Above: South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter drops water during training at Angostura Reservoir. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Four blackhawk helicopters and seven South Dakota National guard helicopter crews were put through their paces Friday at Hot Springs Municipal Airport and Angostura Reservoir. The flight crews were evaluated on dipping water from the lake, dropping it across, up, and down slopes, communication with firefighters, and hot refueling.
Firefighters on the ground practiced radio procedures with aviation resources, describing where water drops were needed.
This annual certification is required by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior and allows South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopters to respond to wildland fires.
In the video below, Ray Bubb of the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division describes the annual wildfire training.
Above: planning for the helicopter water drop training. All photos were taken by Justin Jager.
Members of the 2-285th Assault Helicopter Battalion participated in an annual training and certification course for wildfire response at the Papago Park Military Reservation in Arizona May 4 and 5.
At the completion of the 24-hour course, 16 pilots and crew chiefs were certified to respond and assist with helicopter bucket operations and to deliver water for aerial firefighting.
“The Arizona National Guard’s aviation crews possess a number of skills critical to the wildfire fighting efforts,” said Justin Jager, interagency aviation officer for the National Parks Service and U.S. Forest Service. “Developing the interagency operability of these crews to help support the ground crews is invaluable to the state and region in terms of preparedness.”
Aside from water drop capabilities, the Arizona National Guard’s aviation crews can support lift operations, extraction and insertion of personnel, search and rescue, hoist operations, and sling load equipment transport. There are also specially trained crewmembers who can perform casualty and medical evacuations.
This year the annual fire suppression training for California and Nevada Air and Army National Guard helicopter crews was held April 15-17, 2016 near Sutter Creek, California. Chinook, Blackhawk, and Lakota helicopters participated in a mock fire incident using Pardee Lake as a water source.
The Guard is only activated when private sector helicopter operators cannot fill the incident commander’s resource orders for a particular type or mission specific helicopter. Usually the requests are for a Type 1 helicopter, a Blackhawk or Chinook, that cannot be supplied by the private sector in a reasonable period of time.
The Lakota helicopter is used as a helicopter coordinator platform and for medical evacuation missions. If requested by the incident commander the Lakota can be dispatched with military medics. During the last five decades the Guard assisted on fires in almost every fire season.
The policy of teaming a Guard helicopter with a CAL FIRE military helicopter manager serving as a flight crew member has been a successful program for twenty years. The military manager not only provides tactical fire direction including initial attack on new fires but arranges for complete logistical support. The manager works closely with a military liaison to make sure the program flows smoothly.
These photos were taken by Bob Martinez, a Volunteer in Prevention Photographer for CAL FIRE. You can see more of his work at his web site.
A Blackhawk and a Homeland Security surveillance aircraft are staged at Burns.
Above: file photo of Department of Homeland Security’s Beechcraft Super King Air 350 (N50056). FlightAware photo.
As we reported on January 10, the FBI has been staging equipment at the Single Engine Air Tanker Base at Burns Municipal Airport four miles east of Burns, Oregon. Initially a large truck with numerous antennas showed up that is probably used as an incident command post.
The airport is 21 air miles north of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge where armed domestic terrorists broke into and seized the facilities at the site.
In the last few days additional equipment arriving at the tanker base included about half a dozen armored vehicles, a Blackhawk helicopter, and a Beechcraft Super King Air 350 surveillance aircraft (N50056) with very obvious external accoutrements, sensors, and communications gear.
The King Air, registered to the Department of Homeland Security, has a logo that appears to be “U.S. Customs and Border Protection”. According to FlightAware records it flew in from Boise on January 27 after having been at St. Augustine, Florida on January 25.
The Bureau of Land Management operates the SEAT base independently of the city-owned airport which remains open. The base, which cannot handle air tankers larger than a SEAT, has one pit for loading aircraft and parking for three.
The FBI’s Blackhawks are rarely seen. Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia about aircraft operated by the agency’s Hostage Rescue Team:
The HRT’s Tactical Aviation Unit is staffed by FBI special agents. The Tactical Helicopter Unit, a sub-unit of the Tactical Aviation Unit, contains a variety of specially modified helicopters. These helicopters include military converted Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk tactical transport helicopters and tactically enhanced Bell 412 and Bell 407 helicopters. The HRT’s tactical aviators are required to fly daily.
A Los Angeles County Fire Department Firehawk helicopter (@lacofireairops) makes a drop while assisting the Ventura County Fire Department at the Princeton Fire near the 118 Freeway between Moorpark & Simi Valley. (📷 by #lacofd Volunteer Photographer @resqric Rick McClure)
The above video shows Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters from the Texas Army National Guard dropping water on a fire near Bastrop, Texas, October 15, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard video by Mr. John Thibodeau).
The video below also shows National Guard helicopters working a fire near Bastrop, Texas, but it was shot September 6, 2011.
The article below was written by Johnny Yount. Photos were taken by Bob Martinez.
Times are changing in the wildfire business as quickly as the global weather. The annual National Guard and CAL FIRE training was conducted April 10 through 12 at the CAL FIRE Academy in Ione and Lake Pardee in Amador County. The Army National Guard has been in partnership with CAL FIRE for over five decades fighting fire with helicopters. The C 130 (MAFFS) provided by the Air National Guard at Channel Islands have been delivering retardant since the 1970’s. In an effort to protect the people and resources of California every branch of the military in California can provide aerial delivery of water or retardant. This is not unique to California, as many states have increasingly become involved in using state guard units to augment firefighting forces.
In the early 1990’s a plan called Spirit of Cooperation was put together by CAL FIRE to begin working much more closely with the State’s military helicopter units to benefit and provide a safer fire work environment for both CAL FIRE and the Military.
Meetings where held, issues identified, and a plan of action initiated with a mutual understanding of what would be required to enhance the capability of both the Guard and CAL FIRE simultaneously.
There were five components to the plan. One of the components identified was the addition of a military helicopter manager who would fly at all times with the helicopter and provide tactical and logistical support to the military air crew. This simple step, providing an air program qualified helicopter manager to be part of the flight crew, maximizes the capability of the helicopter to move around the State much like a fixed wing air tanker.
The training at the CAL FIRE Academy was a refresher for most in attendance. The majority of the students are CAL FIRE aerial fire fighters, air attack and helitack Captains. Each military manager represents years of air program understanding and airborne firefighting experience. Also involved in the program are aerial fire fighters from Orange County Fire Authority and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
When a Guard helicopter is activated, a manager is assigned to a specific copter and crew. The Blackhawks have a crew of three military and one CAL FIRE military manager. The Chinooks have a crew of four military and one CAL FIRE manager. In addition to the airborne helicopter assets, Guard and CAL FIRE liaisons are assigned to the activation. Maintenance teams, fuel tenders and other military support staff are also assigned as needed to assure that the activation runs smoothly. As mentioned, the Guard helicopters move around the State more like a fixed wing air tanker than a helicopter. It would not be uncommon for a Guard helicopter to be working a fire on the Modoc National Forest (Alturas Airport), get released, head south to a new emerging fire on the Angeles National Forest, remain overnight in Bakersfield, and then be reassigned to a fire in Ventura County.
During transit the Guard helicopters are in contact with the three primary CAL FIRE Operation Centers at Sacramento, Riverside and Redding. New initial attack fires or change of assignment are common. This fire season the Guard facilities at Los Alamitos, Stockton and Mather will be providing as many as five Chinooks and five Blackhawks.
CAL FIRE will hold similar training with the United States Marine Corps and Navy.