Erickson receives FAA approval for composite main rotor blades

The blades will be used on S-64 and CH-54 helicopters

Erickson composite main rotor blades
Erickson introduces composite main rotor blades. Erickson photo.

Erickson Incorporated announced this week that the company has received FAA approval for composite main rotor blades for S-64 and CH-54 helicopters.

After many years of manufacturing metal blades, the company invested in the future of the S-64 by designing, certifying, and building composite main rotor blades that will bring many benefits. Erickson began the process of designing the new blades in 2008, working closely with the FAA and various industry partners. In 2013 they collaborated with Helicopter Transport Services (HTS), so the blades could be utilized on CH-54 rotorcraft as well.

To maintain close control of blade manufacture, Erickson built a composite manufacturing facility from scratch in 2015. After thousands of hours of design, testing, and analysis by their engineers and partners, the new composite main rotor blades are now approved by the FAA for the S-64E with an initial life that will increase as fatigue testing continues. Certification for the CH-54A is expected to follow quickly in the coming weeks, and certification for the S-64F and CH-54B should be received this summer.

In February Erickson announced the S-64F+ which will have composite main rotor blades, an enhanced cockpit and flight control system, an improved water cannon, and what the company calls a modern engine enhancing range and fuel efficiency.

Erickson delivers another Air Crane to Korea Forest Service

This brings the KFS operational fleet up to six S-64 Air Crane helicopters

Korea Forest Service S-64 Air-Crane
File photo of a Korea Forest Service S-64 Air-Crane using its water cannon. Yonhap news Agency Photo, 2017.

This month Erickson Incorporated delivered another Air Crane firefighting helicopter to the Korea Forest Service (KFS), completing the delivery of the latest two-aircraft order. Another S-64 was delivered to the KFS in November. This brings the KFS operational fleet up to six S-64 Air Crane helicopters.

In 2001, KFS became the first foreign government to purchase S-64 helicopters from Erickson. The recently delivered versions have composite main rotor blades and glass cockpits. Some of the S-64 helicopters in the KFS fleet have the optional front-mounted water cannon.

Flight Global reports that the helicopter delivered in December, registration HJ9659, is a re-manufactured aircraft built by Sikorsky in 1968 that has been out of service since 1993. Erickson purchased it in November 2018.

Korea Forest Service S-64 Air-Crane load Antonov
Korea Forest Service S-64 Air-Crane being loaded into an Antonov An-124 transport for the flight to South Korea. Erickson photo.

Two S-64 helicopters have crashed while hover refilling in the last six years. One owned and operated by the KFS crashed into a lake May 9, 2013 near the Andong Dam, Kyeongbuk Province, South Korea. The two pilots died at the scene and a maintenance crew chief on board sustained serious injuries. On January 28, 2019 an Air-Crane impacted the water while assigned to a wildfire in Victoria, Australia. Three crewmembers sustained minor injuries.

Erickson receives contract to build two Aircranes for South Korea

aircrane helicopter

Above: An Erickson Aircrane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire in northern California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 11:58 a.m. MST January 10, 2018)

Erickson Incorporated has received a contract to build two new Aircrane firefighting helicopters for the Korea Forest Service (KFS). These aircraft are in addition to a previously ordered S64E Aircrane currently under construction at Erickson and due to be delivered in the third quarter of 2018.  These two additional aircraft will be equipped with firefighting tanks, sea snorkels, foam cannons, glass cockpit, composite main rotor blades and night vision goggle capability.

In 2001 KFS became the first foreign government to purchase S-64s from Erickson. To date it has operated five Aircranes in South Korea while maintaining a contract for parts and service support.  This new contract brings the total number of orders for the KFS Aircrane fleet to eight, with the expectation of delivering the seventh and eighth aircraft by the end of 2019.

Erickson owns 20 S-64 Aircrane helicopters as part of their total fleet of 50 aircraft. The S-64 Helitanker is equipped with a 10,000 liter (2,650 gallons) tank capable of rapid snorkeling either fresh or saltwater.

Erickson emerges from bankruptcy

erickson air-crane

Above: An Erickson Air-Crane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire in northern California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Erickson Incorporated, known to wildland firefighters for their Air-Crane helicopters that can carry up to 2,500 gallons of water, has emerged from bankruptcy after declaring for Chapter 11 on November 8, 2016. Soon after the company purchased Evergreen Helicopters and Air Amazonia and their 78 aircraft in 2012 and 2013 the bottom fell out of the oil exploration industry and they lost military and firefighting contracts. Suddenly finding themselves no longer a small business Erickson lost their eligibility to compete for U.S. Forest Service firefighting contracts.

President and CEO Jeff Roberts said on April 28, 2017, “We are very pleased to have completed our financial restructuring in such an efficient and timely manner. Chapter 11 allowed us to achieve rationalization of our aircraft fleet and deliver our balance sheet by over $400 million in debt. We are exiting the restructuring process with significant available liquidity to fund the company’s present and future business opportunities.” Mr. Roberts continued, “With a stronger financial foundation and reduced cost structure, we are well positioned under the new business model to fund our operations and to further develop and expand our business in order to better serve our customers and enhance value for all stakeholders for years to come.”

