19-year old uses SkyCrane to fight wildfires

Ann Hansen co-pilots the huge helicopter that can drop about 2,600 gallons of water or retardant.

Above: Ann Hansen of Philipsburg, Montana is shown standing beside a Sikorsky helicopter at the Mariposa Yosemite Airport. “They’re big guys,” she deadpanned about Sikorskys. Photo by Matt Johnson.

(This article first appeared in the Mariposa Gazette in California. It and the photos are used here with permission.)

By MATT JOHNSON, Mariposa Gazette Assistant Editor

Ann Hansen is young, but she isn’t letting that stop her from living her dream, even if it is a dream fraught with danger.

Hansen, 19, was in Mariposa over the last few weeks battling the Ferguson Fire — just not as a firefighter on the ground.

She is a copilot of a Sikorsky CH-54A Sky-crane helicopter. Along with her captain, Gregg Deacon, she has been flying into dangerous areas near the fire and dropping water and retardant to douse the flames.

“At most times out here, people ask if I’m with my dad or grandpa,” said Hansen in an interview while stationed at the Mariposa Yosemite Airport. “I look young for my age, like I’m still in high school.”

Indeed, Hansen looks like she could still be in high school. But don’t let the youthful face fool you. She’s up to the task.

erickson skycrane
Ann Hansen, a helicopter copilot, is shown inside a Sikorsky used to battle flames in Mariposa County. The irony is that Hansen is afraid of heights. “I’m terrified of heights,” Hansen said. “It’s way different when you’re in an aircraft. You focus on what you’re doing.” Photo by Matt Johnson.

“I’ve been very impressed with her, especially considering her minimal amount of experience,” said Deacon, the pilot. “It’s a complex aircraft and our mission is complex. She’s monitoring a lot of instruments and dealing with most of the radio calls. She’s doing a lot of multitasking. And we go into some difficult types of places.”

Hansen is from Philipsburg, Mont. It was there that she developed an interest in flying. Her father worked as a ranch manager. Every year, Hansen would be inspired by watching crop dusters fly overhead.

Adding to her interest in flying was the fact that her father also wanted to be a helicopter pilot. Only he never took the opportunity.

“I always had that in my head growing up,” she says of wanting to fly a helicopter.

Ten days after she graduated high school, she started in flight school at Rocky Mountain Rotors, in Belgrade, Mont. Shortly thereafter, she transferred to Jerry Trimble Helicopters flight school in Oregon.

“I never had any previous aviation experience,” Hansen said. “It was overwhelming.”

She stuck with it, and in a short period of time, she became certified to become a helicopter co-pilot.

“My parents are thrilled with it,” Hansen said, acknowledging that in a way, she is fulfilling her father’s dream of flying.

She now works for Helicopter Transport Services and has the opportunity to work on fires as well as other special projects.

“It just depends where they need me to go,” said Hansen. “The challenge is fun.”

She admits there is danger in what she does. Engines could fail on the copter, or worse.

“Everything we do has a little risk,” Hansen said. “(But) it’s fun, for one, and you’re helping with something.”

Hansen’s end goal is to become a “PIC,” or a pilot in charge. Essentially, it’s the rank of captain.

“There is still a lot to explore,” she said.

There may be plenty to explore, but for someone who is only 19, Ann Hansen has already experienced quite a bit.

National Guard helicopters assist with firefighting in California

Above: screenshot from the first video below.

California Air National Guard helicopters are assisting with the suppression of wildfires in the state.

The Bambi Bucket shown in this first video holds 2,000 gallons. I’m thinking it is used under a Chinook

In the video below you’ll see a 650-gallon Bambi Bucket, probably used with a Blackhawk.

A power company and the county share cost of a Skycrane

Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter wildfire
File photo: A Sikorsky Skycrane drops about 2,600 gallons of water on the Red Canyon Fire 9 miles southwest of Pringle, SD July 9, 2016.

San Diego Gas and Electric is in its ninth year of contracting for an Erickson Skycrane helicopter. It is a unique financial arrangement that shares the cost with the County of San Diego. SDG&E, via its ratepayers, picks up the $1.75 million annual tab for availability each season, July through October, as well as the first two hours of flight time when used on a fire. The county pays for hours three and four. If it is needed for more than four hours it would most likely be on a large fire and the additional cost could be paid by another agency such as the state or federal government, if they needed the aircraft.

The current contract for the Skycrane, which carries up to 2,650 gallons, is in effect through 2022.

Aircraft grounded on Grassy Ridge Fire after near miss with drone

KIFI reported that all air operations were shut down on the Grassy Ridge Fire north of Idaho Falls, Idaho after a near midair collision between a drone and a helicopter on August 1.

Below is an excerpt from an article at KIFI’s web site:

Officials say the[helicopter] pilot was fortunate enough to have spotted the other aircraft just in time to take evasive action and narrowly avoid a midair collision.

A photo of a white pickup truck speeding away from the area of the near miss was taken by a flight crew member.

The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office was notified and Law Enforcement officers were dispatched to the area.

All aircraft in use for fighting the Grassy Ridge Fire were immediately grounded and will remain so, hampering the fire suppression and repair efforts, until it can be verified that the airspace within the TFR over the fire is safe to fly in again.

The 99,502-acre Grassy Ridge Fire has a fireline completely around it for days, but Incident Commander Taiga Rohrer is calling it 97 percent contained.

