Australian government increases aerial firefighting funding by 57%

Three Mile Fire at Wisemans's Ferry
Screenshot from video shot by an aircraft over the Three Mile Fire at Wisemans’s Ferry in New South Wales. NSW RFS photo December 3, 2019.

The federal government of Australia is committing an additional $11 million to beef up the nation’s aerial firefighting capability. The extra funding will supplement the $14.9 million existing budget to bring the total up to nearly $26 million. The southern hemisphere has just entered their summer, but Australia has been experiencing an extremely high level of wildfire activity for at least a month. The one large air tanker that the government owned, a 737 purchased last Spring, was busy off and on for much of the winter assisting firefighters on the ground.

Tanker 138 737 New South Wales
Tanker 138, a 737, in New South Wales, August 8, 2019 U.S. time. Coulson Photo.

The National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) will be able to decide how to spend the money, which will be sent to the organization as a grant immediately.

The NAFC had originally planned to contract for five large air tankers brought in from North America, but after numerous fires and severe criticism from former fire chiefs, they hired two more, with one of them being a DC-10 very large air tanker.

Australia's large and very large air tanker fleet
Australia’s fleet of large and very large air tankers, updated November 13, 2019 after adding two additional air tankers. The dates are DD/MM. Information confirmed by NAFC.

Before the infusion of the additional funds, Australia had 63 fixed wing and 45 rotor wing aircraft devoted to fire suppression. There are an additional 51 aircraft used for other fire-related missions.

The minister for natural disasters, David Littleproud, said the additional funding would allow lease periods of firefighting aircraft to be extended.

“It is clear we are facing longer and more intense seasons, and as this summer has only just begun we have already seen devastating fires tear through communities right across the country,” Littleproud said.

“Sadly, bushfires are part of the Australian landscape and while we cannot always prevent them, we can prepare for them and ensure that we are responding in the most effective way.”

Hard landing for firefighting helicopter in New South Wales

The pilot walked away with minor injuries

helicopter hard landing New South Wales fire
Hard landing for a helicopter that was working on the Jarrah Road Fire northeast of Newcastle, New South Wales. A dislodged rotor blade can be seen nearby. Screenshot from ABC video.

A helicopter in Australia that was working on the Jarrah Road Fire northeast of Newcastle, New South Wales experienced a mechanical problem Saturday morning which led to a hard landing. Firefighters on the ground were able to quickly put out a fire in the engine which spread to some grass around the helicopter.

“As a result, all aircraft in the area have been grounded to undergo routine safety checks,” said a spokesperson for the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Paramedics treated the pilot at the scene for minor injuries but he did not need to be taken to a hospital, Matthew Doran of ABC News reported.

The privately owned helicopter was operating under a firefighting contract for the NSW Rural Fire Service.

helicopter hard landing New South Wales fire
Hard landing for a helicopter that was working on the Jarrah Road Fire northeast of Newcastle, New South Wales. Screenshot from ABC video.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Another Firehawk helicopter has been delivered to Los Angeles County

In a couple of years the Department expects to have a total of 7 Firehawks

Firehawk Sikorsky S70I Los Angeles County Fire Department
Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Sikorsky S70I Firehawk being tested Nov. 16, 2019 in Colorado. Photo by Erick Lama for United Rotorcraft.

San Diego Fire-Rescue is not the only department that is adding new Sikorsky S70I Firehawk helicopters to their aerial firefighting fleets. The finishing touches are being applied to one for Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACFD).

This new aircraft, Helicopter 21 (N821LA) was photographed while it was being tested in Colorado (above) on November 16 by Eric Lama, United Rotorcraft’s program manager on the Firehawk.

On November 23, 2019, the day it was ferried to LACFD’s Barton helibase in Pacoima, California it was photographed again. Helicopter 21 departed from the Denver area at 6:15 a.m PST and arrived at Barton at 4:19 p.m. PST.

Firehawk Sikorsky S70I Los Angeles County Fire Department
Sikorsky S70I Firehawk on Nov. 23, 2019, the day it was delivered to Los Angeles County Fire Department. United Rotorcraft photo.

United Rotorcraft converted it into a firefighting machine with extended landing gear, a 1,000 gallon firefighting tank, and a retractable snorkel system. The FAA registration number is N821LA.

Another Firehawk purchased by LACFD is in the process of being converted at United Rotorcraft in Colorado and should be delivered in the Spring of 2020. The Department announced in July that they were going to buy two more.

So if you’re keeping score, they had three Firehawks, the one delivered last week brings the number to four, the one expected next Spring will make five, and considering the July announcement there will be a total of seven. LACFD also has five Bell 412 helicopters.

It takes one or two years, at least, for an S70I to be manufactured, painted, converted into a Firehawk, and delivered. It can also take additional weeks or months for the receiving department to further outfit the aircraft and train personnel.

Blackhawks are becoming very popular as firefighting machines. Other departments and private companies acquiring them in recent years include CAL FIRE, Ventura County, San Diego County, Firehawk Helicopters, and Coulson.

Firehawk Sikorsky S70I Los Angeles County Fire Department
Sikorsky S70I Firehawk on Nov. 23, 2019, the day it was delivered to Los Angeles County Fire Department. United Rotorcraft photo.

San Diego receives new Firehawk helicopter

San Diego Fire-Rescue Firehawk helicopter new
A new Sikorsky S70I has been outfitted as a Firehawk by United Rotorcraft for San Diego Fire-Rescue. Photo by Erick Lama.

