School in 1938. He was rated as an aerial observer.

Lieutenant Cassell married Miss Virginia Royall Fleming, in Marion County, Indiana, 31 March 1938. They would have two children, Judith Ann Cassell and Nicholas Murray Cassell.

On 17 January 1941, Cassell was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Corps, Army of the United States (A.U.S.). He was promoted to first lieutenant, 25 March 1941, and to captain, 12 December 1942. On 26 June 1944, Captain Cassell was promoted to the rank of major, A.U.S.

On 10 February 1947 (the date of his altitude record flight) Cassell as appointed to the permanent rank of 1st lieutenant, Air Corps, United States Army, with date of rank retroactive to 26 February 1940. Less than three weeks later, 26 February 1947 (his 35th birthday), Cassel was promoted to captain.

Following the establishment of the United States Air Force as a separate military service, Captain Cassell was transferred from the Air Corps, U.S. Army, to the U.S. Air Force. His date of rank was 26 February 1947.

Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Murray Cassell, Jr., retired from the United States Air Force on 3 February 1959. He died at Walter Reed Medical Center, Washington, D.C., 2 December 1959. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

¹ FAI Record File Number 2256

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 February 1967

General Howell M. Estes, Jr., presents the Air Force Cross to Airman 1st Class Duane D. Hackney, 9 September 1967. (U.S. Air Force)
General Howell M. Estes, Jr., presents the Air Force Cross to Senior Airman Duane D. Hackney, 9 September 1967. (U.S. Air Force)

heroism046 February 1967: That Others May Live. Airman 2nd Class Duane D. Hackney, U.S. Air Force, 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, rescued the pilot of a downed aircraft and earned the Air Force Cross. He was the first living recipient of the Air Force Cross.

With more than 70 individual medals, Chief Master Sergeant Hackney was the most highly decorated enlisted man in United States Air Force history.

His citation reads:

Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross

“The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Airman Second Class Duane D. Hackney (AFSN: 16827003), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force while serving with the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, 3d Air Rescue and Recovery Group, DaNang Air Base, Vietnam, as a Paramedic (Pararescueman) on an unarmed HH-3E Rescue Helicopter near Mu Gia Pass, North Vietnam, on 6 February 1967. On that date, Airman Hackney flew two sorties in a heavily defended hostile area. On the first sortie, despite the presence of armed forces known to be hostile, entrenched in the vicinity, Airman Hackney volunteered to be lowered into the jungle to search for the survivor. He searched until the controlling Search and Rescue agency ordered an evacuation of the rescue crew. On the second sortie, Airman Hackney located the downed pilot, who was hoisted into the helicopter. As the rescue crew departed the area, intense and accurate 37-mm. flak tore into the helicopter amidships, causing extensive damage and a raging fire aboard the craft. With complete disregard for his own safety, Airman Hackney fitted his parachute to the rescued man. In this moment of impending disaster, Airman Hackney chose to place his responsibility to the survivor above his own life. The courageous Pararescueman located another parachute for himself and had just slipped his arms through the harness when a second 37-mm. round struck the crippled aircraft, sending it out of control. The force of the explosion blew Airman Hackney through the open cargo door and, though stunned, he managed to deploy the unbuckled parachute and make a successful landing. He was later recovered by a companion helicopter. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Airman Hackney reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) ot the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)
A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) of the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

The following is excerpted from Chief Master Sergeant Hackney’s U.S. Air Force biography:

Airman 2nd Class Duane D. Hackney, USAF, with jungle penetrator, aboard a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, Southeast Asia, 1967 (U.S. Air Force)
Airman 2nd Class Duane D. Hackney, USAF, with jungle penetrator, aboard a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, Southeast Asia, 1967 (U.S. Air Force)

“. . . His pararescue career began quickly. Three days after reporting for duty, Hackney, now an airman second class, flew his first combat mission. On his 10th mission, in April 1966, he was hit by enemy fire while pulling a wounded Marine pilot aboard his HH-3E Jolly Green Giant. Five times in the months ahead his helicopter was shot down. He earned four Distinguished Flying Crosses and 18 Air Medals for single acts of heroism. Then came Feb. 6, 1967 and the mission that would lead to the second highest award for heroism given by the U.S. Air Force.

