CAL FIRE selects Blackhawk as replacement for Super Huey helicopters

CAL FIRE super Huey

Above: A CAL FIRE Super Huey undergoing winter maintenance at the agency’s aviation facility at McClellan Air Field March 24, 2016. This was one of the few CAL FIRE helicopters that still has “CDF” painted on the tail.

(Originally published at 8:40 a.m. MDT August 3, 2017)

The last time we wrote about the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s (CAL FIRE) attempt to purchase a new fleet of firefighting helicopters they had just thrown out the submitted bids. The potential suppliers hoping to replace CAL FIRE’s 12 Super Hueys interpreted the solicitation specs in different ways. One company, for example, was bidding on what they assumed were apples, while another was picturing oranges. Then it was back to the drawing board.

That process is nearing completion, with the announcement yesterday by CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott that they “intend” to award the contract to Air Methods/United Rotorcraft of Englewood, Colorado, which offered the Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk, configured as a civilian version of the UH-60 Black Hawk.

Sikorsky S-70i Black_Hawk
Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk (reg. SP-YVC), built by PZL-Mielec in Poland, at ILA Berlin Air Show 2012. Photo by Julian Herzog.

Before the contract is signed other bidders have the opportunity to protest the award. If one is filed, the final decision will be made by a neutral administrative law judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings.

The original plan in 2016 was to buy nine helicopters — about three a year for three years, with an option to spring for an even dozen. But that commitment appears to have changed.

“Even after a contract is awarded”, Chief Pimlott said yesterday, “the number and timing of the State’s orders will be determined on a year-by-year basis. The contract does not commit the State to any specific number of purchases or delivery schedule.”

Since 2010 at least some, if not all, Sikorsky S-70i’s have been built by Poland-based PZL Mielec, a subsidiary of Sikorsky Aircraft. Sikorsky, now owned by Lockheed Martin, advertises the helicopter as being suitable for utility uses and complex search and rescue missions. It can be ordered with a window gun — or at least a mount for one.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jerome and Norman.
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13 thoughts on “CAL FIRE selects Blackhawk as replacement for Super Huey helicopters”

  1. Impressive aircraft for sure! I sincerely hope it meets all the needs of CalFire.
    The top notch crews that will man these will make all the difference. “Instead of the gun option” maybe a DRONE killer would better serve the efforts of CalFire.

    1. Yes, 2 Type Rated Pilots and PIC Evals by a PPE every year. Sweet rides for sure. Love to try my hand at that one day.

  2. They may not know what they are getting into. Maintenance is more expensive and parts way more expensive than for an H.
    They should get a 205 or 212 as slick as possible to do the lifts…
    They could get some N’s from Home land sec. that are not being used.

  3. I’m guessing the CalFire pilots have been part of the selection process and agree with that choice.
    Yes, expensive maintenance and 2 pilots = bigger budget…

    1. I don’t believe the pilots had much, if any say in the selection. The couple I know weren’t for it, Blackhawks suck for VR work. Two pilots plus a crew chief to call out drops.

      The Hawks work great in LA with belly tanks, but in the mountains with a bucket…who knows.

      We shall see. I know I’ll apply for an SIC job if possible.

  4. There is going to be some very nicely equipped and maintained H models surplussed out some day soon. I wonder if Montana, Florida or Washington has first dibs? It would be a great opportunity for Colorado too, especially with all the spares. Flying single pilot PIC in a Huey on fires is one of the most enjoyable and demanding experiences a pilot can have. Not may opportunities remain. This is probably a needed move by Cal-Fire and gets them away from 50 year old airframes, no matter how functionally perfect they are. It also opens up the pilot selection process to those from the military to re-enter into ships they should already be familiar with. Its going to be tougher for civilian pilots to transition though.

    1. I’m sure hoping that N.C.’s going to be in the running and will be able to snag a couple of em! Our H models are showing some wear….

  5. It’s all about requirements. Compare the drop load capability of a Huey’s Bambi Bucket to the FireHawk and you’ll instantly see the benefit. Then look at maneuverability and High/Hot capability and the picture becomes even clearer. And, not sure if anyone has tried to get their hands on a T53-L-13 or 703 core or rebuilt engine recently, but they are scarcer than hen’s teeth right now. Also 205 TT-strap AD’s are handcuffing users more than they used to be. That Huey option is becoming less and less viable, the older those venerable Huey’s become.

  6. Cal Fire leadership will saddle the State of California with aircraft that cost 3x the current fleet and still can’t carry/rescue civilians or meet the most basic FAA standard for safety and crashworthiness. They must subscribe to the easier to ask forgiveness approach…

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