Air-Cranes in Victoria

Above: Unloading and reassembling the “Ichabod” Air-Crane after it was shipped from Greece to Australia. EMV photo.

The Aussies like to identify their aerial firefighting assets by nickname. In previous years the Air-Crane “Elvis” delighted residents whose homes were being saved. This year in Victoria “Malcolm” and “Ichabod” are on contract.

The information below is provided by Emergency Management Victoria.

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Victoria’s orange Aircranes Ichabod and Malcolm are two of the stars in Victoria’s aircraft fleet this summer.

The monster helicopters are integral to firefighting operations and are often on the front-line protecting Victorian communities from fire.

emergency management victoriaTo get the aircranes to Victoria each year is quite a journey. Aircrane Ichabod was shipped over from Greece in November after spending the Australian winter fighting fires on the islands and central areas.

Aircrane Malcolm also arrived in November after travelling from the United States where it was used to complete several construction jobs including a complex lift at Crater Lake National Park.

Before they can travel, the aircranes are dismantled so they can be shipped to their next destination where they are then reassembled. It took a team of aviation experts a couple of days to put Malcolm and Ichabod back together after arriving in Geelong. They then underwent maintenance and a general spruce-up, ready for the season ahead.

So they can undertake fire work with the Victorian firefighting fleet, belly tanks and snorkels are added to their armour. Depending on the conditions and water sources available, they can either suck up water or use a bucket on a string to help extinguish fires.

Australia has a contract for six aircranes that come across annually to operate as part of a national fleet jointly funded by the Commonwealth and State Governments.

The air cranes are named Georgia Peach, Incredible Hulk, Delilah, Elsie, Ichabod and Malcolm.

Aircrane Malcolm was named after Malcolm Burgess who was one of the three main design engineers for the military aircrane, while Ichabod was named after the popular cartoon character “Ichabod Crane” in the United States.

Malcolm and Ichabod are part of Victoria’s fleet of 48 firefighting aircraft that has immediate response, air attack and intelligence gathering capability.

Erickson files for bankruptcy

Above: An Erickson Aircrane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire in northern California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

On Monday, November 8, 2016 Erickson Incorporated filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The company called it a financial restructuring, saying the company will continue to operate “in the ordinary course of business” and they are “committed to the same level of operational integrity, safety, compliance, and customer service that its partners are accustomed to.”

Between March, 2012 and April, 2016 the company had eight Type 1 Aircrane helicopters on contract with the U.S. Forest Service. When the next round of contracts was announced in February, 2016 conspicuous by its absence was Erickson, receiving none. It is likely that when they purchased Evergreen Helicopters, Inc. in March, 2013 (and their 64 aircraft) and the Brazilian company Air Amazonia (and their 14 helicopters in November, 2012), they no longer qualified as a “small business” and lost their eligibility to compete for USFS firefighting contracts.

These large helicopters can carry up to 2,500 gallons of water. Erickson bought the manufacturing license and type certificate from Sikorsky in 1992 for the military version, the CH-54 Tarhe. In addition to dropping thousands of gallons of water, it can be fitted with an optional front-mounted water cannon that can shoot water horizontally at 300 gallons per minute.

Monday Erickson provided more information about the bankruptcy:

…Under Bankruptcy Court supervision, the Company expects to file a consensual plan of reorganization with the support of its major creditor constituencies which the Company anticipates will significantly reduce its total indebtedness. Additionally, our first lien lenders and second lien noteholders have entered into a credit support agreement which is expected to result in approximately $60 million in new financing to further fund ongoing operations over the course of the restructuring.

Aircraft on the Gopher Fire in southern California

Above: Air Tanker 163, an RJ85, drops on the Gopher Fire near Escondido, California August 8, 2016. Photo by Michael Burge.

Michael Burge shot these photos of an RJ85 air tanker and an Air-Crane helicopter August 8, 2016 on the Gopher Fire which burned 35 acres near a residential area off Interstate 15 near Escondido, California at Lawrence Welk Drive and Gopher Canyon. The interstate was closed in both directions for a while as firefighters worked to stop the blaze.

Helitanker 729
Helitanker 729 on the Gopher Fire

Erickson Air-Crane video

Rob Gluckman shot this video of Helitanker 731, an Erickson Air-Crane, taking off and dropping a load of water. It may have been recorded at Van Nuys Airport. Mr. Gluckman wrote this when he posted it on Facebook:

Was lucky enough to catch this monster spooling up at the same time we were. Unique perspective on the ground and in the air. Air Crane is fully loaded! Look at those blades cone!!

Aircrane pilots assist at CL-215 crash site

When a water-scooping CL-215 air tanker crashed in Greece on June 26, the pilots of two Aircrane helicopters who were working a fire diverted to the site, saw that the aircraft was on fire, and each helicopter dropped three loads of water on the flames. This helped make it possible for one of the CL-215 pilots to extract the other pilot who had a back injury.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Skies Magazine.

[Erickson Aircrane pilots Mike Strasser and Jeff Shelton] and another Aircrane, operated by Jeff Brenhaug and Don McLeod, were fighting a fire about eight miles northwest of Athens, Greece, on June 26, when a Hellenic Air Force Canadair CL-215 waterbomber—known as a “duck”—crashed on a wooded hillside. Thick black smoke was rising into the air as the two Aircranes arrived above the wreckage. 
“It was pretty obvious that it had gone down and it was on fire,” Strasser told Skies. “We decided to switch to light coverage and began dropping water on the plane. As we came in behind the other Crane for our first drop, I was looking out the bubble window and I saw two people on the right side of the aircraft. It looked like one of them was dragging the other out.”

“Just seeing somebody outside [the aircraft] was a good feeling,” said Strasser. “It crashed close to a road, and soon I saw firefighters on the ground rescuing them. We finished up there and headed back to fight the fire.”

But the story didn’t end there for the Aircrane crews. The next day they received a special visitor. Taxiarchis Papamarkos, one of the CL-215 pilots, sought them out to say his thanks.

“He told us the other guy had a back injury and couldn’t walk,” recounted Strasser. “He was trying to help him, but it was getting very hot and his flight suit was singed. He thought he would be dead in 10 seconds. He expected the plane to blow up, so he started counting backwards from 10. But when he got to four, he felt cool rain falling on him. It helped him to pull his friend out.”

The other CL-215 pilot is in the hospital but is expected to recover.

Aircrane vs. car

aircrane vs car

Erickson Aircrane made a demonstration video to show what would happen if the entire load of 2,500 gallons of water was dropped in a salvo on a car.

Don’t try this at home.

Aircranes continue to stay busy in Australia

Stymied by contracting regulations in the United States, Erickson’s Aircrane helicopters are still loved down under.

Above: An Aircrane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire northwest of Yreka, California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Erickson’s Australian partner Kestrel Aviation signed up for a third S64E Aircrane helicopter to support firefighting efforts in Victoria state. Erickson has six Aircranes currently working in Australia.

“We are proud to help protect the lives and homes of Victoria’s residents during the peak of their fire season,” said Andy Mills, Erickson v-p of commercial aviation services. “Our crews have already been busy fighting fires in Western Australia and New South Wales.”

The third Aircrane, previously stationed in Sydney, New South Wales to fight fires, has been reassigned to Mangalore, Victoria where it remains available as required for the remainder of the fire season.

Erickson has also been contracted in support of the initial phases of NASA’s 3rd Generation Mid-Air Retrieval Project focused on mid-air retrieval of NASA spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere. Erickson is contracted to study the concept of operations for proposed NASA missions that employ mid-air retrieval using a single S-64F Aircrane helicopter.