“That morning he descended from his HH-3E to look for a downed pilot near Mu Gia pass, North Vietnam. He searched for two hours until bad weather forced a return to base. A few hours later, radio contact with the pilot was re-established and another rescue was attempted. This time, the severely wounded pilot was found. The wounded pilot hugged Hackney and said, ‘You’re beautiful.’

” ‘Hey man,’ said Hackney, ‘I’m not the stewardess.’

“Hackney carried the pilot back to the helicopter to begin their retreat. They had to hurry because it was rapidly becoming dark. Before they could clear enemy air space, anti-aircraft artillery struck the helicopter, filling the compartment with smoke and fire. Hackney strapped his own parachute on the pilot’s back and helped him get out the door. He found a spare, oil-stained parachute just as a second 37-mm antiaircraft shell ripped into the helicopter. Before he could buckle the chute, the Jolly Green Giant’s fuel line exploded, blasting Hackney through the door. Holding on to the chute with his arms, he managed to pull the cord before plummeting into the forest 250 feet below. The chute slowed his fall, but he still plunged 80 more feet to a rock ledge.

“Severely burned and pierced by shrapnel, Hackney managed to evade capture. When an A-1 Skyraider passed overhead, he fired a flare. A chopper mission was sent in and the rescuer was rescued. When he got back to Da Nang Air Base, he was told that he was the only survivor of the thwarted mission. Four other crew members and the pilot they had gone to save had died.

“For giving up his parachute and risking his own life, Hackney received the Air Force Cross. Hackney was presented the medal by Gen. Howell M. Estes Jr., the commander of Military Airlift Command.

“Hackney continued his distinguished Air Force career, retiring in 1991 as a chief master sergeant. In 1993, he died of a heart attack in his Pennsylvania home. He was 46 years old.”

Chief Master Sergeant Duane D. Hackney, United States Air Force (195x–1993)
Technical Sergeant Duane D. Hackney, United States Air Force (1947–1993)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 February 1962

Lieutenant Robert W. Crafton, U.S. Navy, and Captain Louis K. Keck, U.S. Marine Corps, with the record-setting Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King. (FAI)
Lieutenant Robert W. Crafton, U.S. Navy, and Captain Louis K. Keck, U.S. Marine Corps, with the record-setting Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King. (FAI)

5 February 1962: A Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King (later redesignated SH-3A) became the world’s fastest helicopter by establishing a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world speed record for helicopters of 339 kilometers per hour (210.645 miles per hour) over a 19 kilometer (11.8 mile) course between Milford and New Haven, Connecticut.¹ The pilots were Lieutenant Robert Wiley Crafton, United States Navy and Captain Louis K. Keck, United States Marine Corps. Both pilots were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the American Helicopter Society’s Frederick L. Feinberg Award.

Having served the United States Navy for 45 years, the Sea King is still in service world-wide, most notably as the VH-3D “Marine One” presidential helicopter.

Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King, Bu. No. 147xxx, modified for the speed record attempt. (FAI)
Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King, Bu. No. 147xxx, modified for the speed record attempt. (FAI)

The Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King was the first of the S-61 series of military and civil helicopters. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. The fuselage is designed to allow landing on water. The XHSS-2 made its first flight 11 March 1959. The helicopter was originally used as an anti-submarine helicopter.

The HSS-2 is 72 feet, 6 inches (22.098 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high with all rotors turning. The helicopter’s width, across the sponsons, is 16 feet. The main rotors and tail can be folded for more compact storage aboard aircraft carriers, shortening the aircraft to 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters). The empty weight of the HSS-2 is 10,814 pounds (4,905 kilograms). The overload gross weight is 19,000 pounds (8,618 kilograms).

The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet, 0 inches (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6¼ inches (0.464 meters). The rotor blade airfoil was the NACA 0012, which was common for helicopters of that time. The total blade area is 222.5 square feet (20.671 square meters), and the disc area is 3,019 square feet (280.474 square meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% NR, the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m.

The HSS-2 was powered by two General Electric T58-GE-6 turboshaft engines, which had a Normal Power rating of 900 horsepower, and Military Power rating of 1,050 horsepower; both ratings at 19,555 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The main transmission was rated for 2,000 horsepower, maximum. (Later models were built with more powerful T58-GE-8 engines. Early aircraft were retrofitted.)

