Navy helicopter collides with firefighting helicopter, both land safely

At Brown Field near San Diego, Nov. 22, 2022.

Damage to a Navy MH-60R Seahawk after colliding with a UH-60A Firehawk
Damage to a Navy MH-60R Seahawk after colliding with a UH-60A Blackhawk contracted to SDG&E Nov. 22, 2022. NBC7.

It is very rare to hear about a mid air collision of two helicopters which then land safely with no reported injuries of the five occupants.

It happened Tuesday night Nov. 22 at Brown Field near San Diego during a night training exercise that included two Blackhawk variants.

Damage to a Navy MH-60R Seahawk after colliding with a UH-60A Firehawk
Damage to a Navy MH-60R Seahawk after colliding with a UH-60A Blackhawk contracted to SDG&E Nov. 22, 2022. NBC7.

One helicopter suffered damage to the main rotor and the other had damage to the rear stabilator, City of San Diego Public Information Officer José Ysea said.

Ensign Bryan Blair, spokesperson for Commander, Naval Air Forces, issued the following statement: “On Nov. 22, an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter attached to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 41 made an emergency landing at Brown Field in San Diego after experiencing a collision with a helicopter contracted by San Diego Gas and Electric during a flight for a night training event. Both aircraft landed safely and there were no injuries to personnel. The incident is under investigation.”

UH-60A Firehawk contracted to SDG&E that collided with a Navy MH-60R Seahawk
File photo of the UH-60A Blackhawk contracted to SDG&E that collided with a Navy MH-60R Seahawk Nov. 22, 2022. SDG&E photo.

The second helicopter, a UH-60A Blackhawk, N160AQ, is contracted to SDG&E for firefighting in the utility’s service area. An SDG&E official issued this statement regarding the incident: “We have been made aware of the incident by our contractor who owns and operates the aircraft and the most important thing is that all parties are safe.”

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

Aircraft from Erickson Aircraft Collection featured in movie “Devotion” opening today

F4U-7 Corsair

Mike Oliver and Erickson's F4U Corsair
Mike Oliver and Erickson’s F4U Corsair as seen in the movie Devotion. Mike Oliver photo.

An aircraft out of the Erickson Aircraft Collection in Madras, Oregon is featured in the movie Devotion which is opening today, November 23, 2022. The F4U-7 was flown by Mike Oliver, the general manager.

The film is about the son of a black Mississippi sharecropper who against all odds goes to the Naval Academy and becomes a fighter pilot. The true story revolves around elite pilots Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner, who became the U.S. Navy’s most celebrated wingmen during the Korean War. It is based on the 2014 book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by Adam Makos, which retells the comradeship between the two naval officers.

Kevin La Rosa III who was the aerial coordinator and helicopter camera pilot for the smash hit, Top Gun Maverick, was also involved in acquiring aircraft and pilots for Devotion.

Mr. La Rosa heard that the Erickson Aircraft Collection in Madras, Oregon had an F4U Corsair and contacted Mr. Oliver.

From Oregon Live:

The Erickson Aircraft Collection features displays of vintage aircraft, including an F4U Corsair, which Oliver had been restoring. After he read Makos’ book, Oliver said he was inspired to paint the plane with the blue color and markings that would have been on the craft Brown flew.

“We spent probably three-and-a-half to four months filming the movie,” Oliver said. “We started in Wenatchee (Washington), then went to Pasco, and flew down to Savannah, Georgia. It was fantastic. Being my first movie, I didn’t know what to expect. It was a lot of good coordination, a lot of people that were professionals, and knew what they were doing.”

Oliver, along with stars Jonathan Majors (whose credits include “Lovecraft Country”) and Glen Powell (who costarred in “Top Gun: Maverick”), recently went to the Los Angeles premiere of “Devotion.” The premiere, Oliver said, was “Grand. It was a true red carpet.”

Erickson's F4u-7 Corsair movie premier
Erickson’s F4U-7 Corsair on the street at Westwood Village, California for the premier of the movie “Devotion”.


Sceen from trailer for the movie Devotion
Sceen from trailer for the movie Devotion

Erickson, under the name Erickson Aero Tanker, also operates a fleet of MD-87 Type 1 air tankers.

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

Air Force to develop plan to train pilots to fly special ops tail-dragger

A modified single engine air tanker

Sky Warden, AT-802U
Sky Warden, AT-802U. L3 Harris photo.

Now that the Air Force has agreed to purchase up to 75 Air Tractor 802U Sky Warden aircraft, one of their most important tasks is to develop a plan on how to train nearly 200 pilots to staff the fleet.

