The CH-54 Tarhe was a heavy lift helicopter built by Sikorsky. It was designed for external lifting of heavy and bulky loads. The aircraft was first flown on May 9, 1962. The CH-54 grew out of earlier developments with heavy lift helicopters buy Sikorsky, most notably the S-60. The Ch-54 maintained the same basic shape as the S-60 but instead of piston engines its was powered by turbine engines. One noteworthy feature of the S-60 was that the co-pilot was able to swivel his seat to the rear to observe the hoisting and unhoisting of cargo.
The CH-54 is a big helicopter. It performed its intended job admirably and they continue to fly today in civilian hands as the S-64.
The CH-54 was powered by two Pratt & Whitney JTFD-12A turboshaft engines rated at 4050 SHP (shaft horsepower) each attached to a six bladed rotor having a diameter of 72ft.
The CH-54 was the ideal design for lifting bulky cargo. It consisted of a central spine. On one end was a “pod” which was the cockpit. On the enther end the tail rotor. The engines were mounted above and a bit to the rear of the cockpit. Extensions for the non- retractable landing gear extended from an angle from the spine and the landing gear height could be hydraulically controlled. The CH-54 also had a winch so it did not have to land to pick up items.
The CH-54 featured a number of notable innovations. Because of the winch system the helicopter could bring a load up snug preventing the pendulum effect that’s common when helicopters are transporting sling loads. Secondly, if on the ground the helicopter could winch a load up and move it to find a more suitable take off spot free of trees or obstructions. The third was that the CH-54 had a number of “pods” that were designed to be carried by the helicopter. Think of a pod as the size and shape of a truck trailer. The helicopter could winch the pod up snug to its frame, transport it, leave it, and then retrieve it when it was no longer needed. Different pods were used for different missions. For example, a pod outfitted as a mobile hospital would be equipped with an X-ray machine, lab equipment, blood bank, and surgical tables. It would be well lit and air conditioned so the operating room could travel to where it was needed most. Other pods were outfitted as vehicle maintenance stations containing all the tools and equipment mechanics needed. Other pods were command posts. There were also people pods that were designed to carry 45 people though on at least one occasion 90 people have been carried.
The CH-54 Tarhe could also carry and drop a 10,000 lb parachute bomb which was used to create landing zones in dense jungle foliage.
The first CH-54’s served with the 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam. They performed very well and soon the Army ordered a maximum of 105 airframes.
Of all the helicopters that are flying or have flew in the U.S. Army, the CH-54 remains without equal in its ability to lift heavy loads.