Above: File photo of South Dakota National Guard Black Hawk helicopter during training at Angostura Reservoir, May 20, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
The Knoxville News Sentinel has an interesting article about the crews that flew the National Guard Black Hawk helicopters in Tennessee during the siege of wildfires at the end of last year.
Here is an excerpt:
You’re piloting a Black Hawk helicopter through the smoke choking the sky over Gatlinburg, a city consumed in fire.
Your co-pilot sits beside you, squinting ahead, listening to communications, watching the instrument panels. Behind the co-pilot sits a Tennessee Division of Forestry officer who earlier instructed you on which fire to hit but is now looking out a small side window. In the back are two crew chiefs, their backsides planted on the bottom edges of open doors on either side of the helicopter. They are held in by harnesses as their legs dangle in open air. This is so they can look straight down at the 600-gallon water bucket hanging by a cable from the ‘copter. They are holding button devices; one will let loose water from the bucket when the time is right.
You’re all talking – constantly communicating through headsets not only with each other but also with other helicopters, air traffic controllers and, most importantly, a spotter on the ground. Talking and looking.
“Fighting fires is pretty stressful,” he said. “You are tense. A ‘copter does not fly very well (because of the 1,500-pound weight of a mostly filled water bucket). It flies like it’s drunk almost. You get that slow, little go-forward, pull-back. It’s almost like it starts to sway a little.
“You get a little tight, a little tense. You’re flying into places where you can barely see because of the smoke. You also have wires and trees to watch out for.”