Please click on any of the coded models listed on the pages below to learn more about its background and why it came into being, its special features, its specifications and its production history. The following lineage charts are organized in groups:

Sikorsky Product History

S-64 Skycrane (CH-54 Tarhe)




With the success of the experimental S-60 flying crane helicopter Sikorsky received corporate approval to proceed with the development of a production prototype, the S-64 Skycrane.   This was to be more powerful than the S-60 and use turbine engines rather than the piston engines of the S-60.  The basic mission was heavy cargo transport, with quick, safe and efficient turn-around time due to the external cargo configuration.  This mission was later expanded to include a method of internal transport, particularly of troops, using a pod attached to the underside of the aircraft . First flight of the S-64 was on May 9, 1962, only 13 months from program go-ahead.  Only two months later, in July 1962 the aircraft was flown to Ft. Benning Georgia for army evaluation.  Up to this time, everything was company funded. The U.S. Army bought six S-64s for evaluation at a cost of $13 million.  They designated it the CH-54A Tarhe.  Four of these aircraft eventually went to Vietnam to assist in the war effort.  The German government also bought two for evaluation.  A U.S. Army production order followed the initial Vietnam evaluation.  The Germans did not buy any Skycranes, preferring the CH-53A with its internal cabin.




Initially the aircraft were designated the S-64A.  With 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.  After a number of years of production, the mission capabilities were expanded again with the CH-54B/S-64F configuration

S-64 in early hover flight


Configuration Features


Like the S-60 before it, the main feature of the S-64 Skycrane was its basic configuration with no cabin, just a simple “stick” fuselage designed to carry cargo externally.  Two Pratt & Whitney JFTD-12 turbine engines were used with a new dynamic system. The 72 foot diameter rotor was derived from the S-56/S-60 with a sixth blade added, plus additional blade chord for increased blade area. A nose wheel/main landing gear aft configuration, opposite to what was used on the S-60, was chosen to ease ground maneuvering around the payload.  This was one of the lessons learned from the experimental S-60 program.


A tail skid was included to protect the tail in an extreme nose-up landing.  The cockpit was below the structure and included a third pilot’s station facing aft to be used to fly the aircraft as it attached and released the payload.  The cockpit was sized to carry a crew of five – the pilot, copilot, aft-facing pilot, and two mechanics.  Since the aircraft was designed to operate for extended periods in remote areas, it was decided to include space for the two mechanics onboard the aircraft.  One other interesting feature is the lack of cowlings over the dynamic system hardware.  Since speed, and therefore drag reduction, was not a requirement, it was decided to simplify maintenance access, reduce weight and  save production costs by not using these cowlings.


The transmission is tilted 3 degrees to the left and not tilted forward.  This allows it to hover level over the load being   picked   up.     As a result of this, in cruise flight the cockpit is tilted to the right and the   aircraft flies with a nose down attitude.

S-64 carrying a transmission tower


General Arrangement Drawing




Mission Systems


The aft-facing cockpit was included to ease picking up and releasing the cargo loads. This used limited authority electronic flight controls for precise control over the load, and is believed to be the first use of fly-by-wire controls on a helicopter.  The pilots could override the aft station controls at any time.


A 20,000 pound capacity cargo hoist was included for single point suspension of the cargo load.  Additionally there was a system of four small hoists of 5,000 pound capacity each to support the cargo in a different configuration.  To further improve cargo handling on the ground, the landing gear could kneel over the load to facilitate attachment and detachment



S-64 carrying a bridge section at a construction site.




Various cargo/personnel pods were also designed and fabricated for internal cargo,personnel transport, medical, and maintenance purposes


S-64 with personnel pod Attached



Other Representative Missions






General Characteristics and Performance 




  S-64A    S-64E S-64F
    CH-54A  CH-54B  
Design Gross Weight    38,000 lbs   38,000 lbs 47,000 lbs
Overload Gross Weight     41,000 lbs     42,000 lbs             N/A
Weight Empty   17,240 lbs 19,120 lbs   19,700 lbs
Useful Load          20,760 lbs     22,880 lbs  27,300 lbs
Payload      16,000 lbs 20,000 lbs 25,000 lbs
Rotor Diameter    72 ft     same     same
Tail Rotor Diameter  16 ft    same same
Length  88 ft 6 ins   same same
Height   25 ft 5 ins   same same

