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N720HT Sikorsky CH-54B Tarhe c/n 64-070 - Helicopter Transport Services "Shania" - Gold Beach Airport, OR, USA - 15 September 2017 Sikorsky S-92A PH-EUI

The Sikorsky CH-54B Skycrane / Tarhe is a twin-engine crane helicopter. As the helicopters more and more were used to transport outside loads under the airframe, Sikorsky began to show their interest in the concept of a real "aerial crane". In 1957, a basic sketch of an "aerial crane" helicopter was made that already was very similar to the S-64 Skycrane. Sikorsky’s basic idea was to develop a helicopter uniquely designed to carry all loads externally. Following the sketches the concept of the aerial crane was increasingly evaluated and finally elaborated into the experimental Sikorsky S-60 helicopter. To know more about the skycrane concept Sikorsky first built a 1:1 mock-up of the S-60 helicopter as it was different from the usual Sikorsky helicopter models. In May 1958, the design, construction and development phase of the S-60 prototype began, using the dynamic components of the S-56 including the two Pratt & Whitney R-2800 18 cylinders double wasp piston engines. On 25 March 1959, the prototype S-60 helicopter (s/n 60-001; registered N807) was flown first. The Sikorsky S-60 was capable of lifting a 5443kg outsized cargo such as vehicles that could be slung beneath the boom, while passengers and other cargo could be carried in a large interchangeable pod that could be attached or suspended beneath the fuselage boom. By pivoting his seat to face aft the co-pilot could supervise loading and unloading the external cargo. Prototype N807 was intensive tested and demonstrated to potential customers, including military. On 3 April 1961, after completing 335 hours of test flight, the S-60 was seriously damaged in an accident which occurred near the Sikorsky plant. Already before and despite the crash, the S-60 concept was proven and based on the S-60 experience, the design was developed into a production protototype, the S-64 Skycrane. This Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane (CH-54A) was among others developed to meet the requirements of a specification prepared by the German Defence Ministry which called for a crane-type helicopter. Thanks to an agreement with the Sikorsky Aircraft Division of the United Aircraft Corporation, a group of about twelve German technicians employed by the Weser Flugzeugbau, participated in the design and development of the new helicopter. Part of the agreement was also the supply of two Sikorsky S-64 prototypes (s/n 64-002 and 64-003) to the German Federal Ministry of Defense for evaluation. On 9 May 1962, the S-64 prototype (s/n 64-001, registered N325Y) was flown first, only 13 months from program go-ahead, the same year followed by prototype s/n 64-002 (registered N305Y) and s/n 64-003 (registered N306Y). In July 1962, prototype N325Y was flown to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for Army evaluation. Next to the prototype N325Y, the U.S. Army bought another five S-64s for evaluation; they designated it the CH-54A Tarhe, and the first of these was handed over on 30 June 1964. Four of these aircraft went to Vietnam to assist in the war effort. The Vietnam evaluation resulted in an U.S. Army production order. However the German Government bought two S-64 prototypes for evaluation, the Germans did not buy further Skycranes, preferring the CH-53A with its internal cabin. In the beginning of 1963, both German S-64 helicopters were delivered and tested as D-9510 and LA+112 (s/n 64-002) and D-9511 and LA+113 (s/n 64-003) and in 1968 finally returned to Sikorsky. FAA approved Type Certification for the S-64A helicopter on 30 July 1965; followed on 18 March 1969 by the approval of the Model S-64E. Initially the aircraft were designated the S-64A, with a production order from the Army, including numerous configuration and performance changes, including wider chord blades, the aircraft were designated the CH-54A by the Army and the S-64E in Sikorsky terminology. The CH-54B configuration production began in 1969. After a number of years of production, the mission capabilities were expanded again with the CH-54B/S-64F configuration. Sikorsky also launched an effort to sell the S-64 commercially. A total of ten Skycranes were sold or leased to commercial customers between 1968 and 1976. Seven of these were sold to Ericson Air-Crane for logging operations and some firefighting and construction activity. By the 1980s forest firefighting became the main mission for the Ericson cranes. On 13 February 1992, Sikorsky sold the Skycrane Type Certificates to Erickson Air-Crane Incorporated. This transferred all manufacturing and support rights worldwide to Ericson for both the S-64E, with a 10-ton payload, and the S-64F, with 12.5-ton payload. Ericson built up a fleet of S-64s rebuilding army surplus CH-54As and CH-54Bs. Their fleet rose to 20 Aircranes by 2017. Additional Ericson Air-Cranes have been sold internationally. In 1995, the CH-54s were retired from Army service. A total of 99 S-64 / CH-54 airframes were built, when production ended in 1975: 54 CH54As and 35 CH-54Bs for the Army, and 12 S-64Es and Fs for commercial customers (two aircraft were returned, refurbished, and resold).

In May 1969, Sikorsky CH-54B Tarhe s/n 64-070 was flown first. In 1970, the helicopter was taken on strength / charge with the United States Army with s/n 69-18463. In US military service, the CH-54B Tarhe 69-18463 was transferred first to 208th Aviation Company, Connecticut National Guard, Windsor Locks, Conecticut, and finally to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group in Tucson, Arizona. On 15 March 1993, a civil N- registration was requested by Seco Aviation Company, Augusta, GA, but on 4 September 1993, the aircraft was registered N463KG with Ken Guthrie / Blue Bird Helicopters. On 8 November 2001, registration N720HT reserved for the CH-54B by US Leaseco Inc., but on 10 December 2001, the CH-54B was registered first as N463KG with US Leaseco Inc., before the aircraft was re-registered N720HT on 7 March 2003. On 31 August 2006, the N720HT was transferred to Helicopter Transport Services Inc., Wilmington, Delaware. On 7 October 2010, registration N720HT was cancelled as exported to Peru, where the CH-54B was registered OB-1952P with Aeromaster. On 12 June 2014, registration N720HT was restored in the USA with Helicopter Transport Services Inc., Aurora, Oregon, as owner. On 19 March 2015, ownership of Sikorsky CH-54B Tarhe N720HT was changed to Bank of Utah Trustee, Salt Lake City, Utah, with Helicopter Transport Services as operator. On 15 September 2017, the Helicopter Transport Services' Sikorsky CH-54B Tarhe N720HT "Shania" was seen at Gold Beach Municipal Airport, Oregon, USA.

page last updated: 15-11-2017
Photo Copyright © Jack Poelstra, the Netherlands

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