U.S. Special Operations Command has awarded a $3 billion contract to L3Harris Technologies to build up to 75 Sky Wardens. They expect to begin delivery in fiscal year 2026 with full operating capability in 2029.

Military to purchase Air Tractor 802s capable of carrying weapons and surveillance equipment

The basic aircraft, AT 802U, will be built by Air Tractor at their Olney, Texas aircraft manufacturing facility. L3Harris Technologies will add the additional equipment beginning in 2023 at their Tulsa, Oklahoma modification center.

L3Harris said the Sky Warden will provide close air support, precision strike, armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike coordination, and forward air controller requirements for use in austere and permissive environments.

From an article at Yahoo News:

Air Education and Training Command, Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), and L3Harris are working on a syllabus that will guide airmen through the intricacies of tail-wheel flight. That syllabus will determine the length of each armed overwatch training class, Heyse said.

The Air Force expects to run tests on the airframe until summer 2024, and have its instructors trained to teach students by fall 2025. AFSOC is considering training test pilots and instructors on commercial tail-wheel aircraft before they progress to the OA-1K itself.

It plans to bring in nearly 200 pilots to staff the fleet.

“The formal training unit plans to start training new OA-1K crews in the fall of 2025,” AFSOC spokesperson Lt. Col. Becky Heyse said. “Safety is our top priority, and we are dedicated to ensuring our crews receive the right training.”

The Air Force hasn’t decided where to base the OA-1K schoolhouse, though one option may be to pair it with other aviation training at Hurlburt. Hosting armed overwatch courses in the Florida Panhandle would give airmen access to the vast test and training range that stretches over the Gulf of Mexico.

Pilot of helicopter that started a fire with a landing light tells inquiry he did not see long grass before landing

File photo, MRH-90 helicopter
File photo of Australian Army soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment deplane from a 5th Aviation Regiment MRH-90 Taipan during Exercise Hamel 2014 at the Tolga Turf Club near Atherton, Queensland. (Photo: Australian Army)

As we reported in February, 2020 and later in December, 2020, a helicopter operated by Australia’s Army inadvertently started a bushfire January 27, 2020 in Namadgi National Park south of Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). It was caused by heat from the landing light on an MRH-90 Helicopter as it set down in the remote Orroral Valley for a crew break.

map bushfire in Namadgi National Park
Sentintel-2 satellite imagery of the bushfire in Namadgi National Park south of Canberra, Australia. February 4, 2020.

More information is coming into focus during an ongoing Coroner’s Court, including why the flight crew did not report the fire until after it landed 45 minutes later at an airport.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Dramatic accounts of how an army helicopter codenamed Angel 21 started a fire in the Orroral valley in January 2020 during a toilet stop, have emerged from the first day of evidence in the coronial into the disaster.

The fire burned nearly 90,000 hectares (222,000 acres) of the ACT, also burning into the Clear Range in New South Wales, laying waste to farmland along the way.

Counsel Assisting the Coroner Kylie Nomchong told the court the fire started about 1:30pm on January 27 and by 2:25pm it had burned 20 hectares.

She said by later that afternoon, it had burned more than 1,000 hectares and was out of control, and by soon after 6pm, it had burned 18,000 hectares.

It was not put out for five weeks.

On Monday, the court listened to recordings of the crew of the helicopter Angel 21 in the lead-up to the landing and immediately afterwards.

One of the pilots described what he saw as he lifted off the ground.

“The downwash basically worked like a blow torch,” he said.

‘Come up, come up. We’ve started a fire’
The crew of the chopper had been part of Operation Bushfire Assist, in which the Commonwealth was providing resources for the ACT to monitor for fires during the tinder dry conditions in the 2019-2020 summer.

The court heard Angel 21 had been in the air for about two hours checking on the condition of helicopter landing pads, which might be needed if there was a fire, when there was an exchange between the crew members.

“What are the chances of a whiz break?” one of the crew can be heard asking in the recording.

The Coroner’s Court heard it was the decision of another officer to land, but that the pilot flying that day, who gave evidence on Monday, had done a risk assessment and found it to be safe.

But moments later on the ground, a voice is heard saying:

Come up, come up. We’ve started a fire. We’ve started a fire. Turn the search light out.

When asked about the long grass, the pilot said he had not seen it.

The army has admitted it was a light on the helicopter that sparked the fire in the extreme weather conditions that day, and it was revealed some time ago that the unscheduled stop was for a crew break.

The pilot told the court that he knew the searchlight was hot, but was unaware that it could get to 550 degrees Celsius.

