Philanthropist provides rescue helicopters in Montana

Two Bear Air Bell 429
Two Bear Air’s Bell 429

A venture capitalist has spent $11 million purchasing, equipping, and operating two rescue helicopters based in Whitefish, Montana. Mike Goguen is a managing partner of Sequoia Capital, the California firm that was the original financial backer of Apple, Google and YouTube, among others. He provides a Bell 429 and an MD 500E to any agency that needs a helicopter for a rescue mission — at no charge.

We have written about Two Bear Air, the company formed to managed the helicopter company, twice before, in articles tagged Two Bear Air (naturally).

In 2014 they flew 125 missions, an average of one every three days.

In March the Bell 429 used its night flying capabilities, hoist, and infrared sensor at 1 a.m. to locate a teenage girl who became lost and was pinned when a tree fell on her.

Below is an excerpt from an excellent and detailed article in the Missoulian that brings us up to date on how the rescue operation came into being, and how it has been used in the last couple of years.

…A private citizen has spent millions of dollars of his own money to buy Two Bear Air’s helicopters, and pays every dime spent operating them on search and rescue missions.

“The resource provided to us, tax-free, is priceless,” Curry says. “The county could never afford a program that provides these resources.”

They include a $6 million twin-engine Bell 429 helicopter with $2 million worth of extras, including thermal imaging, night vision and infrared camera systems that allow searching to continue when it’s dark.

“It’s one of the best, if not the best, equipped aircraft in the western United States,” Curry says. Two Bear Air makes it available for search and rescue missions across western and central Montana, and in Idaho, 24 hours a day, at no cost to anyone except the part-time Whitefish resident who foots the bill for it all.

His name is Mike Goguen. He’s spent more than $11 million of his own fortune putting Two Bear in the air.

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

It took three aircraft to extract man in wilderness area with medical problem

It took three aircraft, two helicopters and a jet-powered fixed wing plane, to locate and extract a man in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana on Wednesday. The man was not feeling well and used a GPS-enabled personal locator beacon to send a distress call. The first helicopter, unsure exactly where the man was, landed near some hunters to ask if they knew where the man might be. Upon trying to take off, it would not start. A MercyFlight jet was dispatched to look for the helicopter, which apparently could not communicate from the remote area, and located it. The problem was diagnosed by radio as a starter generator issue.

A second helicopter was dispatched which found the man in distress, off loaded two crew members, then transported the man with the medical problem to a hospital. From there it took a mechanic with the needed parts to the broken helicopter, then picked up the two crew members and the man’s dog and flew back to their base. The broken helicopter was repaired and flew back home safely.

The first helicopter was a MercyFlight EuroCopter 135 P2. The second was the Two Bear Air Bell 429, which is funded by Whitefish, MT philanthropist Mike Goguen who supports all costs of the operation with zero cost to taxpayers, with the mission of ultimately saving lives.

In 2012 we first wrote about Two Bear Air, which was initially called Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources (FEAR).

More details about the rescue are at dailyinterlake.

Tanker 41 over the University of Montana

Tanker 41 BAe-146 over Univ of MT 5-21-2014
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, over the University of Montana, May 21, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert. (Click to see a larger version).

Neptune Aviation arranged for Tanker 41, a BAe-146, to fly over the University of Montana at Missoula yesterday during the lunch hour. Many of the attendees at the Large Fire Conference came outside to enjoy the display.

This photo was taken by Bill Gabbert.

Montana company purchases first civilian-owned CH-47D Chinooks

Billings Flying Service Chinook
Billings Flying Service Chinook, February 18 near Huntsville, Alabama before departing for Montana. Photo by Billings Flying Service.

Billings Flying Service just became the first non-military owner of CH-47D Chinook helicopters. Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, told Fire Aviation that the process was much like purchasing a used government-owned vehicle. He submitted a $6.5 million bid for two of them and it was accepted.

Columbia Helicopters has BV-234 Chinooks, but this is the first time the higher performance CH-47D models have migrated into the civilian world.

On Wednesday and Thursday Mr. Blain and another pilot flew the two Chinooks 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 said they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska.

In about four months they expect to have one of them outfitted for wildland firefighting, with the other coming on line next year. He said with an external bucket the ships could deliver 2,500 gallons of water. They have been consulting with the manufacturer, Boeing, and are considering installing an internal water tank with a snorkel and water pump for refilling the tank. The Chinook has an unusually high capacity for electrical accessories, so they are looking at either an electrical or a hydraulic pump. The water would exit the tank either from the rear ramp or through a hole cut in the belly. We asked if the tank would be similar to the RADS tank pioneered by Aero Union, and Mr. Blain said that if they choose the internal tank option they would probably work with Boeing to engineer something new.

Billings Flying Service Chinook
Billings Flying Service Chinook, February 18 near Huntsville, Alabama before departing for Montana. Photo by Billings Flying Service.

When operated by the military the Chinooks have a three-person crew, two pilots and an engineer-type who monitors gauges and interfaces with passengers. Billings Flying Service will not haul passengers, so they will reconfigure the cockpit making it possible for two pilots to handle everything. They will also install a bubble window to improve the visibility when flying external loads.

The company expects to hire at least 15 new employees to complete the work on the two helicopters. They will also construct a hanger for the ships, either at their headquarters or at the Billings airport.

Billings Flying Service is a second generation helicopter company and currently has one Bell 212 on an exclusive use firefighting contract and three Sikorsky S-61s and two Bell UH-1Hs on call when needed contracts. In addition to aerial firefighting, they are experienced in aerial construction, power transmission line construction, equipment transportation, geo-seismic exploration and passenger air charter.


Thanks and a hat tip go out to Dick and Steve.