Coulson-Unical Blackhawk spotted at McClellan

Coulson Unical Blackhawk
A Coulson-Unical Blackhawk, UH-60A, was photographed at Sacramento McClellan Airport August 14, 2019 by Mike McKeig.

As we reported in March, Coulson Aviation is partnering with Unical Air, a new unit of the Unical Group of Companies, to create a heavy lift helicopter joint venture company that will build and operate Boeing CH-47 and Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk aircraft for aerial firefighting and other markets.

At the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019, Britt Coulson explained that they intended to install internal tanks in both models of helicopters. In the last few weeks the new partnership has been working to get their first aircraft of the joint venture carded, the company said in a Facebook post August 12, when they posted the photo below:

Coulson Unical Blackhawk
Coulson photo posted August 12, 2019.

The camo paint job reminds me of Air Spray’s T-170. We’ll have to see if this makes it less visible to other aircraft when flying low and slow over a fire.

Air tanker 170 BAe-146
Air tanker 170 at MCC March 12, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The livery on the Coulson-Unical helicopter is very different from their Blackhawk that was on display in Atlanta.

Coulson-Unical CU-47 CU-60
Coulson-Unical CU-47 and CU-60 in Atlanta March 5, 2019. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Coulson-Unical CU-60 helicopter UH-60
The engineering design for the water/retardant delivery system on the Coulson-Unical CU-60. Coulson image.

In the video below, Mr. Coulson describes the new Chinook and Blackhawk program they are undertaking with Unical. It was filmed at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.

Lightning and helicopter activity in Oregon

Huey helicopter Oregon lightning
Shahaylie Smarr got this photo of lightning in the distance as a crew worked around a Huey.

With the abundant lightning in the Northwest United States over the last few days it’s a good bet that helicopters and their crews are going to be busy.

Todd McKinley sent us these photos taken Saturday, August 10, 2019 in Oregon. He said the AS350 B3 was at Ritter Butte in northern Grant County and at a nearby fire in the Ritter/Long Creek area. The Huey was at the Grant County Regional Airport Helibase in John Day.

Thanks Todd!

Airbus AS350 B3 landing zone
An Airbus AS350 B3 under contract with the Oregon Department of Forestry at an LZ. Apexheli Oregon Inc. photo.
Airbus AS350 B3 fire scene
An Airbus AS350 B3 under contract with the Oregon Department of Forestry at a fire scene with ODF firefighters. Apexheli Oregon Inc. photo.

An interesting view of the helibase at the Corta Fire in Nevada

Tenaya Wood sent us this interesting photo taken August 8 of the helibase at the Corta Fire off Old Harrison Pass Road in Northeast Nevada. She described it as having been taken from the “ABRO Box” — as in, Air Base Radio Operator. On Friday there were five helicopters working out of the base.

She took the photo with an iPhone 7 Plus, and is way better at using the panorama function than I am.

Thanks Tenaya!

The Corta Fire, managed by Tyler Hecht’s Nevada Type 3 Team 1, has burned 16,533 acres southeast of Jiggs.

Former Gov. Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Newsom discuss new firefighting equipment

They toured CAL FIRE facilities at Sacramento McClellan Airport

Air Tanker 118
Air Tanker 118 at Sacramento McClellan Airport August 1, 2019. Screengrab from Fox40 video below.

Thursday morning Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Governor Gavin Newsom toured CAL FIRE facilities at Sacramento McClellan Airport and received a briefing on some of the new firefighting equipment that the agency is in the process of acquiring.

They checked out Air Tanker 118, an HC-130H formerly operated by the U.S. Forest Service and before that, the U.S. Coast Guard. It has had some depot level maintenance performed and new livery, but still needs to have a retardant delivery system installed, like the other six HC-130H aircraft the agency also recently received. CAL FIRE expects to begin operating some of the HC-130Hs in their final configurations as they slowly become available beginning in about two or three years.

CAL FIRE is training their pilots for the transition by leasing a C-130 air tanker, T-134, from Coulson which has a permanently installed retardant delivery system with a removable internal tank.

The agency is also replacing its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey firefighting helicopters with brand new Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks) from United Rotorcraft. The aircraft will be capable of fighting fires at night.

