S-64 Skycranes – Jewels in Erickson’s Crown

Erickson Air-Crane based in Medford, Oregon, has a fleet of 60 helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. But the jewels of its crown are the 20 or so S-64 Skycranes it operates. These former US Army workhorses are deployed all over the world in the north and south hemispheres.

Chris Schuldt, Director of Defense & Security Aerial Services told the author: “One is based in San Diego, another in LA and two with CAL FIRE. Then we have several working all around the world, working in tandem in both hemispheres.”

Highlighting this, he said: “We have three flying in Greece during the summer, which will move to Australia where Erickson flies six S-64s for the firefighting season. We have recently started fighting fires in Istanbul, and have been working with various parties in Chile for the past two years. We try to fight fires year-round.”

A Skycrane’s tank can take a maximum load of 10,000 litres – with a segmented drop capability (water salvo) which means it can drop the load all at once or drop smaller loads gradually.

Chris continues: “We have international pilots all over the world. They are very seasoned pilots, some from a military background working way from SIC (Second in Charge) to Pilot In Charge). Others have come through the rest of our commercial fleet. It’s a steep learning curve. They will usually start at around 10,000 flying hours.”

Erickson Helicopters also operates the Bell 214ST, Bell 412s, Pumas/Super Pumas, CASA 212s and Beech 1900 for transport contracts. The Pumas and Super Pumas serve the US Navy’s Sealift Command resupplying their vessels at sea in the Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP) role.

Alan Warnes
Independent Journalist