What Helicopter Climbs the Fastest?

This 1971 record still stands.

An Erickson Air-Crane
An Erickson Air-Crane above a powerline tower it helped erect in British Columbia. Each section of the tower weighed about 17,000 pounds.

Besides being one of the oddest looking helicopters ever flown, the Sikorsky Skycrane is famous for its ability to lift as much as 12 tons. Today Erickson operates it as the Air-Crane to fight fires and construct powerline transmission towers. But before Sikorsky sold the type certificate in 1992, the big helicopter was the Army CH-54, and it became famous for a feat that had nothing to do with lifting. In 1971, Army pilot James P. Ervin Jr. flew a CH-54 to 27,500 feet in seven minutes, 54 seconds, setting a world time-to-climb record that still stands.

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This story is a selection from the September issue of Air & Space magazine