An additional firefighting helicopter to be available in San Diego County

Blackhawk helicopter
File photo of a Blackhawk helicopter that was working the Rankin Fire in Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The helicopters that are fully certificated and available in San Diego County for firefighting has grown in the last 15 or 20 years from practically nothing to eight now that an additional helicopter will be added to the mix.

Last week the County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to split the cost of a Blackhawk helicopter with San Diego Gas and Electric. After the agreement is finalized, the helicopter will be positioned in the north part of the county during Red Flag Warning conditions.

Under the agreement SDG&E will cover the costs to operate the helicopter for the first two hours of any new flight, and the County will cover the second two flight hours. If used during a fire, the County could pay a maximum of $150,000 depending on flight time and reimbursements from the State of California or the federal government.

The County also shares a year-round lease with SDG&E for an Erickson Skycrane helicopter, which was put into action for several 2018 fires including the West Fire in Alpine, the Rangeland Fire in Ramona, the Pasqual Fire and the Recycle Fire in Campo.

The region currently has 10 aircraft available for initial attack:

  • A U.S. Forest Service firefighting helicopter during fire season
  • Three CAL FIRE fixed-wing aircraft, which consists of two retardant dropping airtankers and an air tactical supervisor plane,
  • Three County Sheriff/CAL FIRE helicopters
  • Two City of San Diego helicopters
  • The SDG&E-leased Erickson Skycrane helicopter.

For an extended attack the County can also call on 26 military helicopters if available.

Skycrane helicopter
The Skycrane helicopter leased by the County and SDG&E from Erickson. SDG&E photo.

Pilot’s view from a Firehawk

Dropping water on an active brush fire

Star Fire Los Angeles County
Pilot’s view from a Firehawk helicopter while dropping on the Star Fire in Los Angeles County, July 28, 2019. Screenshot from Mike Dubron video.

Michael Dubron, a helicopter pilot with Los Angeles County Fire, posted this impressive video shot during a drop on the Star Fire July 28, 2019. Mr. Dubron was flying a Sikorsky Firehawk, a variant of the Blackhawk converted for firefighting.

And, another:

As a bonus, below we have video posted by Mr. Dubron of cockpit video shot on the Skirball Fire in December, 2018:

Russian company delivers three Ka-32 helicopters to Turkey

The helicopters will be used for firefighting

Kamov KA-32A
Kamov Ka-32A on standby at Loulé heliport in Portugal. Photo by Bill Gabbert August 29, 2012.

Russian Helicopters Holding Company (part of Rostec State Corporation) has delivered three Ka-32A11BC multipurpose helicopters to Turkey. The aircraft will be used for firefighting.

They are equipped with various fire extinguishing systems, including the ability to carry an external water bucket as well as a horizontal firefighting system for knocking down fires in high rise buildings and within oil-and-gas industrial facilities.

The helicopter is EASA certified and meets FAR-29 and AP-29 standards.

The counter-rotating main rotors and absence of the tail rotor results in    compactness and a high power-to-weight ratio. The Ka-32A11BC can carry up to 5 tons of cargo on the external sling.

Ka-32 helicopter Portugal
Kamov Ka-32A on standby at Loulé heliport in Portugal. Photo by Bill Gabbert August 29, 2012.

An all-female helitack crew on a flight in Arizona

Helicopter Express Female Crew
Left to right: Ashlyn Parker (pilot), Natalie Bench, Dallas Baca, and Makenzie Mabery.

Ashlyn Parker, a pilot with Helicopter Express, let us know about an all-female crew on a recent flight while working near North Kaibab, Arizona supporting the Little Springs and Castle Fires:

A helicopter flight on July 14th had an all female crew — (left to right) Ashlyn Parker (pilot), Natalie Bench, Dallas Baca, and Makenzie Mabery. We also had another female helitack crew member who was on the ground staffing the helispot, Mariah Jones. Photo taken at Jacob Lake Helispot by Helitack crewmember JA Ford. Helicopter is a Helicopter Express 407HP.

Thanks Ashlyn!

I would have to think that this has probably happened before — an all-female crew on a firefighting helicopter flight, but probably not often. Anyone have examples?