San Diego Fire-Rescue is adding a Sikorsky S70I to their aerial firefighting fleet. After being retrofitted by United Rotorcraft it was delivered at Montgomery Field (map) November 23, 2019. It is now known as a Firehawk after being reconfigured with an aerial firefighting mission package including extended landing gear, a 1,000 gallon firefighting tank, and a retractable snorkel system. The FAA registration number is N283SD.

San Diego has two other firefighting helicopters, a Bell 212 (N800DM) and a Bell 412EP (N807JS) manufactured in 1980 and 2008, respectively. The Fire-Rescue Department has two registration numbers reserved to be used later, N281SD and 282SD.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Firehawk helicopter new
A new Sikorsky S70I has been outfitted as a Firehawk by United Rotorcraft for San Diego Fire-Rescue. Photo by Erick Lama.

In June, 2018 the S70I was ferried from Sikorsky’s manufacturing plant in Coatesville, Pennsylvania to Decatur, Texas where it was painted in United Rotorcraft’s facility. The rest of the Firehawk conversion was done by United Rotorcraft in Englewood, Colorado.

All of the Firehawk photos above were taken by Eric Lama, United Rotorcraft’s program manager on the Firehawk.

San Diego Fire-Rescue S70I Firehawk
The San Diego Fire-Rescue S70I before it was painted and retrofitted. June, 2018.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Firehawk helicopter new
A new Sikorsky S70I has been outfitted as a Firehawk by United Rotorcraft for San Diego Fire-Rescue. Photo by Erick Lama November 13, 2019.

The San Diego Police Department presently has four Eurocopter AS 350B3 helicopters manufactured in 2006 which they expect to replace in the foreseeable future at a cost of about $21 million, the LA Times reported November 20, 2019:

The City Council this week approved a five-year agreement with Airbus Helicopters to immediately buy one helicopter for $4.6 million and purchase three more for $5.5 million each before the deal ends in 2024.

City officials stressed that the council will be required to approve each of the additional helicopter purchases and that the purchases will be based on whether the city has adequate resources at the time.

The plan to replace all four helicopters is based on recommendations from a consulting firm that analyzed the city’s helicopter fleet in 2017.

San Diego PD will replace the four helicopters with Airbus H125s, which is basically an updated version of the 350B3.

ABC News features southern California helicopter pilot

Desiree Horton
Desiree Horton. Screenshot from ABC video.

ABC News has a three-minute video report on the only full time firefighting helicopter pilot employed by a government agency in California. In addition to working for Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) where is is now, she previously flew helicopters for CAL FIRE, a privately owned helicopter company with a firefighting contract, a  heavy lift operator, a helicopter tour company in Hawaii, and TV stations in Los Angeles.

The video below appears to have been produced before Desiree started working at the OCFA.

More articles about Desiree are on Fire Aviation and Wildfire Today.

Two additional air tankers added to Australia’s firefighting fleet

Australia is experiencing an unusually high level of bushfire activity

Tanker 911 on the Corner Creek Fire i
Tanker 911 on the Corner Creek Fire in Central Oregon, June 30, 2015. Photo by Todd McKinley.

Due to an unusually high level of bushfire activity Australia has contracted for two additional air tankers to assist firefighters on the ground. Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), said the aircraft were added using the NAFC’s system of Enhanced Call When Needed (EWCN) contracts.

On November 12, U.S. time, Tanker 911, a DC-10, was loading spare parts onto the aircraft and is expected to be fire-ready in Richmond, New South Wales on November 16. It is supplied by Agair/10 Tanker. The DC-10 is considered a Very Large Air Tanker and can carry up to 9,400 gallons (35,582 liters).

The other EWCN air tanker added to the fleet is a Coulson C-130Q with an enter on duty date of November 16, also at Richmond. It usually carries around 3,500 gallons (13,248 liters).

Australia's large and very large air tanker fleet
Australia’s fleet of large and very large air tankers, updated November 13, 2019. The dates are DD/MM. Information provided by NAFC.

There are also changes on the rotor wing side. One of the most significant additions is a ECWN contract for a Blackhawk with long line bucket based at Toowoomba in Queensland.  The helicopter is suppled through Kestrel Aviation (who are partnered with BHI2/Brainerd).

Recent additions bring the total number of firebombing aircraft in Australia to 63 fixed wing and 45 rotor wing. There are an additional 51 aircraft used for other fire-related missions.

Firefighting helicopter goes down in Queensland, Australia

Helicopter Down crash Queensland Australia
Photo by 9News

A helicopter that was assisting firefighters on a bushfire in Queensland, Australia had a hard landing near Pechey north of Toowoomba. The pilot, believed to be in his 70s, was injured and flown to a hospital by another helicopter.

9News reported that the incident occurred as the pilot attempted to perform an emergency landing in strong winds.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Robert and Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

New Air-Crane for South Korea being tested prior to delivery

Korea Forest Service Air-Crane S-64
Ground and taxi test at the Medford airport 10/21/19.
Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin sent us these photos of a new S-64 Erickson Air-Crane that is being tested before it is delivered to the Korea Forest Service.

“Heard it is supposed to be delivered to them in the next week,” Tim said. “It’s temporary N- number registration is N915AC. It’s been doing plenty of flight testing the past few weeks around Southern Oregon. I heard it is the first Air-Crane to have composite rotor blades.”

Korea Forest Service Air-Crane S-64 new
Dip testing at Erickson’s Whtstone Helipad in White City, OR 11/9/19. Photo by Tim Crippin.
Korea Forest Service Air-Crane S-64 new
Dip testing at Erickson’s Whtstone Helipad in White City, OR 11/9/19. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Thanks Tim!