Could thieves use a skycrane helicopter to steal things?

Say a well-funded team of thieves was able to obtain a Skycrane, store it in a well-hidden area, preferably a farm outside the suburbs, and equip it with a powerful magnet or riggings. They use this helicopter to make off with fancy cars and expensive construction equipment, at night, using said magnet or having a team of burglars on the ground secure riggings to the vehicle. They then fly back to the secluded farm and deposit the prize on the ground. It would then be hidden or put in a truck and driven away.

What are the odds of such a scheme working, if even for only a few days? Would it be possible for them to get away before the police deployed a chopper of their own to chase them? Could skilled criminals actually pull this off without being detected at all (perhaps operating only in desolate areas and stealing only construction machines from work sites?) And, what additional charges might be added, were they caught, due to the use of the skycrane?

Might be a tad conspicuous (and quite damaging to the car) to be dragging a BMW or Mercedes off by the roof, plus I don’t think those crane helicopters are very fast. A state police helicopter could easily peg and tail them while just loafing along.

Sikorsky S-64 Flying Crane (CH-54) Helicopter

I imagine that you COULD do it, however that thing’s going to be louder than hell. A little traffic helicopter flying a few hundred feet overhead is incredibly noisy, imagine how loud a Skycrane would be.

It seems to me that if the AeroThieves are swiping stuff from some place so remote that nobody notices a giant helicopter swooping in, it’d be far simpler for them to drive an 18 wheeler up, winch the boodle onboard and drive off. The only advantage to using a helicopter would be if you’re taking something incredibly heavy from an extremely inaccessible location.

Dunno what the market on “hot” backloaders is. There’s certainly money in stealing nice cars but the cost of doing it your way versus hiring a pack of street thieves to swipe 'em and drive them to a chop shop quickly seems prohibitive.

Hm, maybe for a big one-time job it’d work - you knock out the local ATC so impossible to track on radar, then swoop down, grab the semi with the Crown Jewels onboard, and fly off where roads don’t follow so you can quickly offload to your team of cigarette boats which transfer the loot to an inconspicuous freighter? There’s a story in there somewhere if you work out the details!

It doesn’t sound very cost-effective to me. It says here a Sikorsky S-64 costs $4000 per hour to operate. Even a small 4-seater helicopter costs about $500 per hour to charter.

Screw chartering. I’m thinking maybe a scenario in which someone connected with the Russian Mafia hooks our superburglars up with a surplus Commie military chopper.

One good application for this might actually be the theft of semi tractors.

To add to Valgard’s comment: while we’re used to choppers in the city, they’re almost all people movers; the heavy lift choppers I’ve encountered have all been significantly louder than the people movers - enough so to draw people out to see what’s going on. And they’re not built for speed, so once spotted they’re cooked.

I think you should try it, PaulFitzroy. It would be a helluva test of Homeland Security.

Hey, one of the crooks did it on “Mathnet”, so it must be possible, right?

It would never work.

The reason aircraft (especially heavy-lift rotary wing aircraft) cost so much to operate is it is so damn hard to keep them repaired. Military aircraft typically require several hours of maintenance for every hour of flight, by skilled aviation mechanics who have all the spare parts they need.

It would take a phenomenal amount of effort to get a surplus “commie” miliary helo operational again after any amount of downtime.

Oh, then you have to find someone to fly it. :dubious:

Hell, if you really want to steal construction equipment, just drive up to any construction site after 3:30 pm, and take it. What are you going to do with the equipment, though? People in the construction industry tend to know what equipment is around in their area, and would notice if equipment started disappearing, and showing up on your sales lot… :rolleyes:

Oh, and if you decide to drive the equipment to another part of the country, realize that the equipment, loaded on a flatbed truck, isn’t exactly hidden. Not too hard to put out an all-points bulletin for a missing Deere 800C excavator.

Sell them on Ebay.

Fly around in the City without following FAA regs, and after they “ping” you a few times, you’ll have an F14 flying alongside, signaling you to “land- NOW”- and a Skycrane can’t outrun one of those. :dubious:

Might work out in the boonies.


