Erickson Air-Crane of Oregon, USA is giving its star heavy lifter, the S-64 Aircrane, a makeover including new cockpit display, solid state attitude heading reference systems, and an axis automatic flight control system.

The helicopter has been used worldwide for vertical lift operations in timber harvesting, electrical tower construction, fire fighting, hydro-seeding, and other general construction roles. The company has already added an anti-rotation device to help stabilise external loads.

The latest upgrade package for the Aircrane – including new sensors, avionics, fuel quantity measuring, and panel display enhancements – has achieved certification at Heritage Aviation LTD in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Erickson’s primary motivation for the new upgrades was to enhance the reliability of the helicopter components by moving to more modern, solid state avionics and improved system sensors.

Erickson says it is beginning to have real success in sales of the S-64 Aircrane as evidenced by deliveries to the South Korean Forest Service. For this latest upgrade package, the first four S-64s to receive the new modifications have been sold to the State Forestry Corps of Italy with an option for two additional machines.

Applications for the helicopter include ski lift, tramway, structural steel, power line, and equipment lifting, as well as providing support for oil and gas platforms.

The company has transported and installed ski lift towers throughout the US, Canada, and Korea for more than 30 years. It says: ‘With the significant lift capacity of the S-64 Aircrane, it is possible to lift more weight at a higher elevation. In a number of cases, it is possible to transport the entire tower / cross-arm structure up to the set site and keep it stationary and level while workmen accomplish the bolt-down.’

The S-64’s patented ‘anti-rotation’ rigging system is designed to keep the load from spinning independently of the helicopter. The device consists of a 2m spreader bar suspended with the 11,340kg capacity winch and a ‘locking ring’ with several catch points around the ring to lock the cargo into facing any major azimuth. The locking ring is secured to the helicopter through four hard points located on the fuselage.

Erickson has also employed the S-64 in tramway construction spanning the Pacific Northwest from the Silver Mountain Gondola Tramway in Silver Valley, Idaho to the Heavenly Valley Tramway near Lake Tahoe, to the Mount Roberts Tramway near Juneau, Alaska.

The aircraft has also placed large structural steel framework, artistic structures, statues, and ornamental steel across the US and Canada, as well as more than 20,000 heating, ventilation, and air conditioning units on buildings across the US. And it has lifted drill rigs and platforms in several countries, including Ecuador, Peru, and Indonesia

The S-64F can lift units weighing up to 21,000lbs with a 170 sq ft footprint.

Finally, Erickson has erected more than 11,000km of electrical transmission lines of every structure type including steel lattice, wooden and steel H-frames, as well as steel and wood poles.

The centrepiece of the latest helicopter upgrade program is the installation of a SAGEM PA 155 three axis analogue automatic flight control system (AFCS). The AFCS provides for attitude retention and automatic heading hold in a hover. For cruise flight, the pilot can opt for basic attitude retention or select to ‘couple’ to heading select and altitude or airspeed hold for true ‘hands off’ flight.

The AFCS also provides a stability system to allow increased pilot interaction, for example, during approach, takeoff, and hover. This mode lets the pilot freely manoeuvre the cyclic while still contributing stability by providing a control rate dampening for pilot inputs.

Erickson has also upgraded the S-64 avionics, and there is a new ‘glass look’ to the instrument panel provided by four Collins 5.4in LCD displays which provide attitude and navigation information.

To make the cockpit more bearable, Erickson has installed a new Environmental Control System centred around an Environmental Control Unit (ECU) manufactured by Honeywell. The ECS provides heat, defrost, and cool air for the flight crew.

Concurrent with the new upgrades being applied to the existing purchased and fleet helicopters, Erickson is creating the infrastructure and gaining the certifications necessary to build new serial number Aircranes.