Tarhe Walkaround — the CH-54 Tarhe/Sikorsky Skycrane

I do not mean this pejoratively, but most helicopters remind me of insects, which is fitting since helicopters can fly as insects do — up, down, all around and into a hover. Generally, helicopters evoke comparisons with the winged insect world because of the rotor disc in which the whirling rotor blades are distinguishable only as blurred elements much like an insect’s wings when in flight; as well as the cockpits shaped much like compound eyes.

The Tarhe’s crew section — photo by Joe May

The Tarhe’s crew chief position — photo by Joe May

The Sikorsky CH-54 Tarhe (the civilian version is the Skycrane), in particular, evokes comparisons with a wasp given its enormous rotor span and dangling, jointed-looking landing gear (legs). This Tarhe is exhibited at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum and is an early model, as can be seen with its single wheel main gear (the later model had twin wheels for each main gear). The design,of course, was meant to be one solely for lifting so there is no fuselage, per se. There is a cockpit and a skeleton — if you will — from which the tail boom and landing gear extend, the engines and rotor hub are mounted, and the cockpit for the crew of three is attached. The CH-54’s crew consisted of a pilot, copilot and crew chief with each gaining access to the aircraft using individually designated doors. The crew chief sat in a capsule which must have given an outstanding view which may only be surpassed standing on the lowered ramp of a few other helicopter types. Pods were designed to be carried tucked up against the spine and could carry soldiers or a medical unit, although sling load were the most common missions.

Looking down the CH-54’s spine toward the tail rotor, note the powerful winch — photo by Joe May

Detail of the CH-54 main landing gear— photo by Joe May

A winch powerful enough to lift howitzers to Hueys — photo by Joe May

Eventually the CH-54 was replaced by the Boeing CH-47 D Chinook and the nearly 100 Tarhes built were retired. Unusually, another manufacturing company bought the manufacturing rights to build and rebuild the Skycrane from Sikorsky and that company is Erickson Air-Crane Inc. which uses these helicopters in aerial firefighting as well as timber logging, most often.

Rear view of the CH-54 Tarhe — photo by Joe May

Personally, I like this aircraft. Perhaps because of its ungainly appearance, or its purpose-built nature. I’m not sure for which reason, I just know that I like the CH-54.

Posts regarding the U.S. Army Aviation Museum have appeared previously and more will be published in the near future. Finding the way to the published posts is as easy as typing “Army Aviation” into the search window and selecting ENTER.

Additional references:

The CH 54 (sic) Skycrane Association

Excellent model of a CH-54A with BLU-82 parachute retarded 15,000 pound (6800kg) convention bomb, nicknamed “daisy cutter”, used to flatten a section of forest in order to instantly create a landing zone.

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