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Lamz.Soaring Horizons: Helicopter Giants Elevating the World with Aerial Cranes




In the early 1950s, helicopter manufacturers embarked on a quest to develop rotorcraft capable of hoisting heavy and bulky loads externally. This endeavor gave rise to a remarkable cohort of specialized helicopters known as aerial cranes, which have since become indispensable in various operations, including bridge construction.

Hughes XH-17 “Flying Crane”

One of the pioneering efforts to create an aerial crane was undertaken by Hughes Helicopters, marking Howard Hughes’s initial foray into the world of helicopters. The motivation behind this project was primarily Military in nature. The Pentagon required a helicopter capable of transporting vehicles, artillery, and supplies across challenging terrains like rivers, swamps, and mountains.

In late 1952, the colossal XH-17 took its maiden flight, showcasing its ability to lift a maximum weight of 10,284 pounds—an impressive feat for its time. However, the XH-17 suffered from inefficiencies in fuel consumption and reliability issues. It featured an unconventional two-bladed rotor system with an astounding 134-foot diameter, making it the largest rotor system ever to elevate a helicopter. Unfortunately, the immense blades had a relatively short fatigue life, and the XH-17 never achieved speeds greater than 70 mph. After three years of testing, the project was eventually abandoned.

Soviet Mil Mi-10

Following the success of the Soviet Mil Mi-6 heavy transport helicopter, Mil designers adapted the Mi-6 to create a dedicated aerial crane, designated as the Mi-10. This flying crane took its first flight in 1960 and shared similarities with the XH-17, including a tall four-legged undercarriage that allowed for a cargo platform beneath the fuselage.

The Mi-10K variant featured a gondola under the fuselage, enabling the crew to oversee cargo loading and flight operations. This helicopter achieved several world records, including lifting a staggering 55,347 pounds to an altitude of 6,600 feet. The Mi-10 proved highly successful, with over 50 airframes produced in various configurations, some of which remained operational well into the 21st century.

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Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe

The CH-54 Tarhe, extensively used during the Vietnam War, played a crucial role in transporting diverse Military cargo, from howitzers to patrol boats and downed aircraft. This helicopter also set enduring world records, including the highest altitude in level flight, reaching an impressive 36,000 feet.

The Tarhe’s versatility extended to civilian applications, participating in various high-profile endeavors such as relocating an endangered rhino in Borneo, installing the top section of the CN Tower in Toronto, and removing and replacing the Statue of Freedom from the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, D.C. The S-64, a civilian variant of the CH-54, is employed worldwide in firefighting operations.

In conclusion, aerial cranes have proven their mettle as essential tools in both Military and civilian contexts. These remarkable helicopters, from the XH-17 to the Mi-10 and CH-54 Tarhe, have left an indelible mark on aviation History, showcasing their unique abilities to lift heavy loads and contribute to various challenging missions across the globe.