Washington DNR prepares helicopter fleet for wildfire season

Washington DNR's UH-1H helicopters

Above: One of Washington DNR’s UH-1H helicopters. Washington DNR photo.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources is getting their fleet of eight helicopters ready for the coming wildfire season. The agency began acquiring their military surplus UH-1H (B-205) ships in 1989.

The DNR started their helicopter program in the 1960’s with two Bell-47’s used for recon and carrying a 50-gallon water bucket which was designed by one of their pilots, Harold Clark. By the mid-1970’s the Kaman Husky, which could carry up to 450 gallons, replaced the Bell-47’s. Those six Kaman’s were phased out in the late 1970’s due to a shortage of spare rotor blades and the availability of the more reliable and faster Huey UH-1B, which were replaced by the UH-1H about 10 years later.

Kaman Husky
A Washington DNR Kaman Husky from the 1970’s. It had interlocking rotors, not unlike the present day Kaman K-MAX. DNR photo.

The agency now has a program manager, one helicopter coordinator, 11 U.S. Forest Service certified helicopter pilots, 6 aviation maintenance technicians (AMT) who maintain, and configure the aircraft, and one chief pilot who leads the team. Usually 7 helicopters are deployed, with one held in reserve as a spare.

All of the pilots have current Class II Medical Certificates and FAA Commercial Rotor Wing Certificates. Many maintain an FAA Certified Instrument Instructor rating and Airline Transport pilot certification.

In addition to the pilots and mechanics, the staffing includes one transportation supervisor, 7 helicopter managers, 7 squad leaders, 14 firefighters, and 8 support drivers. All helitack modules have an incident commander. Generally they stage at Omak, Deer Park, Dallesport, Pomeroy, Wenatchee, Colville and Olympia.

Washington DNR's UH-1H helicopters
Maintenance on Washington DNR’s UH-1H helicopters. DNR photo.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Spokesman.com:

The department pays for fuel, operations and maintenance, which works out to about $1,600 an hour when they fly.

Dropping water on forest fires can be rugged work. But while these “Hueys” are old – the most senior helicopter in the DNR fleet came off the factory line in 1963 and did two tours in Vietnam, where it was shot down twice – they’re extremely reliable and spare parts are plentiful.

Washington DNR's UH-1H helicopters crew
Washington DNR photo

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