The video below of a bushfire was shot by an unmanned helicopter near Lithgow, a city in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. While there are several issues that would need to be addressed to deploy one safely over an active wildfire, the benefits of having live aerial streaming video available to firefighters on the ground could be enormous.
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.
While the wildfire season in most of the United States is in hiatus, our friends down under in New South Wales are busy — VERY busy, during one of their busiest bush fire seasons in years. We want to thank the Rural Fire Service for these photos of some of their aircraft that have been working on the fires.
Coulson Aviation has modified two helicopters so that they can be flown at night. The company, according to Vertical Magazine, took one of their four Sikorsky S61s and a Bell 206B Jet Ranger to Boise, Idaho to get Aviation Specialties Unlimited to make the modifications necessary to be compatible with night vision goggles (NVG).
Coulson also installed a hoist and a medivac interior on the S61, similar to the systems on Los Angeles County’s SH-3 Sea King helicopters, so that it could be used to extract injured personnel from remote areas day or night. This capability could save the lives of firefighters who are victims of accidents after sunset.
Two of the company’s S61s, including the NVG-equipped ship, are in Australia now working on a fire contract. Night flying is not part of the agreement but Coulson hopes to demonstrate to the authorities the benefits of fighting fire at night, when fires move more slowly and firefighting can be more effective.
At the beginning of the bushfire season in Australia, Peter Ryan, the Deputy Premier of Victoria, held a press conference to announce that “Elvis is back in the building”. The Premier was referring to an Erickson Air-Crane, a Type 1 helicopter which can carry 2,650 gallons of water. The Australians have a special fondness for the Air-Cranes, and especially for the one named “Elvis”, which is credited for helping to protect almost 300 homes near Sydney in 2001 and also for helping save the lives of 14 firefighters in the Burragorang Valley in New South Wales.
In addition to “Elvis” (N179AC), Victoria’s Country Fire Authority has contracted for a second Air-Crane, “Gypsy Lady” (N189AC).
Through contracts with various state and territory governments in Australia, Air-Cranes and Skycranes have been helping the Australians during their fire seasons since “Millie” (N223AC) was deployed there in 1997. One of the more notable missions was 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”.
Type 1 (High Volume) rotary wing firebombing services
Type 1, 2, and 3 rotary wing services
Type 4 fixed wing firebombing services
A number of other specialist aircraft services, including intelligence gathering
A small number of conventional light fixed wing aircraft services for reconnaissance
Very Large airtankers
Type 1 and 2 multi-engine airtankers
Scooping or self-filling fixed-wing aircraft
Proposals to supply data integration services for AFAMS – the national aircraft tracking and event logging system
The request for proposals for very large air tankers is a little surprising after their experiment during the 2009-2010 fire season. After that trial the Aussies were not entirely pleased with the overall performance of a DC-10, however most of the problems were a result of insufficient skill on the part of the crew, rather than the aircraft — for example dropping far too low or completely missing a target. The first pilots who flew the DC-10 very large air tankers had little or no previous experience flying air tankers when that program began. In the last two to three years they have gained a quite a bit more experience flying low and slow over mountainous terrain and have a good reputation in the United States. The two DC-10s have proven to be a reliable and valuable aviation asset.
Erickson Air-Crane, a company in Portland, Oregon, that builds, operates, and sells Erickson S-64 heavy-lift helicopters, intends to purchase Air Amazonia, a subsidiary of HRT Participacoes, a company in Brazil, along with their 14 helicopters.
Erickson’s Air-Cranes are used extensively in fighting wildland fires. At least 15 Air-Cranes or Ch-54 helicopters were on contract with the U.S. Forest Service in 2012. The company has been sending some of the ships to Australia since 1998 to fight fires there during the down-under summer, which of course is winter in the United States. During the 2011-2012 summer there, Erickson had three of them in Australia — aircraft named Elvis, Elsie, and Marty.
“It plays well to our unique capabilities,”Udo Rieder [Erickson’s president and chief executive officer] said during a conference call with analysts on Wednesday.
He said the deal for 14 medium and light helicopters will significantly increase Erickson’s capability in South American markets, adding revenue and making good use of the company’s capital.
“It will reduce the impact of the seasonality of our business and expand our footprint in the gas and oil industry,” Rieder said.
HRT owns seven Sikorsky-61 aircraft, which are smaller but have many similarities to Erickson’s current fleet.
“We’ve always talked about adding medium-lift capability to our operation,” Rieder said. “It’s complementary to our business. The S-61s are little sisters to the air-cranes. Many of the parts are similar and some are identical — the cockpits are the same. This would give us quite a bit more capability at our Central Point facility. This will provide a platform to bring in S-64s and exchange equipment fairly quickly in Brazil and Peru.”
He said the company is unsure of what it will do with the Bell 212s and Eurocopter AS-350s that are part of the deal.
“We have the option to move them anywhere we want near-term,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what the demand is, but we’ll pretty much absorb all the aircraft there.”
The deal, however, isn’t expected to close until the second half of 2013, Rieder said, because of “fairly complex regulatory requirements and licensing matters.”
Below is a portion of the text from an announcement by Erickson:
Erickson Air-Crane Inc. Announces Letter of Intent to Acquire Brazilian Oil and Gas Aerial Services Business
Plans Purchase of Air Logistics Business from HRT Participaes em Petroleo, S.A.
Early Stage Transaction Announcement, Closing Expected in Second Half 2013
14 Aircraft Fleet to Position Company as a Leading Air Services Provider in Brazil
PORTLAND, Ore. — (BUSINESS WIRE) — Nov. 6, 2012 — Erickson Air-Crane Incorporated (NASDAQ: EAC) (Erickson Air-Crane or the Company), a leading operator and the manufacturer of the powerful heavy-lift helicopter, the Erickson S-64 Aircrane, today announced that it had entered into a non-binding letter of intent to acquire 14 helicopters and associated personnel and assets from HRT Participacoes em Petroleo, S.A. (HRT).
The letter of intent is non-binding and, for the acquisition to be completed, requires that EAC provide operational services to HRT in the Amazon, including both cargo and passenger transport, through a three-year, renewable contract.
Udo Rieder, Chief Executive Officer of Erickson Air-Crane, commented, We are very pleased to have identified what we believe is a strong future partner. Were confident that this acquisition can be an excellent path to diversification and growth. Brazil is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing industrial markets in the world and we are uniquely suited to provide our expertise and leverage the full capabilities of this fleet and our investment.
About Erickson Air-Crane Incorporated
Erickson Air-Crane specializes in the operation and manufacture of the Erickson S-64 Aircrane (the Aircrane), a versatile and powerful heavy-lift helicopter. The Aircrane has a lift capacity of up to 25,000 pounds and is the only commercial aircraft built specifically as a flying crane without a fuselage for internal loads. The Aircrane is also the only commercial heavy-lift helicopter with a rear load-facing cockpit, combining an unobstructed view and complete aircraft control for precision lift and load placement capabilities. Erickson Air-Crane owns and operates a fleet of 18 Aircranes, which are used to support a wide variety of government and commercial customers worldwide across a broad range of aerial services, including firefighting, timber harvesting, infrastructure construction, and crewing. Erickson Air-Crane also manufactures Aircranes and related components for sale to government and commercial customers and provides aftermarket support and maintenance, repair, and overhaul services for the Aircrane and other aircraft. Founded in 1971, Erickson Air-Crane is headquartered in Portland, Oregon with its principal manufacturing facility based in Central Point, Oregon. For more information, please visit http://www.ericksonaircrane.com.