K-MAX hauls brush and timber from urban area in Utah

K-MAX at Sandy, Utah
K-MAX at Sandy, Utah. Screen grab from KSL video.

A K-MAX helicopter is being used in an urban area near Sandy, Utah to haul away brush and trees that hand crews cut in an area near homes. Thanks to a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service, the crews spent about 800 hours cutting and spraying brush to reduce the threat from wildfires. KSL has a video and still images of the project.

The K-MAX in the picture below from July 10, 2012, is operated by Swanson Group Aviation and was assigned to Custer, SD last year,

K-MAX helicopter, N161KA
K-MAX at Custer, SD. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Columbia Helicopters Receives First Three Of Ten Former Swedish Helicopters

Columbia Vertol 107
Columbia Vertol 107 in transit to Columbia Helicopters. (PRNewsFoto/American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association)

Columbia Helicopters has taken delivery of the first three of ten heavy lift helicopters purchased from the Swedish Department of Defense. The total order includes six Boeing Vertol 107-II and four Kawasaki Vertol 107-II models. The price was not disclosed.

According to Columbia Helicopter’s Public Relations Manager Dan Sweet, the three Boeing Vertol 107-II helicopters arrived at the Port of Tacoma, Washington March 25, after which they were loaded onto trucks for transshipment to the company’s headquarters and maintenance facility in Aurora, Oregon. The remaining three Boeing helicopters are ready to be shipped from Sweden, while shipping dates for the four Kawasaki Vertol V-II aircraft have not been determined.

Columbia Helicopters announced the purchase of the helicopters, spare parts and specialized support tooling in February of this year, following negotiations with the Swedish government in late 2012. Designated by Sweden as HkP-4s, the helicopters were operated in search and rescue, anti-submarine warfare, and mine-sweeping operations.  With the  Columbia Helicopters acquisition, Sweden’s military has retired its remaining Boeing/Kawaski Vertol V-IIs, as it transitions to the more modern NH Industries-built NH90.

“All of the helicopters were very well maintained, and are under 10,000 flight hours, which, given our high utilization rate, is very low time,” said Sweet. “Since the 107-II is not readily available on the international market, this presented an excellent opportunity for us to purchase more of the same type of helicopter we already operate.”

Columbia Helicopters will refurbish and modify each helicopter to meet the operator’s fleet standards, and bring them up to mission-ready status for heavy lift work and aerial firefighting. One of the newly arrived helicopters, in fact, will go into Columbia’s maintenance shop upon arrival, while the others will by cycled through as capacity permits.

Erickson to buy Evergreen Helicopters, Inc.

Evergreen helicopter at Custer 2008
An Evergreen helicopter, a Eurocopter AS 350 B3,  at Custer, SD July 9, 2008. Photo by Bill Gabbert

As we reported on Wildfire Today earlier this afternoon, Erickson Air-Crane, Inc. has signed an agreement to purchase Evergreen Helicopters, Inc., a company with approximately 400 employees. This will be the second major acquisition Erickson has made in the last three months. In November they reached an agreement to buy Air Amazonia, a subsidiary of HRT Participacoes in Brazil, along with their 14 helicopters. Both acquisitions are expected to close in the second quarter of this year.

For the $250 million price tag, Erickson will get 52 helicopters and 12 fixed wing aircraft from Evergreen Helicopters. The 64 aircraft are a mix of leased and owned. Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker”, which can carry up to 20,000 gallons of fire retardant, is not part of the deal and will remain with Evergreen. The 747 is still configured as an air tanker but has not fought fire recently. The company has not been interested in accepting the U.S. Forest Service’s only offer of a call when needed contract.

From Air Amazonia Erickson will receive 14 passenger transport and medium-lift helicopters, (7) S-61, (5) Bell 212, and (2) A350 that have been used in the oil and gas industry. At this time Erickson has no plans to use the Amazonia helicopters for aerial fire suppression.

Erickson Air-Crane, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, for decades has built, operated, and sold Erickson S-64 heavy-lift helicopters, using a license acquired from Sikorsky. Up through 2007 the company concentrated on firefighting (53% of their business) and timber harvesting (38%). With the planned diversification the company expects to add contracts for Department of Defense work amounting to approximately 43% of their revenue, as well as increasing the oil and gas component. They think that about 30% of their work will be in Afghanistan. After the acquisitions, firefighting will provide about 19% of Evergreen’s revenue.

Since the company went public in April 2012 their stock price has risen from $8.00 to $15.11 today. According to Zacks.com:

In 2012, the company generated revenues of $180.8 million, up 18.4% year over year. The increase in revenue was driven by new firefighting contracts, an active fire season and the company’s expansion of infrastructure construction, especially in support of the oil-and-gas market in South America.

