CAL FIRE receives final approval to purchase new Sikorsky S-70i helicopters

Above: A Los Angeles County Fire Department Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter demonstrates a water drop during a 2013 airshow. Photo credit: Trent Bell.

An administrative law judge ruled last week against a protest filed by a competing company clearing the way for CAL FIRE to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR). This was in spite of the fact that their bid was $63.8 million higher than the one submitted by AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation (AWPC, part of Leonardo Helicopters). When adjustments were made after the protest, there were only two points separating the analysis of the two proposals, out of a possible 1,000 points.

AWPC intended to supply the AW189 which are popular in the offshore oil industry.

Los Angeles County Fire Department has successfully used the Firehawk for several years and just received two more. Firehawk Helicopters in Boise operates several S-70’s.

firehawk helicopter
N137BH, a Sikorsky S-70 “Firehawk” flies to refill its water bucket after dropping on the Rankin Fire in South Dakota September 13, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE will replace up to 12 of their aging Bell Super Huey helicopter with the Firehawks.

CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey helicopter
One of the few CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey helicopters that still has “CDF” painted on the tail. The photo was taken March 24, 2016 at the CAL FIRE facilities at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento, California by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE began the contracting process for the new helicopters in 2015 or early 2016. There were issues with the first attempt and the solicitation and bids were all thrown out. After the second round the agency announced on August 2, 2017 that they “intended” to award the contract to AMUR for the Firehawk but there would be a period to allow protests to be filed.

Vertical Magazine has an in-depth article about the protest.

Video: LA County helicopter drops on Skirball Fire

The Skirball Fire burned 475 acres early Wednesday morning in Los Angeles and forced the closure of the 405 freeway, one of the busiest highways in the nation.

Aircraft used on the Beaver Fire in South Dakota

Incident Commander Todd Hoover provided information about the Beaver Fire east of Pringle, South Dakota, September 14, 2017. We asked him about how aircraft were used, and we also have video and still photos of firefighters, air tankers, and helicopters.

The fire has burned approximately 400 acres between Wind Cave National Park and Pringle, South Dakota. On Friday, September 15, it was slowed by rain in the area.

We apologize for wind noise in the recording.

Articles tagged Beaver Fire and the Rankin Fire on Wildfire Today.

Excellent photo of MD-87 dropping on the Beaver Fire

Above: An MD-87, probably Tanker 103, drops on the Beaver Fire west of Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Herb Ryan used with permission.

(Originally published at 10:46 a.m. MDT September 14, 2017)

Herb Ryan of the Custer Free Press gave us permission to use these excellent photos he took September 13 at the Beaver Fire which is burning west of Wind Cave National Park in southwest South Dakota.

(More information about the Beaver Fire and the nearby Rankin Fire.)

The photo above is spectacular. It is a close-up of one of the most recently converted air tankers, an MD-87, dropping on the fire.

This is how he described getting the shot:

I was waiting for this and it broke out [of the] heavy smoke and this is the one full image I shot. Was on the back side of the fire with a Canon 7D and a 70-200 f2.8 on the camera cranked all the way down to 70mm.

The photo below of a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter on the Beaver Fire is also courtesy of Mr. Ryan.

CAL FIRE selects Blackhawk as replacement for Super Huey helicopters

Above: A CAL FIRE Super Huey undergoing winter maintenance at the agency’s aviation facility at McClellan Air Field March 24, 2016. This was one of the few CAL FIRE helicopters that still has “CDF” painted on the tail.

(Originally published at 8:40 a.m. MDT August 3, 2017)

The last time we wrote about the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s (CAL FIRE) attempt to purchase a new fleet of firefighting helicopters they had just thrown out the submitted bids. The potential suppliers hoping to replace CAL FIRE’s 12 Super Hueys interpreted the solicitation specs in different ways. One company, for example, was bidding on what they assumed were apples, while another was picturing oranges. Then it was back to the drawing board.

That process is nearing completion, with the announcement yesterday by CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott that they “intend” to award the contract to Air Methods/United Rotorcraft of Englewood, Colorado, which offered the Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk, configured as a civilian version of the UH-60 Black Hawk.

Sikorsky S-70i Black_Hawk
Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk (reg. SP-YVC), built by PZL-Mielec in Poland, at ILA Berlin Air Show 2012. Photo by Julian Herzog.

Before the contract is signed other bidders have the opportunity to protest the award. If one is filed, the final decision will be made by a neutral administrative law judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings.

The original plan in 2016 was to buy nine helicopters — about three a year for three years, with an option to spring for an even dozen. But that commitment appears to have changed.

“Even after a contract is awarded”, Chief Pimlott said yesterday, “the number and timing of the State’s orders will be determined on a year-by-year basis. The contract does not commit the State to any specific number of purchases or delivery schedule.”

Since 2010 at least some, if not all, Sikorsky S-70i’s have been built by Poland-based PZL Mielec, a subsidiary of Sikorsky Aircraft. Sikorsky, now owned by Lockheed Martin, advertises the helicopter as being suitable for utility uses and complex search and rescue missions. It can be ordered with a window gun — or at least a mount for one.

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

Firehawks in Boise

I was driving by the Boise airport this week and discovered that Firehawk Helicopters has a facility in the area. They were mostly closed, only Tori the receptionist was in the building, but I talked on the phone with Director of Maintenance Josh Ricciardi who said it was OK if I shot a few photos in their hangar. The Blackhawks ships were all receiving maintenance, getting ready for the fire season. 

Firehawk Blackhawk helicopter

Firehawk Blackhawk helicopter

Firehawk Blackhawk helicopter

Flying Black Hawks over the Tennessee wildfires

Above: File photo of South Dakota National Guard Black Hawk helicopter during training at Angostura Reservoir, May 20, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has an interesting article about the crews that flew the National Guard Black Hawk helicopters in Tennessee during the siege of wildfires at the end of last year.

Here is an excerpt:

You’re piloting a Black Hawk helicopter through the smoke choking the sky over Gatlinburg, a city consumed in fire.

Your co-pilot sits beside you, squinting ahead, listening to communications, watching the instrument panels. Behind the co-pilot sits a Tennessee Division of Forestry officer who earlier instructed you on which fire to hit but is now looking out a small side window. In the back are two crew chiefs, their backsides planted on the bottom edges of open doors on either side of the helicopter. They are held in by harnesses as their legs dangle in open air. This is so they can look straight down at the 600-gallon water bucket hanging by a cable from the ‘copter. They are holding button devices; one will let loose water from the bucket when the time is right.

You’re all talking – constantly communicating through headsets not only with each other but also with other helicopters, air traffic controllers and, most importantly, a spotter on the ground. Talking and looking.

[…]

“Fighting fires is pretty stressful,” he said. “You are tense. A ‘copter does not fly very well (because of the 1,500-pound weight of a mostly filled water bucket). It flies like it’s drunk almost. You get that slow, little go-forward, pull-back. It’s almost like it starts to sway a little.

“You get a little tight, a little tense. You’re flying into places where you can barely see because of the smoke. You also have wires and trees to watch out for.”