The HSS-2 has a cruise speed of 125 knots (144 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 133 knots (153 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 12,100 feet (3,688 meters). The hover ceiling at normal gross weight is 5,200 feet (1,585 meters), out of ground effect (HOGE), and 7,250 feet (2,210 meters), in ground effect (HIGE). The HSS-2 had a combat endurance of 4 hours and a maximum range of 500 nautical miles (575 statute miles/926 kilometers).

The Sea King was primarily an anti-submarine aircraft. It could be armed with up to four MK 43 or MK 44 torpedoes and one MK 101 nuclear-armed depth bomb. Other weapons loads included four MK 14 depth charges and four MK 54 air depth bombs.

In 1962, the HSS-2 was redesignated SH-3A Sea King. Many early production aircraft have remained in service and have been upgraded through SH-3D, SH-3G, etc. In addition to the original ASW role, the Sea Kings have been widely used for Combat Search and Rescue operations. Marine One, the call sign for the helicopters assigned to the President of the United States, are VH-3D Sea Kings. Sikorsky produced the last S-61 helicopter in 1980, having built 794. Production has been licensed to manufacturers in England, Italy, Canada and Japan. They have produced an additional 679 Sea Kings.

Captain Louis K. Keck, USMC (left), and Lieutenant Robert W. Crafton, U.S. Navy, in the cockpit of their Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King. (U.S. Navy)
Captain Louis K. Keck, USMC (left), and Lieutenant Robert W. Crafton, U.S. Navy, in the cockpit of their Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King. (U.S. Navy)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13121

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 December 1968

Chief Warrant Officer James P. Ervin, United States Army (FAI)
Chief Warrant Officer 4 James P. Ervin, United States Army (FAI)
CW4 William T. Lamb

30 December 1968: At the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation plant at Stratford, Connecticut, Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Paul Ervin, Jr., United States Army, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Time to Altitude while flying a Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe. The helicopter’s co-pilot for this flight was CW4 William T. Lamb. The “Sky Crane” reached 3,000 meters (9,842.52 feet) in 1 minute, 38.2 seconds, and 9,000 meters (29,527.56 feet) in 7 minutes, 54 seconds.¹ (It climbed through 6,000 meters (19,686 feet) in 2 minutes, 58.9 seconds.²)

Several attempts to break the existing time to altitude records had been made on 29 and 30 December. Erwin decided to deviate from Sikorsky’s recommended climb profile and, instead, climbed vertically until reaching 20,000 feet, and then returned to Sikorsky’s profile.

On the same date, CW4 Lamb, with Erwin as co-pilot, established a World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight, of 9,596 meters (31,483 feet).³

According to an article in U.S. Army Aviation Digest, during the record attempt flights, the regional air traffic control center called a commercial airliner which was cruising at 17,000 feet,

“. . . be advised there’s a helicopter at your 9 o’clock position descending out of 27,000 feet at a rate of 4,000 feet per minute.”

The airliner replied, “Good lord, you mean they’re up here now?”

Another pilot on the frequency asked, “What kind of helicopter is that?”

Mr. Ervin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his achievement.

A third U.S. Army aviator involved in the record attempts was Major James H. Goodloe, as was a Sikorsky test pilot, John J. Dixon.

FAI record-setting Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe (FAI)
FAI record-setting Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe (FAI)

The Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe is a large single-main-rotor/tail rotor helicopter, specifically designed to carry large external loads. In U.S. Army service, it had a crew of five: pilot, co-pilot, third pilot and two mechanics. The third pilot was in a rear-facing cockpit position and flew the helicopter while it was hovering to pick up or position an external load.

The CH-54A is 88 feet, 5.9 inches (26.972 meters) long and 25 feet, 4.7 inches (7.739 meters) high. The main rotor has six blades and turns counter-clockwise, seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The main rotor has a diameter of 72 feet (21.946 meters). The main rotor blades have a chord of 1.97 feet (0.601 meters) and incorporate a twist of -13°. The tail rotor has four blades and is placed on the left side of a vertical pylon in a pusher configuration. The tail rotor turns clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The diameter of the tail rotor is 16 feet (4.877 meters). The chord of the tail rotor blade is 1.28 feet (0.390 meters).