Two pilots who gave evidence on Monday said they had been using the searchlight to make sure other aircraft could see them in the smoky hazy conditions that summer.

The court also heard a recording of communications from a fire spotter in a tower nearby, who reported the fire almost immediately.

In his first call he described a column of smoke, and in a later call described it as grey and a bit orange.

Soon afterwards, the ACT’s Emergency Services Agency (ESA) was receiving reports of smoke from residents on Canberra’s southern fringe.

The fire was in an inaccessible area, but local authorities quickly dispatched 19 appliances and 13 aircraft, including water bombers.

It was to no avail.

Chopper couldn’t communicate with ESA, court hears
The question before the inquiry is about communications, particularly between the army and the local ESA.

“There is a live issue in this inquiry as to when, if ever, the army told the ESA Angel 21 had ignited the fire,” Ms Nomchong said.

She also said that included the manner in which the fire started and the coordinates of the fire.

The pilot was questioned on Monday about who could be contacted from the aircraft.

He told the court he did have contacts for the ESA officers and the communication systems on board did not provide for contacting them.

Ms Nomchong: “No one on Angel 21 could communicate with the liaison officers at ESA?”.

Pilot: “Correct.”

Ms Nomchong played several recordings of communications between the second pilot and air traffic controllers on the way back to Canberra in which he never mentioned the fire.

She asked him why he didn’t say anything about how the helicopter had started a fire, or give the coordinates.

“My mind was on the safety of the crew and passengers,” he said.

The pilot said he’d been concerned the helicopter had also caught fire and was damaged.

“I was contemplating what was going to happen on landing,” he said. “It was a life and death situation.”

The coronial began in controversial circumstances.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr was against an inquiry, saying he didn’t want a witch hunt.

On Monday Coroner Lorraine Walker opened the hearings saying the object was not to crucify anyone, but rather to make things safer for everyone.

The inquiry is expected to hear from 11 witnesses in total, including from some NSW residents.

Nine NSW residents had previously been excluded from the inquiry because Coroner Lorraine Walker believed her jurisdiction did not cover their interests across the border.

The was overturned by the Supreme Court earlier this year.

Editor’s note 15/11/2022: The coronial inquiry has been put off until 2023, due to unforeseen circumstances which meant Chief Coroner Lorraine Walker was unavailable. The hearing was supposed to run for a week. A new date has yet to be set.

Orange County to purchase two Sikorsky S70 Firehawk helicopters

Expected delivery Fall of 2023

One of Orange County Fire Authority's new Blackhawks to become Firehawk
One of Orange County Fire Authority’s new Blackhawks, which will become a Firehawk. OCFA photo, Nov., 2022.

On October 27, 2022 after nearly three years of planning and assessment, the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) Board of Directors approved the purchase of two new Sikorsky S70 Firehawk helicopters. The new aircraft will replace the two OCFA 1966 UH-1H “Super Hueys” that were grounded in 2020 due to significantly increased cost of operating these legacy aircraft.

Firehawks have become the industry standard across the Southern California fire service, and with this approval, the OCFA joins its surrounding peer agencies — Santa Barbara Fire, Ventura County Fire, LA County Fire, San Diego Fire, and CAL FIRE — that already have Firehawk helicopters in their respective fleets.

One of Orange County Fire Authority's new Blackhawks to become Firehawk
One of Orange County Fire Authority’s new Blackhawks, which will become a Firehawk. OCFA photo, Nov., 2022.

Brian Fennessy, Chief of the OCFA since 2018, told Fire Aviation in March 2020,“All four of our aircraft need to be replaced.” The Chief has served as Air Operations Branch Director on Incident Management Teams.

Previously when he was Chief of the San Diego Fire Department he commissioned an independent study to evaluate and recommend which type of helicopters the organization should be flying into the future. A Fleet Replacement Analysis by Conklin & de Decker Associates was conducted. After that study and one for Los Angeles County Fire Department in 2000 both departments purchased Sikorsky S-70i Firehawks.

Chief Fennessy contracted for the same consultant to do a similar study at OCFA. They evaluated and compared five helicopters; Bell 212HP, Bell 412EP, Sikorsky S-70i, Airbus H215 Long, Airbus H215 short. The study was underway in 2020 and apparently came up with similar results.

The new OCFA aircraft will join OCFA’s two Bell 412EP helicopters, providing the agency with four operational helicopters for the first time since 2020 and empowering OCFA Air Operations to perform day/night aerial fire suppression, remote rescues, and other all-hazard missions at a far safer and capable level. True force multipliers in battling wildfire, the Firehawk’s water-dropping capabilities eclipse that of the Bell412s by 256% per tank-load (350 gallons vs. 1,000 gallons).

