Above: One of Helimax’s two CH-47D Chinook Type 1 helicopters they have on exclusive use contract with the U.S. Forest Service.
We stopped by the Helimax Aviation facilities at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento recently and talked with General Manager Josh Beckham and Director of Fire Operations Larry Kelly. Their mechanics were going over their fleet of helicopters preparing them for the upcoming fire season.
Two of their three CH-47D Chinooks are on a Type 1 exclusive use contract. One of them today became the company’s first helicopter to leave the nest this year, beginning work in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
Mr. Beckham told us that they expect to buy “probably two to start with” of the internal 2,800-gallon tanks being built by Jordan Aircraft Services. He said the first one is nearing completion and they hope to begin flight testing in the next couple of months. The water or retardant will be pushed out of the horizontally mounted cylindrical tanks by a 54-inch piston.
Mr. Beckham said Helimax also has six Type 2 helicopters on exclusive use contracts, five 205A1++’s and one 212HP.
On injured reserve is a Super Puma which needs some work — it was hoisted out of the ocean when it became floating debris after the 2011 Tsunami in Japan.
The Incident Commander ordered two large air tankers but only one was available.
Above: a Sky Aviation Bell 206L4 (N482TJ) lands at Custer Airport near a Central Copters K-MAX (N115).
On Saturday when the Cold Fire started 8 miles southeast of Custer, South Dakota, no firefighting aircraft were available. The Incident Commander requested an air attack platform, two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters, two large air tankers, and one light helicopter. Sunday a P2V departed Chattanooga, Tennessee and most likely cruised at about 200 mph until it arrived in Rapid City at about 3 p.m.
The P2V was not used Sunday, in part because the winds were too strong and turbulent. Two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters dropped water Sunday morning. Three privately owned contracted helicopters became available at the Custer Airport: one K-MAX (Central Copters), one CH-47D Chinook (Billings Flying Service), and a Bell 206L4 (Sky Aviation), but only the 206L4 was used. It dropped numerous loads of water Sunday afternoon while we were there.
As we told you on December 21, Jordan Aircraft Services is constructing internal tanks for the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter. With the horizontal configuration of the tank, 54-inch pistons at each end will push the water toward the valve in the center in order to maintain adequate head pressure and a constant flow. The tanks, designed by Eric Foy of Perideo LLC, will hold up to 2,800 gallons.
Tony Cabler, the Quality Director for Jordan Aircraft Service, sent us these photos he took, explaining that the tanks are far from being ready to use.
The personnel at Jordan Aircraft Services have been involved in constructing tanks for a number of aircraft, including S-61 Sea King helicopter, 10 Tanker’s DC-10, Erickson’s Air-Cranes and MD-87s.
A company in Central Point Oregon is developing an internal tank for the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Jordan Aircraft Services is constructing a tank engineered by Eric Foy of Perideo LLC in Rogue Valley Oregon that will hold up to 2,800 gallons.
It will employ an innovative method to help produce a constant flow of water or retardant, according to Ed Jordan, owner of Jordan Aircraft Services. Since the tank system is primarily horizontal in the aircraft, it could be difficult to maintain adequate head pressure at the bottom of the tank as it empties using gravity rather than a pressurized system. As the water is dispensed through a valve in the belly of the Chinook, horizontally mounted 54-inch pistons will push the liquid toward the center of the tank over the valve. This is intended to maintain an adequate head pressure ensuring that the desired flow rate is obtained.
Mr. Jordan told us that the tank itself is completed, but they are still working on the valve system. The tank has been installed in a Chinook in Medford, Oregon operated by CHI Aviation, formerly known as Construction Helicopters. They expect to be able to begin testing by early Spring.
The personnel at Jordan Aircraft Services have been involved in constructing tanks for a number of aircraft, including S-61 Sea King helicopter, 10 Tanker’s DC-10, Erickson’s Air-Cranes and their MD-87s.
On a related note, Billings Flying Service now has six Chinooks. The company began acquiring them from the military in 2014 when they purchased two which they flew back to Billings from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. The ships were busy in 2015, Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, told Fire Aviation. He said they expect to have five of them available in 2016.
Mr. Blain said they are following the development of the internal tank closely, but so far they are having success with external buckets. Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tim.
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.
We spent some time yesterday at the Redding Air Attack Base in California and shot photos of the aircraft and will be posting them over the next few days. Here are a few to get started. Click on the photos to see slightly larger versions.
All of the photos were taken by Bill Gabbert and are protected by copyright.