  1. They’re LOUD. Incredibly so.

  2. They’re expensive - costs of parts and maintenance without which you do not fly

  3. They’re slow - you can’t outrun anything, and you can’t hide.

Although there are places where ATC is suffciiently sparse or non-existant as to make a theft of this sort possible, as a general rule there’s nothing out there. to steal. If there is something worth stealing it would probably be just as easy, if not more so, and a heck of a lot cheaper/less trouble to simply drive a truck to the location and steal the item.

The only time this would be practical would be in theiving something large and heavy from incredibly rough terrain - and then you have to wonder how it got there in the first place.

But yeah, it’s possible - just really, really unlikely.

We had one lift some A/C equipment to the top of our building once, and there’s no way you can be stealthy with those things. They’re huge and very noisy, everyone in the southern end of town knew it was there.

I’ll third (forth?) the loud part. I watched one of those sky cranes flying an AC unit onto a building probably 10 KM away. I couldn’t hear my damn TV, it was so freaking loud. And when it flew over my building it was quite an experience.

Although in most areas they won’t have complete radar cover (probably been upgraded in most large cities but I doubt most towns) so you should be able to stay hidden from the FAA as long as you fly low in a rural area. I doubt you’ll do more than shake the local police awake though. I think you’d have better luck doing something like ripping out the vault in a bank with one of those things (although it might exceed max weight capacity).

I’d like to mention a SF novel I recently read where this was a key plot point. Problem: This plot point is a spoiler. So if I mention the title of the book, I’m giving something away… (Although I easily figured it out before it was revealed in the book.)

If for some reason you really want to know the title and don’t care that knowing this would spoil it for you it is:

“The Turing Option” by Harry Harrison and Marvin Minsky. Mini-review: a lot of bland exposition up front, sort of fizzles at the end, but half+ of the book is good reading.

re: the noise

What about this whisper-mode technology beloved of CIA helicopters in conspiracy theories? I realise this is to further complicate the issue, but I’ve heard the “whisper” thing actually is possible, with a loudspeaker playing “negative sound” or something which blots out the actual sound of the chopper. “Negative sound” being the exact sonic opposite (if such a term has any meaning) of the sound of the chopper, played at exactly the right time to coincide with every rumble and clunk.

So does this technology have a maximum volume or something? Or could we “whisper” up anything we wanted?

That’d be cool.

Anyway, just because it’s incredibly expensive and time-consuming and you could steal the cars far more easily by virtually any other method including inventing teleportation, that doesn’t deny the OP: could thieves use a skycrane helicopter to steal things?

I say go for it. If nothing else, you’ll be famous. Those televised freeway chases are getting boring. Now, a huge helicopter being followed by a swarm of police and news choppers—that’t I’d pay to see.

This business model for your theiving business—isn’t it a tad…ummm…complicated?
The last cheap criminal I met just shoved a gun in my kidney and said, “Gimme.” Worked fine.

From my experience (working downtown when those sky cranes were lifting and removing rooftop AC units, generators, signs, etc.) the damn things are not only unbelievably loud, but the frequencies are so low you actually feel them – like riding in a car with one window slightly open.

There’s also the matter of rotor wash – that’s a lot of wind to come out of nowhere.

But let’s say stealth is not a concern. You really want the speed of swooping in, grabbing the cargo, and swooping out.

If I read the sheet right, the payload capacity of a Skycrane is 20,000 lbs. If I read another sheet right, the weight of a heavy bulldozer is 10,900 kg, which works out to about 24,000 pounds.

So it’s quite possible you could swoop in, have your commando group jump out, palletize the heavy equipment, and then have it be too heavy to lift.

You decide to cut yur losses and abort the mission. Do you leave all your equipment behind, tipping off the construction crew when the arrive in the morning, or do you take the time to get the dozer off the pallet, and lose the element of speed?

It seems it would only be suitable for stealing things that are:
[li]Located outdoors in unguarded, unpopulated areas[/li][li]Valuable enough to justify operating cost of helicopter[/li][li]Difficult or impossible to load onto a truck, or very conspicuous on the road[/li][li]Weigh less than 10 tons[/li][/ul]

Does anything fit those criteria? The only thing I can think of is perhaps some types of trees that cannot be legally cut down. Timber is evidently expensive enough to justify the use of a Skycrane, since logging is a common use of this aircraft.