The helicopter has an empty weight of 19,120 pounds (8,673 kilograms) a design gross weight of 38,000 pounds (17,237 kilograms) and overload gross weight of 42,000 pounds (19,051 kilograms).

Sikorsky CH-54A Tarhe 68-18448, Nevada National Guard, 16 November 1989. (Mike Freer/Wikipedia)

The CH-54A is powered by two Pratt & Whitney JFTD12A-4A (T73-P-1) turboshaft engines, each rated at 4,000 shaft horsepower at 9,000 r.p.m. (N2) maximum continuous power at Sea Level, and 4,500 shaft horsepower at 9,500 r.p.m. (N2) for takeoff, 5-minute limit, or 30 minutes, with one engine inoperative (OEI). The maximum gas generator speed (N1) is 16,700 r.p.m. The T73-P-1 is an axial-flow free-turbine turboshaft engine with a 9-stage compressor section, 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine section (2-stage gas generator and 2-stage free turbine). It is 107.0 inches (2.718 meters) long, 30.0 inches (0.762 meters) in diameter, and weighs 966 pounds (438 kilograms). The helicopter’s main transmission is limited to a maximum 6,600 horsepower.

It has a useful load of 22,880 pounds (10,342 kilograms) and can carry a payload of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) from a single point cargo hoist.

The CH-54A has a maximum cruise speed of 115 knots (132 miles per hour, 213 kilometers per hour). It’s range is 217 nautical miles (250 miles,  402 kilometers). The CH-54A has a hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) of 10,600 feet (3,231 meters) and its service ceiling is 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).

The U.S. Army ordered 54 CH-54A and 35 CH-54B Tarhes. Sikorsky produced another 12 civil-certified S-64E and S-64F Skycranes. Army CH-54s were retired from service in 1995. Sikorsky sold the type certificate to Erickson Air-Crane, Inc., Medford, Oregon. Erickson operates a fleet of Skycranes for heavy lift, logging and fire fighting, and also produces parts and new helicopters for worldwide customers.

The United States Army has a tradition of using Native American names for its aircraft. Tarhe (pronounced tar-HAY) was a famous chief, or sachem, of the Wyandot People of North America, who lived from 1742–1818. He was very tall and the French settlers called him “The Crane.”

James Paul Ervin, Jr., was born 2 October 1931, in Arkansas. He was the second child of James Paul Erwin and Ruth Booker Ervin. He joined the United States Army in 1948. In 1955, he married his wife, Theresa M. (“Terry”) Ervin. They resided in Columbus, Georgia.

CW4 Ervin was considered a pioneer of Army Aviation. He was one of the first pilots to experiment with armed helicopters, and he served with the first transportation company to be equipped with the Sikorsky CH-34 Choctaw and CH-37 Mohave helicopters. During the Vietnam War, he was assigned to the 478th Aviation Company (Heavy Helicopter). Mr. Ervin retired from the United States Army in July 1969 after 21 years of service.

At 1735, 2 September 1969, as a civilian pilot working for ERA Helicopters in Alaska, Ervin was flying a Sikorsky S-64E Skycrane, N6964E, on the North Slope near Prudhoe Bay, when the helicopter broke up in flight and crashed near a drilling site, Southeast Eileen. Chief Erwin and two others aboard, Byron Davis and Allen Bryan, were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that a tail rotor pitch control link failed due to a fatigue fracture. The NTSB accident report also cited improper factory installation as a factor.

At the time of the accident, Erwin had a total of 4,787 flight hours with 830 hours in type. He was 37 years old. James Paul Erwin, Jr., is buried at the Marietta National Cemetery, Marietta, Georgia.

An Erickson Air-Crane, Inc. Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane drops water on a forest fire. (Sikorsky Archives)
An Erickson Air-Crane, Inc., Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane drops water on a forest fire. (Igor I. Sikorsky Historical Archives)

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 9944 and 9961.

² Many sources state that CW4 Erwin set a record for Time to 6,000 meters, and some give the elapsed time as 3 minutes, 31.5 seconds. The FAI Records Database does not list this record.

³ FAI Record File Number 9919.

© 2017 Bryan. R. Swopes

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