I happened across this pic this morning (with my coffee) and thought you folks like a little tale about it.


It’s a medical facility. A portable one.  Treating casualties has long been a challenge for armies in the field, and operating out of tents has some drawbacks, sanitation being one of them. So a nice trailer like treatment facility is pretty handy.

Rather than designing a facility, and then using various prime movers to support it, in this case, the prime mover was built, and then the ideas of what it could move came along.

In the late 1950s, as the Army began to get into helicopters in a big way, and just as turbine engines with significant power were being developed, the Army realized it had a lot of stuff it wanted to move by helicopter that was never going to fit inside a helicopter.  Sling loading external loads was an obvious answer. As the Army worked with Sikorsky to develop a heavy lift helicopter, it occurred to old Igor that there was no sense in putting a fuselage on the helicopter. Why lift the weight of the airframe if you didn’t need it? So eventually the CH-54 Tarhe was designed. It was an almost skeletal frame, with a pod like cockpit for the crew, a spine that mounted the rotors, and a tall gangly undercarriage.


But the Army also knew there would be times when it would be nice if they could carry stuff inside. Given that the CH-54 (almost never called the Tarhe, but instead the Skycrane) didn’t have an inside to put people and things in, the pod was developed. It was aerodynamic, easy to attach and detach and quite useful. Versions were made for troop carrying, the above field medical unit, and various other configurations, such as a portable headquarters.


In the event, CH-54s were so busy lifting heavy stuff externally that they didn’t use the pods all that much. There were enough CH-47 Chinooks in the inventory to handle most internal loads, and even most external loads. Only the really heavy stuff had to be slung under a Skycrane.

After Vietnam, the Skycranes were transferred to the Guard, where they soldiered on up to the early 1990s. I can still recall seeing a couple flying around in the Birmingham, AL area. Several are still in use today as firefighting platforms.

9 thoughts on “Skycrane”

  1. I actually jumped those things, once in Stead, NV. and the other at Camp Shelby, MS. When the Texas State Capitol building statue on top of the cupola had to be re-furbished it was pulled off with a CH-47 but it couldn’t get it back on. A CH-54 from MSARNG came and had it back on in 15 minutes flat! Unbeknownst to most…there are 3 pilots in full compliment cockpit crew I believe, with one sitting at the flight controls in the “back end” of the cockpit facing backwards. That is what made the difference when getting the statue back on the cupola. Regards

  2. Saw one of these at FT Stewart in 1988 lift 4 TOW HMMWVs in a single sling load. LOTS of dust!

    Whenever it has the fire fighting rig set up with the hose trailing I always think of the scene in Aliens when Ripley comes across the queen alien laying the eggs…thats just what a Shithook looks like when it sucks water out of a lake.

  3. Skycrane trivia: The CH-54 with ski’s and external fuel tanks, and the one with the “people box” attached are two different models. What model, and the easiest way to tell. Regards

  4. A retired Army Warrant Rotorhead attends my church and flew the Skycrane (that’s what he called it too) for the AL Army National Guard while he was attending Auburn. He later worked for Sikorsky.

    Siller Brothers, based in Kalifornia, flew one to Cherokee, where I work, back in December to place some large AC units at the Casino. I took a pic and emailed to mt friend and he came back with,

    “The Crane pictured is one of three they have that have consecutive “N” numbers: 4035S, 4036S and this one 4037S. 36S and 37S were purchased new from Sikorsky in 1976 and 35S was bought from Evergreen Helicopters in ’77 after logging with it for two years after taking delivery new in ’75. ”

    Bill Tuttle told me about one Skycrane that used a “people pod” to move some medical staff in Vietnam (I had sent him the pic too). The pod came loose at 2000′ and everyone in the pod was killed. The attachment hardware was modified after that to preclude what happened.

    Bill also told of a DART that sent a Skycrane to pull a chopper out of the mud. The Skycrane strained, but didn’t move it. They then sent a Chinook out, and it had no trouble pulling it out. I’m not sure why it worked that way. Perhaps Mr. Bill can be prevailed upon to to tell.

    The Siller Bros. model I saw in Cherokee last December was the first that wasn’t dressed in Army Green.

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