Mr. Roberts said the company will move forward as a privately-held small business, effective immediately.

Susan Bladholm, a spokesperson for Erickson, told us that they currently have 20 Air-Cranes, but could not comment on the potential to bid on or obtain firefighting contracts since the company is under new ownership and some issues still need to be worked out.

Erickson files for bankruptcy


Above: An Erickson Aircrane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire in northern California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

On Monday, November 8, 2016 Erickson Incorporated filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The company called it a financial restructuring, saying the company will continue to operate “in the ordinary course of business” and they are “committed to the same level of operational integrity, safety, compliance, and customer service that its partners are accustomed to.”

Between March, 2012 and April, 2016 the company had eight Type 1 Aircrane helicopters on contract with the U.S. Forest Service. When the next round of contracts was announced in February, 2016 conspicuous by its absence was Erickson, receiving none. It is likely that when they purchased Evergreen Helicopters, Inc. in March, 2013 (and their 64 aircraft) and the Brazilian company Air Amazonia (and their 14 helicopters in November, 2012), they no longer qualified as a “small business” and lost their eligibility to compete for USFS firefighting contracts.

These large helicopters can carry up to 2,500 gallons of water. Erickson bought the manufacturing license and type certificate from Sikorsky in 1992 for the military version, the CH-54 Tarhe. In addition to dropping thousands of gallons of water, it can be fitted with an optional front-mounted water cannon that can shoot water horizontally at 300 gallons per minute.

Monday Erickson provided more information about the bankruptcy:

…Under Bankruptcy Court supervision, the Company expects to file a consensual plan of reorganization with the support of its major creditor constituencies which the Company anticipates will significantly reduce its total indebtedness. Additionally, our first lien lenders and second lien noteholders have entered into a credit support agreement which is expected to result in approximately $60 million in new financing to further fund ongoing operations over the course of the restructuring.

Erickson Inc. struggling financially


Above: An Erickson Aircrane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire in northern California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Last year Erickson had eight Type 1 firefighting helicopters, Aircranes like the one above, on exclusive use contracts with the U.S. Forest Service. There are none on the new contract that was issued February 26.

While it may be only partially related to losing those eight contracts, Erickson Inc. is struggling financially. Their stock, (EAC) that reached a 5-year high of $28.10 on May 13, 2013, has dropped like a stone since early in 2014 and Friday closed at 99 cents.

In 2012 and 2013 the company went on a buying spree, and purchased two companies that had a total of 78 aircraft. When Erickson acquired Evergreen Helicopters, Inc. (and their 64 aircraft) and the Brazilian company Air Amazonia (and their 14 helicopters), they no longer qualified as a “small business” and lost their eligibility to compete for the federal firefighting contract. Evergreen Helicopters had 400 employees. Last year Erickson laid off 150 workers.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Oregon Live:

…Erickson is not a big player in oil and gas. But it has its own problems. It recently lost a crucial wildfire fighting contract with the U.S. Forest Service. It also borrowed heavily three years ago to buy the helicopter business from Evergreen Aviation in McMinnville, only to see the U.S. defense business that was Evergreen’s forte go into a tailspin.

The toll on Erickson’s financial performance has been dramatic.

The company lost $10.2 million in 2014 and another $86.7 million in 2015. So far, 2016 has brought little relief, with Erickson losing another $26 million in its first quarter…

Erickson had six aircranes working in Australia during their 2015/2016 summer fire season.  There are still nine Sikorsky helicopters similar to the Aircrane that are on contract for the next one to four years in the United States. Helicopter Transport Services has five and Siller has four. The models are CH-54A, CH-54B, SK-64A and SK-64E.

Erickson receives contract for two helicopters in Alaska

Posted on Categories HelicoptersTags ,

Erickson made it more difficult to obtain contracts for their firefighting helicopters from the U.S. federal government when they bought two companies, expanding beyond the criteria for a “small business”. But they are still eligible for a contract in Alaska.

On Tuesday Erickson announced two exclusive-use contracts with the State of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources for wildfire suppression. The company will provide two medium-lift helicopters; one based in Palmer and another in Fairbanks. The contracts are for one year, with four additional option years.

Aircranes continue to stay busy in Australia

Stymied by contracting regulations in the United States, Erickson’s Aircrane helicopters are still loved down under.


Above: An Aircrane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire northwest of Yreka, California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Erickson’s Australian partner Kestrel Aviation signed up for a third S64E Aircrane helicopter to support firefighting efforts in Victoria state. Erickson has six Aircranes currently working in Australia.

“We are proud to help protect the lives and homes of Victoria’s residents during the peak of their fire season,” said Andy Mills, Erickson v-p of commercial aviation services. “Our crews have already been busy fighting fires in Western Australia and New South Wales.”

The third Aircrane, previously stationed in Sydney, New South Wales to fight fires, has been reassigned to Mangalore, Victoria where it remains available as required for the remainder of the fire season.

Erickson has also been contracted in support of the initial phases of NASA’s 3rd Generation Mid-Air Retrieval Project focused on mid-air retrieval of NASA spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere. Erickson is contracted to study the concept of operations for proposed NASA missions that employ mid-air retrieval using a single S-64F Aircrane helicopter.