Colorado acquires firefighting helicopters

Bell 206L4 N538TD
Bell 206L4, N538TD, working on a fire in Miguel County, Colorado, July 21, 2014. CDFPC photo.

For the first time, firefighting helicopters are now under contract and have been working on fires for the state of Colorado. After a couple of years of planning, debating, and legislating, the funds for the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) that the legislature appropriated earlier this year became officially available on July 1. On that date they had their contracts ready to go and on July 9 and 11 awarded them to private companies for one Type 2 and two Type 3 helicopters. The CFAC is within the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC).

The Type 2 helicopter is provided by Trans Aero Helicopters out of Loveland, Colorado. It is a UH1H built in 1970, registration #N60901 and is known as Helicopter 901. It is based at Jeffco Tanker Base in Broomfield, but is currently in Grand Junction on standby for initial attack. It was previously under a Call When Needed contract with the U.S. Department of the Interior.

One of the Type 3 ships is a Bell 206L4, N538TD, operated by Homestead Helicopters out of Missoula, Montana and is designated Helicopter 8TD. It is based in Montrose, Colorado. Homestead has at least three 206s and has had firefighting contracts since 2001.

The other Type 3 is an AStar B3, owned and operated by Brainerd and Firehawk Helicopters out of Florida. It is stationed at Alamosa Airport, but right now is positioned in Craig for initial attack. The company also operates at least one Blackhawk helicopter, which they call a Firehawk.

H-901, N60901
H-901, N60901, on the Radio Fire, July 25, 2014 in Garfield County, Colorado. CDFPC photo.

The DFPC positions all assets, including aviation assets, strategically based on preparedness levels, interagency situational awareness of fire activity, weather, National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) indices, location of other aerial assets, etc.

Colorado issued the Invitations to Bid on the helicopter contracts just last month, in early June. Those of us familiar with the lengthy process for awarding federal aviation contracts will find it refreshing that it does not have to take 523 days, as in the case of the contracts the U.S. Forest Service awarded for next-generation air tankers. But, that is a very low bar for comparison.

The CFAC’s earlier plan was to contract for three or four helicopters in 2014 and up to four large air tankers in 2015 and beyond. We asked DFPC Director Paul Cooke if they still planned to contract for large air tankers next year, and he said:

DFPC has no plans to acquire or contract for large air tankers. If the situation ever warrants reconsideration, DFPC must go back to the Governor and General Assembly for additional funding.

The DFPC has awarded two 120-day contracts for Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs).

They will also purchase two PC-12 multi-purpose fixed wing aircraft. The final provisions of the transaction are currently being negotiated. They expect to have a loaner PC-12 in use by August 15, 2014. More details about the PC-12s are in another article.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Bean.