Founded in 1971, Erickson Incorporated began operations as Erickson Air Crane, a name the company would operate under until its rebranding in 2014 as Erickson Incorporated. The company was founded by Jack Erickson, who after leasing an S-61 for logging operations, realized he would need a larger helicopter.
Soon after, he purchased three S-64 helicopters from Sikorsky, paving the way for a nearly fifty-year legacy that would see the company not only shape its operations around the iconic S-64 Air Crane®, but eventually purchase the type certificate for the aircraft in 1992. The purchase also granting the company manufacturing rights to the S-64, which it still produces today for private companies and government agencies around the world. This in addition to operating the largest fleet of S-64’s in the world, the company’s iconic orange painted helicopters with green and white stripes now arguably one of the most recognizable icons of the global aerial firefighting industry.
The S-64 Air Crane® has served for decades around the world providing aerial firefighting support, widely recognized by citizens in many countries, most notably in Australia, where the company first deployed for its first fire season in 1997 nearly 21 years ago.
One of the most endearing features of the giant S-64 Air Crane ® helicopters from Erickson is that each has a name, proudly adorning the front of each helicopter on the nose cowling. The most notable to many Australians being the S-64 dubbed ‘Elvis’. In 2001, Elvis became Australia’s most well-known Air Crane helicopter after saving the lives of 14 trapped firefighters during firefighting operations in New South Wales.
The Erickson S-64 Air Crane® has supported firefighters and agencies each year since to combat devastating and catastrophic fire seasons in Australia, including the 2006-2007 bushfire season, which until the 2019-2020 fire season, was rated the most extensive fire damage/loss of life in Australian history. During the unprecedented season this year that is now regarded as the worst known to the country, Erickson has deployed multiple S-64 Air Cranes in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia for the entire season where they have dropped hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and will continue to provide support until the end of the disastrous Australian fire season.
Each Erickson S-64 helicopter that deploys on a fire is capable of carrying 2,650-gallons (10,031-liters) per load, equaling the capacity of a fixed-wing tanker. The added benefit of the S-64 deploying comes with the accuracy provided by their precision drop capability, along with the refill speed of a helicopter that does not need to return to a base to be refilled and can load from any available water source close to the fire ground. The S-64 is capable of dropping more than 25,000 gallons (95,000 liters) every hour.
Erickson’s pilots and fleet of specially equipped S-64 helicopters are deployed seasonally to wildland fire hotspots around the world, including deployments to Greece, Turkey, Australia, Italy, Canada, Chile and the United States.
The Next Generation
As a pioneer in the aerial firefighting industry innovation has always been at the heart of Erickson proven by the ongoing development and continual improvements over the years that have added to the safety of the S-64 Air Crane®. The company has made over 4,000 improvements to the S-64 airframe over its many decades of operation that include improvements to the airframe, instrumentation and payload capabilities, all starting with the invention of the anti-rotation device, invented in 1974.
As a trusted partner to OEMs such as Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky, Erickson is the chosen home for legacy platforms. Erickson’s heritage of being an operator makes them uniquely qualified to understand the challenges other OEMs face and develop the solutions to help address them.
This dedication to innovation lead to the announcement during Heli Expo 2020 in Anaheim, California of the intent to manufacture the newest addition to the growing stable of aircraft, the S-64F+ Air Crane® Helicopter.
The transition to new production aircraft will include innovations and enhancements such as including the incorporation of a modern engine, enhancing range and fuel efficiency, new composite main rotor blades, an enhanced cockpit and flight controls, digitally integration for nighttime firefighting operations, and an improved water cannon to provide best-in-class performance according to documentation released about the newest model in the Air Crane fleet.
The Air Crane of the Future
The second announcement during this year’s Heli -Expo show detailed an agreement made between Erickson Incorporated and Sikorsky Aircraft to tackle the future of firefighting, providing solutions never before used. Erickson detailed a plan to work with Sikorsky to develop the next generation of pilot optional nighttime firefighting solutions.
Presenting to a large crowd on the convention floor, executives from Erickson and Sikorsky detailed their long-term plans aiming to integrate Sikorsky’s MATRIXTM Technology into a digitally enabled fire management system to improve the safety of night firefighting missions.
With next-generation flight controls and navigation systems powered by Sikorsky’s MATRIXTM technology, Erickson will enhance cockpit awareness and flight crew safety during day and night operations.
“We are pleased to be working on this important initiative with Sikorsky, who we have a longtime history with. Since adopting care of the S-64 global fleet in 1994, Erickson has continuously modernized the platform to support critical missions.” stated Doug Kitani, Erickson’s CEO, during the presentation.