On or about July 29 fire officials posted this message on InciWeb:

Grassy Ridge Fire contained

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Reid.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Helicopter mechanic on top of Chinook struck by rotor

Chinook at RDD
File photo of a California National Guard Chinook at RDD in 2014.

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has published a report written by individuals in the Rocky Mountain Geographic Area about an incident that happened July 8, 2018 after a Chinook helicopter that had been dropping water on a fire landed to refuel. As the pilot was shutting down the engines an error code for engine #2 indicated a failure. This code pointed to a cannon plug issue, which was pulled, inspected, reinserted, and the error code cleared.

Here is an excerpt of what happened after the Pilot in Command shut down the engines:

…Two of the crew’s mechanics climbed on top of the aircraft to complete their tasks. These tasks include, but are not limited to, visually checking certain fluid levels within a five minute window for the most accurate readings. As the crew members were busy at work and focused on their assigned tasks, the PIC began going through the engine start-up process to see if the error code issue was completely resolved.

Upon hearing the engine spool up, the crew chief immediately wanted eyes on top of the aircraft, knowing that there might be crew personnel engaged on top. Two crew mechanics were indeed on top of the aircraft, aft of the front rotor. Hearing the engines spool up, several support personnel noticed these two mechanics and began yelling: “Get down! Get down!” As the engine was spooling up and the rotors began to turn, one of the mechanic crew members was struck in the head, impacting the side of this individual’s face/head and their safety helmet. The crewmember immediately went limp and slumped down.

The second crewmember was able to grab the struck mechanic in a bear hug to prevent them both from falling off the aircraft. Crewmember 2 stated that he “fundamentally supported and slid partway down the aircraft and then pushed off the fuel tank near the bottom.” He explained that this response was based on his military training. Crewmember 2, still supporting the injured mechanic, fell onto the pavement—both landing safely. At this point, the injured mechanic sat up, stunned. Simultaneously, the PIC heard the noise outside the aircraft and immediately initiated complete engine shut-down…

After being checked by a paramedic at the helibase, the injured crewmember was driven to a hospital by a company driver to be examined. The individual was treated and released from the hospital the same afternoon.

Following the accident and before any other flight operations continued, the crew had a “safety stand-down”. This provided the crew with an opportunity to establish a clear understanding of what happened, how operations will continue moving forward, and closure for anyone who may have been traumatically affected by the incident.

Discussions within the company after the incident centered on safety meetings, communications, and continuing the use of helmets.

One injured in CAL FIRE CWN helicopter hard landing

helicopter crash Oakdale California
CWN helicopter crashes while en route to Weed, CA. Photo Courtesy of Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District via Twitter.

A helicopter under a Call When Needed contract with CAL FIRE experienced a hard landing July 24 while ferrying from Southern California to Weed where it was needed to assist with a fire. According to Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Sgt. Frank Soria, the
helicopter began experiencing problems while enroute. As the pilot turned toward the Oakdale Airport the aircraft crashed.

Sgt. Soria said the pilot refused medical treatment but a passenger was admitted to a hospital.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Al.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Photos of Tanker 123 memorial

Air Tanker 123 memorial
The memorial to the crew of Air Tanker 123 at the Big Elk Meadows VFD at Lyons, Colorado. Google photo.

In the discussion among our readers about the memorial to the three-person crew of Air Tanker 130 that was killed in a crash in 2002 near Walker, California, the subject of another crash the same year came up. Tanker 123, a P4Y-2 Privateer, crashed while maneuvering over a fire near Estes Park, Colorado. Both pilots, Ricky Schwartz and Milt Stollak were killed. All five of the pilots are listed on a memorial at the Greybull, Wyoming airport, but in the article’s comments someone asked if there was a memorial related to the Estes Park crash somewhere in Colorado, and we asked for photos if anyone found the site. Helpful answers provided enough information for Eric to find it recently who took the photos below.  Thanks Eric.

We Googled Eric’s description which produced this Google Maps result, including the photo at the top of the page. It looks like the flagpole has been moved since the first photo, above, was taken. The site is about 8 air miles northwest of Lyons, Colorado — but much farther by roads.

Air Tanker 123 memorial
Air Tanker 123 memorial. Photo by Eric Ward.
Air Tanker 123 memorial
Air Tanker 123 memorial. Photo by Eric Ward.

Here is what Eric wrote about the memorial:

As requested, here are a couple pictures of the Tanker 123 Memorial, which also includes Gordon Knight, who was also killed on the Big Elk Meadows fire, 7/30/02, when his helo went down during firefighting operations. I’d forgotten that one…so 3 pilots lost on one fire in two separate incidents.

The memorial is located in the driveway of the Big Elk Meadows VFD, at 42 Willow Road, Lyons, CO. It’s off CR 47, off US 36 Hwy. Big Elk Meadows is a private subdivision, but no one seemed concerned that I was there looking at the memorial – I assume it’s there to be seen.  It’s about a 30 minute round trip off US 36 to drive up and see it.

Firefighting aircraft on the Green Top Mountain Fire

Tim Crippin sent us these photos he took on the Green Top Mountain Fire on July 15th near Eagle Point, Oregon about 15 miles northeast of Medford. Started July 15 by lightning, it had burned about 120 acres by July 16.

Thanks Tim!

air tanker Green Top Mountain Fire helicopter Green Top Mountain Fire air tanker Green Top Mountain Fire

helicopter Green Top Mountain Fire