After several false starts over several years, CAL FIRE selected a variant of the Blackhawk to replace its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey firefighting helicopters, but that acquisition is stalled. In what appeared to be the final hurdle an administrative law judge ruled in December against a protest filed by a competing company clearing the way for CAL FIRE to purchase up to 12 new Sikorsky S-70i’s (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR).
When the effort began years ago to replace the fleet of aircraft that is now at the end of its useful life, the legislature was told each new helicopter would cost around $12 million, but they realized the price could escalate. The new Firehawks will run $24 million each with the additional features recently added by CAL FIRE and the Department of General Services.
Below is an excerpt from an article in the Sacramento Bee:
The Governor’s Office and Cal Fire are ready to start buying the new machines. “We believe we have provided the Legislature with all the necessary and requested information to move forward on this project,” Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jim. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
After I visited Airstrike’s hanger last week to check on the progress on their P3, Tanker 23, I stopped by the Helimax Aviation facility just down the road. Two of their CH-47D Chinooks were undergoing maintenance in the hangar.
Helimax has two Chinooks on Forest Service exclusive use contracts and two on call when needed contracts, plus two others. Their mandatory availability period begins in early May for the EU ships. Upon mobilization they travel with two pilots, a non-rated crewmember, four mechanics, and one fuel truck driver hauling up to 6,000 gallons. As shown in one of the photos below they also load into the cargo bay a four-wheeler with an attached trailer for hauling the 2,600-gallon Bambi Bucket. The Chinook can cruise at 140 knots (161 mph), pretty fast for a helicopter, and has an endurance of about three hours.
To see large versions of the photos, click on one of the small images immediately below.
In addition to the static display, three air tankers made demonstration drops.
Above: Air Spray’s Air Tanker 481, a Lockheed Electra L188 on static display at McClellan, March 12, 2018.
On March 12, 2018 two large busloads of attendees at the Aerial Firefighting Conference at Sacramento McClellan Airport were transported from the meeting facility to a nearby ramp where more than a dozen aircraft were on static display. At the conference two years ago the lead bus driver got lost on the three-block drive, but thankfully there were no mishaps this year.
In addition to the static display, three air tankers made demonstration drops with water, one RJ85 and two Fire Boss Single Engine Air Tankers.
Click on one of the small images immediately below to see large versions.
Barry Lloyd describes the coming transition from Hueys
Wednesday morning at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento, Barry Lloyd, CAL FIRE’s Helicopter Program manager spoke about some of their operational objectives and the possible transition to Sikorsky Firehawk ships.
California’s legislature has approved funding for replacing the 12 Vietnam War era Hueys with new helicopters. The contract has not yet been signed, but all indications are that the purchase will actually occur.
In Mr. Lloyd’s presentation he described the helicopter program and some of the specifications that led to the selection of the winning vendor.
One of his main points was that CAL FIRE’s goal is to respond to every fire in the state for which they have suppression responsibility, within 20 minutes, and contain 95 percent of all fires before they grow to 10 acres.
(UPDATE: we initially had approval to include about half a dozen slides from Mr. Lloyd’s presentation, but on March 16 higher level personnel in CAL FIRE rescinded that approval and asked that we delete them.)
We interviewed Chief Pimlott at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018.
Above: Model of CAL FIRE Firehawk
Ken Pimlott, the Director California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, talks about the 2017 wildfire season, aerial firefighting resources available in 2018, and the acquisition of a new fleet of Blackhawk, (or Firehawk) helicopters. We interviewed Chief Pimlott just after he made a presentation at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018.
The P-3’s formerly operated by Aero Union are slowly being brought back to life.
Above: Tanker 22 at Sacramento McClellan Airport, February, 2018.
(Originally published at 2:20 p.m. MT February 20, 2018)
Two companies expect to bring some of the Lockheed P-3 Orions formerly owned by Aero Union back into the aerial firefighting fleet. Buffalo Airways and Airstrike Firefighters are both actively working on aircraft, putting them through an “intensive and expensive inspection program”, according to Bill Douglass, President of Airstrike.
One of the reasons the U.S. Forest Service cancelled the air tanker contract with Aero Union was that certain required inspections were not being done. Mr. Douglass said the company that wrote the original structural integrity inspection program for the P-3 air tankers, Avenger Engineering, is carrying out the inspections now on their P-3, Tanker 23. Most of those are now complete, the FAA is satisfied, and he expects the aircraft will be ready to fight fire later this Spring. Avenger has had a hand in the development, design, and maintenance of many water and retardant delivery systems and type certificates for firefighting aircraft including the P3.
When they finish T-23 Airstrike plans to begin work on another P-3, Tanker 17, and later take on others as they have time.
Buffalo Airways and Airstrike are cooperating in some ways as they both work on their respective air tankers. Buffalo’s main headquarters is in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in Canada, but their P-3 is registered to one of their offices in Hawthorne, Florida. The aircraft, Tanker 22, is still using the same “N” number as when it was flown by Aero Union, N922AU. Buffalo purchased T-22 in 2014. The company operates at least one Lockheed L-188 in Canada, Tanker 416, which is very similar to the P-3. In 2016 they received a five-year contract to operate eight new Air Tractor 802F FireBoss single engine air tankers owned by Northwest Territories.
In April of 2011 Aero Union, which had recently been bought by new owners, had eight P-3 air tankers under contract. By late July that number had been reduced to six when the Federal Aviation Administration found the company was not in compliance with the Fatigue and Damage Tolerance Evaluation and structural inspection program that was mandated by the company’s contract with the U.S. Forest Service.
At that time Tom Harbour, director of the Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation Management program, cancelled the contract, saying, “Our main priority is protecting and saving lives, and we can’t in good conscience maintain an aviation contract where we feel lives may be put at risk due to inadequate safety practices”. Some people described Aero Union as having been run into the ground by the new owners.