Maybe we’re entering a period of merger-mania. As we reported December 12, 2012, Aero Air of Hillsboro, Oregon, purchased the air tanker operations of Butler Aircraft from Travis Garnick. Aero Air acquired Butler’s three DC-7 air tankers, support equipment, and spare parts in Madras, Oregon. Kevin McCullough, now the President of Aero Air, and Jack Erickson, founder and former owner of Erickson Air-Crane, became co-owners of Aero Air in 1998. Aero Air is currently converting some MD-87s into air tankers and hopes to snag a contract for “next-generation” air tankers, when and if the U.S. Forest Service ever issues the contracts. It has been 476 days since the U.S. Forest Service issued a solicitation for next-generation large air tankers, but no contracts have been awarded.

Below are examples of the aircraft Erickson will be acquiring.

–From Evergreen Helicopters:

Evergreen helicopters Evergreen fixed wing

–From Air Amazonia:

Amazonia helicopters

Thanks go out to Kelly

Former Carson Helicopter employees indicted over charges related to Iron 44 Fire fatalities

Over on Wildfire Today we have the news about two former employees of Carson Helicopters being indicted by a federal grand jury over charges related to the crash of a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter on the Iron 44 fire in northern California in 2008 that killed nine people, including seven firefighters and two crew members.

Grand Canyon helicopter makes cover of FAA handbook

Grand Canyon ship, FAA helicopter handbook
Grand Canyon ship, FAA helicopter handbook

According to the National Park Service’s Facebook page, the Grand Canyon National Park Helicopter made the cover of the FAA’s Helicopter Flying Handbook.

It is interesting that the FAA Photoshopped-off the N-number and other identification. Below is an NPS photo of the ship taken from Grand Canyon’s brochure for their Helicopter Training Academy.

Grand Canyon NP helicopter
Grand Canyon NP helicopter

The US Forest Service removed the identification from the P2V in the photo below which is on their Air Tanker contract web page, and was also on their 2011 Air Tanker Contract:

P2V without identification

12 Questions for Kenny Chapman

This is the third in a new series of articles on FireAviation.com featuring aerial firefighters answering 12 questions about their profession. We hope to get participation from senior pilots, as well as Air Operations Branch Directors, Air Tactical Group Supervisors, and others that have worked closely with fire aviation. Our objective is to not only provide our readers with interesting articles, but these very experienced aerial firefighters may also reveal a few gems of information that could prove to be valuable to those considering or just beginning a career in fire aviation. If you have a suggestion of someone who would be a good candidate for these questions, drop us a line through our Contact Us page. And their contact information would be appreciated.

Today we hear from Kenny Chapman, a Senior Firefighting Pilot of an S-64 Aircrane, flying with Erickson Air-Crane, Inc.


Kenny ChapmanWho is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known? And why?
Sonny Morrison, Rusty Foster, Vern Shindele, Bob Forbes, Walt Darran. I flew my first fire with Sonny, my first full contract with Rusty and my last fixed-wing contract with Vern. All had the patience to teach and tolerate a beginner. Bob has been in the business longer than anyone else. That says volumes alone about his abilities. Walt has always been a force in trying to make the business safer, more modern and more professional. There are too many others to mention here, many that have given their lives in the line of duty.

One piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?
Simple. No fire is worth someone’s life. Remember your training.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Listen to the people in the field, both in the air and on the ground. They know better than anyone what we need and how we need to do it. If you are retired from another agency quit trying to turn what we are doing into what you used to do.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
Good communication and visibility when you are on the line. Mirror flashes, panel markers and quality radio calls can save a great deal of time. Visiting any of the tanker or helitack bases also helps immensely by putting faces with names and learning the other person’s job.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
How to better make use of the standby time.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?
I think the industry obsesses with the idea of converting something when there are three new production aircraft available right now. The Erickson Air-Crane S-64, the Canadair CL-415 and the 802 Air Tractor on both wheels and floats. That said I think the MD-87 and BAE/RJ that are coming out have great potential. I think later versions of the C-130 and P-3 will make fine tankers. They have already proven themselves. They just need the later airframes.

List the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?
PBY, S-2, Bell 206 Series, Sikorsky S-61 and S-64 on fires. The S-64 Skycrane is my favorite by far because of the amazing capabilities it has and because it is the one I have the most experience in. The PBY would be my second choice.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
Flattening a chicken coop on the island of Othonoi Greece with a drop and watching the chickens shoot out unharmed.

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?
Around 4500 out of 16200.

Your favorite book about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?
The Pine Tree Shield, Stephen Pyne’s Fire on the Rim, [Steve Smith’s] Fly the Biggest Piece Back, Tall Timber Pilots.

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
Co-pilot on a PBY for Hemet Valley Flying Service 1971.

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
iPad with ForeFlight and OzRunways