It may be able to fight fires or resupply troops at night

File photo. Erickson Air-Crane, Elvis, in Victoria, Australia in 2013; N179AC. Erickson photo.

The big helicopter, which is perhaps Erickson’s most famous air crane, the Elvis, is gutted down to the tunnels, so to speak. The company plans to convert the N179AC into an S-64F +, which can be operated without a pilot in the cockpit or autonomously.

The project, which was first announced at the HAI meeting in Anaheim in January 2020, began with the development of a new “optional night-time firefighting solution for pilots,” in which Sikorsky’s MATRIX ™ technology was integrated into a digital fire management system that was implemented in the night has never been used to fight fire. Erickson said it would improve cockpit awareness and flight crew safety during day and night operations.

Sikorsky’s description of MATRIX:

System intelligence that gives operators the confidence to fly their large rotary wing aircraft safely, reliably and cost-effectively as autonomous or optionally piloted aircraft.

Air cranes, sometimes referred to as helitankers, can move up to 2,650 gallons of water.

Erickson S64F +Erickson S-64F +. Erickson picture.

According to a report in Vertical, the scope of the concept has recently been expanded to include the autonomous delivery of cargo for the military, not at the front but at the rear. For example, it could transport weapons and vehicles from an offshore ship past a closed or destroyed port to a point where they are needed by troops.

The reconstruction of Elvis includes the switch to a fly-by-wire system. When it’s done, it will also have the other features that Erickson has put into its new line of S-64F + helicopters, composite main rotor blades, an upgraded cockpit and flight control system, an upgraded water cannon, and what the company calls modern engine enhancement , builds in range and fuel efficiency.

Erickson expects the ground surveys of the reborn Elvis to begin in 2022 with a maiden flight by the end of 2023.

Two K-MAX helicopters were converted into an unmanned aerial vehicle system (UAS) by the Lockheed Martin Corporation and the Kaman Aerospace Corporation for a military, enabling autonomous or remote-controlled cargo delivery. Its mission: battlefield cargo supplies for the US military. The two ships have flown more than 1,000 missions in Afghanistan and hauled more than 3 million pounds of cargo that would otherwise have been carried by trucks prone to roadside bombing. One goal was to save lives by reducing Marines exposure to improvised explosive devices in cargo convoys.

The helicopters were sent to Afghanistan for an initial, limited mission in November 2011, but were extended several times.

In 2015, a pilot-optional K-MAX demonstrated water dropping and cargo transportation near Boise, Idaho.