Watch This Weird Helicopter Catch a Saturn V Rocket Mid-Air Like It Never Did in Real Life

Hiller Air Tug and Saturn V 8 photos
Photo: Hazegrayart
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Helicopters nowadays come in many shapes and sizes, but few are as strange as the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane. First flown in 1962, it was built in rather limited numbers, just a little over 30 of them (not including the CH-54 Tarhe military version), and is used, like its name says, as a sort of flying crane.
What’s weird about it is of course its shape. It starts out like all other helicopters up front, with the pilot’s cockpit, but then ditches any semblance of a body in favor of a thin but strong beam that holds the rotors, side wheels, and of course the main crane.

At about the same time the Skycrane was born, America’s first space exploration program was in full swing, as the nation was looking to beat the Russians to the Moon. The backbone of the Apollo program was, as you all know, the Saturn V rocket.

The super-heavy lift rocket was of the use-once-then-throw-it-away kind, because those were the limitations of the time. This doesn’t mean though some people didn’t envision a way to recover the rocket after launch and re-use at least some parts of it.

One way considered suitable for recovery was the so-called Hiller Air Tug. Shaped like a combination between the Skycrane and other oddly-shaped helicopters, the Air Tug was not supposed to lift anything, but catch the entire Saturn V booster mid-air and bring it safely back down to Earth, in a similar fashion to what Rocket Lab is doing.

The machine was imagined by California-based Hiller Aircraft, and like many other airborne and space vehicles of that era, it never got to be made. Over the years, many outlets covered this strange concept, and a number of renderings and videos of it are floating out there on the Internet. The most recent comes our way via Hazegrayart.

The animation specialist put together a five-minute video of the thing in action (you can enjoy it below) and it’s simply spectacular, as it shows both a new take on the Air Tug’s design, and how the entire Saturn recovery thing would have unfolded.

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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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