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.
Earlier we posted Part One of a few notes that I scribbled in a notebook at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week. Here is Part Two.
Ron Hooper, CEO of Neptune Aviation, said their air tankers in 2016 averaged 180 hours while working on wildfires. In 2017, a very busy year, that number increased to 276. Their P2V’s have retired from firefighting, leaving the company with nine air tankers, all BAe-146’s.
No one outside the U.S. Forest Service knows when the agency will issue the next round of exclusive use and call when needed next-generation air tanker contracts, affectionately called Next-Gen 3.0. When forced to guess, Mr. Hooper said the aircraft receiving those new contracts may not be activated until 2019. He may know more than most, since his former job was supervising air tanker contracting for the FS.
One of the major suppliers of fire retardant, Phos-Chek, is changing hands again. In a matter of days its parent company will be Perimeter Solutions. But as in the previous four iterations it will retain the brand name Phos-Chek.
Here is the product’s history of parent companies:
2018- ???? : Perimeter
Jim Wheeler, CEO of Global Supertanker Services, said the company currently has CWN contracts with CAL FIRE and two counties in Colorado — Douglas (just south of Denver) and El Paso (Colorado Springs). Other pending contracts that they hope to sign later will be with the states of Colorado, Texas, and Oregon.
Vincent Welbaum, Colorado’s Aviation Unit Chief, said they are talking to vendors and expect to award a call when needed contract to at least one vendor that can supply large or very large air tankers. The state has been operating their own two Pilatus PC-12 Multi-mission aircraft for several years, using it to detect and map wildfires.
Colorado will have two Single Engine Air Tankers on exclusive use contracts supplied by CO Fire Aviation and Aero Seat as well as four other vendors on call when needed contracts. The state will also have two Bell 205’s on exclusive use contracts.
Helimax Aviation is one of two subsidiaries of Heligroup Holdings. The other is CHI at Howell, Michigan which concentrates on heavy lift, while Helimax, at Sacramento McClellan Airport is in involved in aerial firefighting. Helimax recently sold all of their Type 2 helicopters, and now have six Type-1’s, Chinook CH-47D’s.
Bradford Beck, COO of MAFFS Group said the company recently sold a MAFFS II system to the Tunisia Air Force in Northern Africa. The country has operated two of the original versions of the MAFFS for 10 to 15 years. They will continue to operate the MAFFS I systems on a C-130B and will use a C-130H for the new MAFFS II which will be delivered in the third quarter of this year. The most challenging wildfires in Tunisia occur in the Atlas mountains.
This is the second MAFFS II that the MAFFS Group has sold. The first is now being used in Columbia, South America.
Viking Air director of Special Projects, Sales, and Marketing Christian Bergeron said the company is currently gathering information from potential customers about what they would like to see on a new version of the CL-415 water scooping air tanker. The company expects to decide by the third quarter of this year if they will proceed with the project, which will be named CL-515. At this stage, Mr. Bergeron said, they expect it to have a larger cargo door, glass cockpit, updated avionics, and will be able to land with a full load of water. Available options will include an infrared camera system and night vision compatibility. Viking’s manufacturing facility is in Calgary, Canada.
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.