Getting ready for the wildfire season at HeliMax

Helimax has six Chinook CH-47D’s

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.

Retardant from a helicopter’s internal tank

These days it is not uncommon on a large fire to see a helicopter dropping retardant or a Chinook with an internal tank, or… both at the same time.

This photo of a Columbia Helicopters ship supporting a very large firing operation on the Thomas Fire was in a tweet by the Los Padres National Forest.

In July we posted the KEYT video below which originally was streamed live on YouTube, showing and explaining the activities at a facility set up at the Whittier Fire northwest of Goleta, California for mixing retardant for helicopters that could draft to refill their tanks. The 11-minute video did not show any ships with buckets — just Type 1 helicopters with internal or external tanks.

The video below shows several helicopters including the same Columbia Helicopters aircraft and the 747, supporting the Thomas Fire on December 13, 2017.

Helicopter mobilized from the showroom floor of convention

Columbia BV-107
File photo of a Columbia BV-107 at Custer, SD July 31, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
While some have said the National Interagency Fire Center responded slowly to the very busy wildfire activity that started March 6 in the central plains where about a million acres burned in a few days, eventually they did take action.

In an effort to mobilize a Type 1 helicopter they contacted Columbia Helicopters who had one on display at a helicopter convention.

 “This is the first time we have received a resource order for firefighting duty, while displaying our helicopter at a convention,” said Keith Saylor, Director, Commercial Operations, for the Portland, Oregon-based company.  Reached by phone at the Helicopter Association International (HAI) convention in Dallas, Saylor explained that transitioning the helicopter, from a static display to a mission-ready firefighting aircraft, involved removing the rotor blades, exiting the convention center, then reinstalling the rotor blades.  This was followed by a flight to a nearby airport for refueling and overnighting.  Called up on March 9, the helicopter was deployed the following day to Ardmore, Oklahoma, under an optional use clause of a US Forest Service (USFS) exclusive use contract.  The helicopter was dispatched with two pilots, five mechanics and ground support equipment drivers.

A former US Army-operated CH47D Chinook, the helicopter was modified by Columbia Helicopters with a 2,800 gallon capacity internal tank for water, jells, foam, or retardant dropping, and had been flown to the convention following firefighting duty on East Coast fires.

Also responding to the fires, Neptune Aviation Services dispatched three of its BAe-146 air tankers to multiple locations, according to Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer for the Missoula, Montana-headquartered company.  Three of the tankers were dispatched from Missoula between March 9 and 11, and flown to USFS tanker bases in Ardmore, Oklahoma, Abilene, Texas, and the Rocky Mountain Regional Airport, near Denver, Colorado.  A fourth BAe 146 tanker will continue to fly out of a base at Lake City, Florida, where it has been on duty since February 20.

On March 16 Neptune mobilized T-05, the first of their P2V piston engine tankers to start an assignment this year, which will probably be the model’s last season as the company completes their transition to the jet-powered BAe-146 airframe.

Billings Flying Service unveils new facilities

Above: One of Billings Flying Service’s CH-47D Chinooks, at Custer Airport, April 3, 2016.

On Friday Billings Flying Service unveiled their new 24,000 square-foot hangar and maintenance facility near the airport in Billings, Montana (map). It has enough room for four to five of their Chinook helicopters, depending on if rotors are installed on the aircraft.

The company has at least six Chinooks and in 2014 became the first non-military owner of CH-47D’s when they purchased two from the U.S. government. Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, and another pilot flew the two helicopters from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to the company’s facilities south of Billings, Montana near the Yellowstone River.

Anything you do with aircraft is expensive. Mr. Blain told us at the time that they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska. | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

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

Sky Aviation’s CH-46 on the Lava Mountain Fire

Sky Aviation purchased four CH-46 helicopters in 2015.

Sky Aviation CH-46E
Sky Aviation’s CH-46E at the Lava Mountain Fire

Alyssa Gaulke of Sky Aviation sent us some photos of one of their CH-46E that is assigned on the Lava Mountain Fire 17 air miles northwest of Dubois, Wyoming — and we found more at their Facebook page.

This CH-46E is one of four that the Worland, Wyoming-based company acquired last year.

Sky Aviation CH-46E
Sky Aviation’s CH-46E at the Lava Mountain Fire
Sky Aviation CH-46E
Sky Aviation’s CH-46E. A screen grab from a video on the company’s Facebook page posted about a month ago.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Alyssa.

Annual fire training in California for National Guard helicopter crews

By John Yount 

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.

national guard helicopter fire traning

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.

national guard helicopter fire traning

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.

national guard helicopter fire traning

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.

national guard helicopter fire traning

Continue reading “Annual fire training in California for National Guard helicopter crews”

Simplex receives STC for Chinook internal tank

Above: A Chinook with the Simplex Model 347 internal tank for firefighting. Simplex photo.

The following is a Simplex press release.


Simplex Aerospace was recently granted a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) supplemental type certificate for a Fire Attack System (FAS) for the Columbia Helicopters CH-47D helicopter. The system is an internal/external system, comprised of a roll-on/roll-off internal tank system connected to an external plenum.

The Simplex Aerospace Model 347 FAS is the largest helicopter firefighting system in the world.

The Model 347 is comprised of a 3,050-gallon internal tank with a 2,800-gallon water reservoir, approximately 110 gallons of water through the hookwell and 140-gallon foam concentrate reservoir that can be loaded from the helicopter’s rear loading ramp. The system also includes a 12-foot-long, 10-inch diameter hover pump, capable of refilling the tank in less than one minute.

The system includes ground fill ports so the tank can be pre-filled and ready to go at a moment’s notice. The entire contents of the FAS can be dropped in less than four seconds.

The Simplex Model 347 has the capability for the pilot to select drop patterns ranging from a single drop to multiple drops depending on the demands of the mission. An automatic emergency water drop feature is included on all Simplex Fire Attack systems in the event of an aircraft power outage.

This new Simplex FAS can be installed on the helicopter using only four bolts. Only minor modifications are required to provision for FAS installation.

The gravity-fed Fire Attack tank is installed in the aircraft cabin; then connected to a sleeve, which extends through the aircraft hookwell, joining an external plenum in the belly. Vne (never exceed speed) for the Simplex 347 FAS is 140 knots, with or without the hover pump installed.

Water drops can be made at up to 100 knots. Newly developed pilot control and display allow for U.S. Forest Service Type-one compliance. The pilot controls can be configured to show water volume, and ground refilling volume displaying gallons (or weight) on both the flight deck and ground fill input location.

“This new and innovative CH-47D FAS for Columbia Helicopters is the largest helicopter FAS in the world today,” said Mark Zimmerman, Simplex president and CEO. “With total water evacuation in under four seconds, it is the most cost-effective FAS available to operators around the world.”

Zimmerman went on to say, “the system was developed for installation with very minimal aircraft provisioning required, making installation fast and cost effective.”

Zimmerman further stated that the system has an excellent drop pattern. He stated that the “new system is like the Kamov Ka-32, and the Firehawk systems, with an exceptional drop pattern.”