The Australian government has been contracting for Erickson Air-Crane helicopters during their down-under fire seasons since ”Millie” (N223AC) was deployed there in 1997. They seem to have a special fondness for the ships which can carry 2,650 gallons of water, especially since the 2001-2002 bushfire season when ”Georgia Peach” (N154AC) and “Incredible Hulk” (N164AC), were rushed out from the U.S.A on board a Russian Antonov An-124 air freighter to assist with bushfires near Sydney, working with “Elvis” which was already “in the building”.
Their fire season this year has caught the Aussies by surprise, starting in New South Wales weeks earlier than usual — before the contract for the Sky-Cranes begins. While at least two Air-Cranes had already been shipped to the country from Greece by air freighter, not all of the flight crews had arrived when dozens of very large bush fires broke out that so far have burned about 200 homes and caused the death of one person. There is a bit of a controversy going on with some residents not able to understand why the huge helicopters can’t be used to fight fires without a flight crew.
Below is a list of the 34 Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use contract this year. They all expire in April, 2016.
The list was extremely hard to get. We first asked for it on April 16, 2013, hoping to receive it well before the western wildfire season got underway. We were told that the list was only available if we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which we did. After many delays, uncounted emails, excuses, and receiving incorrect information, we finally got it yesterday, September 26, five months after asking for it.
It is absurd that this information about how taxpayers’ money is being spent is not easily available to citizens. It is especially stupid, since similar data about air tankers has been available for years on the National Interagency Fire Center web site. We asked the U.S. Forest Service yesterday why the information about helicopters requires a FOIA request to obtain. The spokesperson in Boise we talked to said they would check and get back to us. If we receive an answer, we will post it here.
A helicopter hauling logs for a logging contractor on the Willamette National Forest crashed Monday afternoon, killing the pilot, William Bart Colantuono, 54, of Indialantic, Florida. The incident occurred in a remote area near Idanha, Oregon southeast of Salem. Mr. Colantuono had appeared in the History Channel’s series, “Ax Men”.
The sheriff’s office said witnesses of the crash gave deputies the following account: The helicopter, a 1962 Bell UH1B, was being used to transport logs from the cutting area to a log deck in Idanha. It had just returned after the pilot had taken a 45 minute break.
The helicopter had picked up a load when witnesses reported hearing a loud snapping sound which was followed by logs hitting the ground and it appeared the pilot had released the logs electronically, indicating the pilot knew of a problem prior to the crash.
Witnesses then saw a rotor separate from the helicopter followed by it turning upside down and falling to the ground.
During the law enforcement response to the tragic shooting at the Naval Yard in Washington, DC yesterday one of the the U.S. Park Police helicopters got a lot of air time on the television coverage.
According to reports the helicopter was used to insert snipers onto roof tops, serve as an observation platform, and to remove some non-law enforcement personnel from roofs or other areas. At times an armed officer was seen sitting in the open door. In addition to the video above, photos of the helicopter at the scene can be found at Yahoo and the New York Post.
“YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK Climber Rescued From El Capitan
Park dispatch received an emergency call from a climber on the 22nd pitch of the Nose Route on El Capitan on the morning of September 10th. The caller reported that a climber from another climbing team, a three-person group from Spain, had fallen 50 feet while leading the Great Roof Pitch (21st pitch) and had been seriously injured.
A Yosemite rescue team, including Yosemite helitak, was immediately assembled and flown to the summit of El Capitan via Helicopter 551, the park’s contract helicopter. Ranger/medics Ed Visnovske and Chris Bellino were lowered approximately a thousand feet to the injured climber and found that he was in need of medical attention. They also found that he’d landed on his belayer, who’d been injured as well.
The lead climber was packaged in a litter and lowered approximately 2,000 feet with Bellino to the base of El Capitan, where he received further medical care. The team at the summit of El Capitan then began lowering the injured belayer, the third member of the climbing team, and Visnovske approximately 2,000 feet to the base of El Capitan.
During the rescue operations, a thunderstorm developed, making rescue operations difficult. Because of smoke impacts from the nearby Rim Fire, helicopter operations also could not be carried out after 7 p.m. The rescue team at the summit of El Capitan was therefore forced to bivouac overnight and return to the Valley floor in the morning.”
Today NASA conducted a crash test of a helicopter full of instrumented crash test dummies. Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton dropped a 45-foot long helicopter fuselage from about 30 feet to test seat belts and other crash data.
It is unfortunate that this test was not done before the 2008 crash of the Sikorsky S-61N helicopter on the Iron Complex fire near Weaverville, California in which nine firefighters died. Seat belts was one of the problems identified in the NTSB’s investigation of that crash.
For today’s test the Navy provided the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter fuselages, seats, crash test dummies and other experiments for the test. The Army contributed a litter experiment with a crash test dummy. The Federal Aviation Administration provided a side-facing specialized crash test dummy and part of the data acquisition system. Cobham Life Support-St. Petersburg, a division of CONAX Florida Corporation, also contributed an active restraint system for the cockpit.
Computers on the helicopter recorded more than 350 channels of data as the helicopter was swung by cables into a bed of soil. The helicopter hit the ground at about 30 miles per hour, which represents a severe but survivable condition.
Robert Martinez was kind enough to send us some photos he took yesterday, August 27, at Columbia Airport (map) a few miles north of Sonora, California. Army UH-60 Blackhawks and Air Guard HH-60 Pave Hawks had arrived to be briefed and refueled before they were sent on to the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, about 10 miles southeast of the airport.