Erickson Air-Crane, Inc. of Portland, OR, used Hamburg Süd’s Australia/New Zealand – West Coast North America service recently to reposition three of its high-value heavy-lift helicopters from Australia to the US West Coast for the start of the North American summer fire season. The units traveled as deck cargo on three different sailings of the Hamburg Süd service. The six main rotor blades on each of the giant copters were removed for transport. Upon vessel arrival at the Transbay Container Terminal at the Port of Oakland, each copter was lifted off and towed to an open area. The blades, with a rotating diameter of over 72 feet, were reinstalled after arrival, and each of the aircraft then lifted off, headed for their first West Coast assignments.
The Aircranes, first built by Sikorsky Helicopter for aircraft and equipment recovery during the Vietnam War, are now built by Erickson. Company modifications to the design have given it additional flexibility and power. Today’s S-64 Aircrane, powered by a pair of Pratt and Whitney turbines with a combined takeoff rating of up to 9,600 horsepower, can lift a payload of up to 12.5 tons at sea level. For aerial fire fighting, that translates into loads of up to 2,500 gallons of water at a time. The Aircrane boasts two rapid load systems, depending on the water sources near the fire site. A hydraulic pump can fill the tank from water as shallow as 18 inches in just 45 seconds. A ram-scoop hydrofoil can skim the surface of the ocean or a large lake and “fill-er-up” in just 30 seconds. The short-turn cycles of the aircraft, coupled with its huge lift capacity, enable it to deliver large volumes of water, foam or fire retardant slurry to an active forest or brush fire, making it a highly valued resource in fighting large urban wildfires.
“Hamburg Sud’s weekly sailings between North America and Australia/New Zealand are a real benefit for our company,” said Dennis Hubbard, Erickson’s Incident Response Program Manager. “These are capital intensive assets, so it is critical that we are able to deploy them as rapidly and efficiently as possible to areas of high fire risk around the globe.
“Aircranes are especially valued by forestry services and other government agencies charged with forest and wildland fire response. We deploy them to the Southern Hemisphere during their critical summer and early fall fire season, and then ship them back to North America in time for our dry summer and fall conditions. Erickson also maintains an inventory of an additional 17 Aircranes, strategically positioned worldwide, for heavy lifts of everything from large-scale construction equipment and mechanical systems, to logging and the installation of power line and ski lift support towers in remote and rugged areas.
“The Aircrane is a very rugged machine, but paradoxically, with its length of nearly 88 feet, a 25.2-foot spread of its landing gear, and its specialized power and loading systems, it is also very vulnerable to damage if it isn’t handled properly in terms of loading and offloading and lashing on deck for the ocean voyage. Our crews are always on hand to work closely with the ship and terminal crew and longshoremen at loading and discharge, and I’m pleased to say that each Hamburg Süd shipment went very smoothly.”