Two P&WA




same   JFDT12A-5A
Engine Power   4,050 hp 4,500 hp   4,800 hp
Transmission Limit     5,400 hp 6,600 hp 7,900 hp
Crew    3 same  same
Maximum Cruise Speed 102 knots  115 knots   104 knots
Range  166 nm 217 nm 208 nm
Hover Ceiling, In Ground Effect ft 9,700 ft 10,600  
Service Ceiling 10,500 ft 13,000 ft  
Rate of Climb  1,400 ft/min         

1,700 ft/min  



With the simple light weight fuselage configuration, the cranes had very low empty weight to gross weight ratios, as low as .42 on the S-64F.  Without payload this gave the aircraft outstanding performance.  Numerous altitude and time-to-altitude records were broken by the Skycranes.  In level flight the S-64F flew at 36,122 feet. Hover records were:

                                     Payload                                   Maximum Altitude
                                    4,410 lbs                                             31,480 ft 
                                   11,025 lbs                                            25,510 ft
                                   22,050 lbs                                            17,212 ft
                                   33,075 lbs                                            10,850 ft


Time to Climb records were:  


Altitude Time to Climb
 9,843 ft 1 min 22.2 sec
19,686 ft 2 min 58.9 sec
29,529 ft 5 min 57.7 sec

On May 1965 the crane demonstrated transport of 90 troops using the cabin pod. 



Production History


United Aircraft Corporate approval for the design and development of the S-64 was given in April 1961.   Up to the first flight on May 9, 1962 everything was company funded.  In June 1963 the U.S. Army bought the six S-64s for evaluation at a cost of $13 million.  The FAA Type Certificate was granted on July 30, 1965.   The CH-54B configuration production began in 1969.  Production by year was:         








 This adds up to a total of 99 aircraft.  Other sources in the Igor I. Sikorsky Historical Archives list a total of 101 aircraft - 54 CH54As and 35 CH-54Bs for the Army, and 12 S-64Es and Fs for commercial customers. 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, Inc. of Medford Oregon for logging operations and some firefighting and construction activity.   By the 1980s forest firefighting became the main mission for the Ericson cranes. In 1992 Sikorsky agreed to sell the Skycrane Type Certificate to Ericson.  This transferred all manufacturing and support rights worldwide to Ericson for both the S-64E, with a 10-ton payload, and the S64F, 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 18 aircraft by 2000.  Additional Ericson Air-Cranes have been sold internationally.  They continue in use today. The CH-54s were retired from Army service in 1995.



Ericson Air-Crane fighting a fire


Related Models


In 1968 Sikorsky proposed a growth crane to the Army, the S-64B, which used a 79 foot rotor and three engines with a new main gearbox.  Originally both the General Electric T-64-GE-16 and the Lycoming T-55- l-11 were proposed. The design was for a payload of 17.9 tons, with a design gross weight of 50,000 lbs and an overload gross weight of 64,700 lbs.  Weight empty was 26,669 lbs; maximum speed was 100 knots with payload and 130 knots without payload.    This concept was not pursued beyond the proposal stage, but the three engine/79 foot rotor became the basis of the CH-53E, using the General Electric engines. The basic concept of the crane helicopter was extended by the army into the HLH, or Heavy Lift Helicopter.  There was a competition for this aircraft between Sikorsky and Boeing Vertol.  This was won by Boeing Vertol in 1973 using a tandem rotor configuration.   The helicopter used two 92 ft diameter rotors in a tandem configuration and had a gross weight of 118,000 lbs.  The program entered design and development but was terminated in 1974 before entering production due to development issues.


Additional information Sources


SKYCRANE – IGOR SIKORSKY’S LAST VISION, by John A McKenna, retired Sikorsky Executive Vice President.  Published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc. in 2010.   ISBN 978-1-60086-756-9.


For Additional Information see SIKORSKY ARCHIVES NEWSLETTER, July 2007,


Prepared by Art Linden, November 2011