Orange County Fire Authority helicopters
Orange County Fire Authority, helicopters 1 and 4. By Bill Gabbert, February, 2020.

Before the new aircraft are delivered to the OCFA in fall of 2023, they must first be transformed from Blackhawk to Firehawk by United Rotorcraft, an industry leader in the design and manufacture of mission critical equipment. This transformation will include digital cockpit upgrades for ease of navigation while fighting fire and a reconfigurable cabin that accommodates up to 12 firefighting crew members and their equipment during emergency operations.

When the photos of the one of the new helicopters was taken a few days ago it was at the United Rotorcraft facility in Texas, where typically the company applies new livery. Then they will flown to another UA facility near Denver for rest of the lengthy conversion process.

One of Orange County Fire Authority's new Blackhawks to become Firehawk
One of Orange County Fire Authority’s new Blackhawks, which will become a Firehawk. OCFA photo, Nov. , 2022.

Another Air-Crane for South Korea

Aircrane helicopter to be delivered to South Korea
Aircrane to be delivered to South Korea, Nov, 1, 2022. Erickson photo by pilot Brad Pepper.

This month Erickson Incorporated will deliver another Air Crane firefighting helicopter to the Korea Forest Service (KFS). The agency has at least half a dozen S-64 Air Crane helicopters.

In 2001, KFS became the first foreign government to purchase S-64 helicopters from Erickson. The recently delivered versions have composite main rotor blades and glass cockpits. Some of the S-64 helicopters in the KFS fleet have the optional front-mounted water cannon.

Aircrane helicopter to be delivered to South Korea
Aircrane to be delivered to South Korea, Nov, 1, 2022. Erickson photo by pilot Brad Pepper.

France to order 16 Canadair tankers

Air Tanker 247
Air Tanker 247 scooping water at Castaic Lake December 6, 2017 . Photo by Robert Schwemmer.

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, announced that by the end of his term in 2027 the country will have replaced their existing fleet of 12 Canadair scooping air tankers and increased the number to 16.

Mr. Macron referred to this as an “emergency air rearmament” after an extremely busy wildfire season this year. He said there would be an investment of 250 million euros for an “unprecedented order” from Canadair. They also plan to acquire two heavy helicopters.

The Head of State warned that this “exceptional summer” “may not be so so” in the future due to climate change, during a tribute ceremony in the village hall of the ‘Élysée, to those involved in the fight against fire.

“For many of you, this summer was a season in hell”, “hell of flames, fatigue, desolation”, he said.

De Havilland Aircraft has purchased the rights to Canadairs, which have not been built for years, although some older aircraft have been upgraded to CL-415T and CL-415 EAF. The company announced in September they would be building a large manufacturing facility east of Calgary, Alberta. They expect to employ 1,500 workers to produce at least three lines of aircraft — DHC-515 (a modernized and upgraded CL-415), DHC-6 Twin Otter, and Dash 8-400 (Q400).

The DHC-515, first teased in 2018, will be assembled in Calgary with deliveries beginning by the middle of the decade.

On September 21 Gérald Moussa Darmanin, French Minister of the Interior, said, “We want to increase the number of Canadair [water scooping air tankers] in our own fleet from twelve to sixteen. But the problem is not to buy them, it is to produce them. Today there are no longer any factories that do so.”

Mr. Darmanin did not mention at that time they intended to replace the existing 12 water scoopers.

France is also in the process of replacing their S-2 air tankers with six Dash 8-400 (Q400) air tankers.

CL-415 scooping air tanker
CL-415 scooping air tanker supports a firing operation on the Calf Canyon & Hermits Peak Fire, New Mexico. May, 2022. IMT photo.

Air tanker crash in Italy kills two

Near Linguaglossa, Sicily

A CL-215/415 air tanker crash Italy
A CL-215/415 banks sharply just before contacting the ground. October 27, 2022.

A Canadair CL-215/415 crashed while dropping water on a wildfire on the slopes of the volcano Etna near Linguaglossa, Sicily, Italy today. Both pilots were killed.

It had just released its load, banked sharply to the right, then crashed into the ground.

The registration number of the aircraft was I-DPCN. It was part of a fleet of 19 CL-415s owned by the Dipartimento dei Vigili del Fuoco, del Soccorso Pubblico e della Difesa Civile (Department of firefighters, public rescue and civil defense) but operated by Babcock, the company that  provides the Canadair service in Italy as part of an outsourcing contract.

We send out our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of the two pilots.

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