One of Ventura County’s recently converted FireHawks spotted in Colorado

The Southern California county purchased three former military HH-60L Blackhawks

Ventura County helicopter N60VC
Ventura County helicopter N60VC at Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colorado. It was in the process of being converted into a FireHawk. Photo by Barbara S. Hoversten, April 9, 2021

Barbara S. Hoversten got an excellent photo last week of one of Ventura County’s HH-60L Blackhawk helicopters flying at Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colorado.

The Southern California county purchased three military HH-60L Blackhawk helicopters with the intention of converting them into FIREHAWKS that will be used for fighting wildland fires, personnel transport, search and rescue, law enforcement, and medical evacuation.

We have learned that when apparently completed FireHawks are seen flying around Centennial Airport, possibly on test flights, a delivery of the finished product to the owner is imminent.

Ventura County Battalion Chief Gary Monday told Fire Aviation in 2019 that heavy maintenance and minor modifications were completed on the aircraft at HSI Sikorsky in Huntsville, Alabama, then two of the helicopters were painted at the United Rotorcraft facility in Decatur, Texas. At least one of them was ferried to United Rotorcraft in Englewood, Colorado to receive navigation and communication systems, cabin interiors, and a 1,000 gallon external fixed water tank with a retractable snorkel system. The landing gear was replaced with higher gear to allow clearance for the installation of the belly tank.

FIREHAWK blackhawk Ventura County
Ventura County is converting military HH-60L Blackhawks into FIREHAWKS. This is N60VC in 2019 before the conversion. VCSO photo, Capt. Romano Bassi.

The military had the three Blackhawks originally configured by United Rotorcraft as dedicated MEDEVAC helicopters with medical equipment and patient litter systems, some of which was to be repurposed in the new FIREHAWK configuration.

Ventura County has a joint Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department Aviation Unit. In addition to the FIREHAWKS, they have one Bell 206 Jet Ranger, one Bell 212 HP, one Bell 205B, and two UH-1A Hueys.

“We are a full service 24/7 operation capable of Night Vision Goggle rescues and firefighting”, Chief Monday said, “with three 375 simplex tanks for nighttime water dropping missions, S & R missions, LE missions, and anything else.”

Coulson firefighting aircraft migrate from assignments in Southern Hemisphere

They were working on contracts in Chile and Australia

Coulson's Tanker 132, a C-130, in Australia
Coulson’s Tanker 132, a C-130, in Australia. Photo by Western Australia DFES, 2021.

With the 2020-2021 Southern Hemisphere wildfire season coming to a close Coulson Aviation firefighting aircraft are being brought back to North America.

Seven of their aircraft that were in Australia are already back at their home bases. Under contract in Victoria, Western Australia, and New South Wales were two C-130s, a 737 FIRELINER, three Sikorsky S61 helitankers, and a Sikorsky S76 aerial supervision platform. One of the C-130’s purchased from the Norwegian military that just finished its conversion into Tanker 132, made its firefighting debut in Western Australia.

Coulson Chinook helicopter
Removing rotor blades from a Chinook before the trip home from Chile. April, 2021. Coulson photo.

As part of the demobilization of the four Coulson Chinooks from Chile, the helitankers were flown to a port and the blades removed before the helicopter was loaded into a cargo ship. The blades were packed into one of the helitankers and secured for the trip home. The photos above and below show some of the work involved behind the scenes with N49 CU.

Coulson Chinook helicopter
Packing for the trip home from Chile, April, 2020. Coulson photo.

Coulson’s six aircraft on contract in Chile are on their way back to North America now. That includes four CH47D Chinooks, one UH60 Blackhawk, and a Citation 550. The aircraft worked out of Talca, Concepción, and Los Angeles.

Coulson bases in Chile
Coulson bases in Chile during 2020-2021 wildfire season. Coulson photo.

Coulson partnered with the Chilean company PESCO through separate contracts with plantation companies ARAUCO and CMPC. They had four CH47D Chinook helitankers, a UH60 Blackhawk, and a Citation 550 working on firefighting contracts in Chile.

Foster Coulson, Coulson Group President & COO, said an integrated multi-national team operated during the 2020-2021 Chile summer with more than 80 Coulson team members including pilots, flight engineers, maintenance, and management staff.

Coulson Citation and Chinook
A Coulson Citation and Chinook en route to a fire in Chile. Coulson photo, 2021.

The Citation was used for gathering intelligence about the fires.

Coulson aircraft in Chile
Coulson aircraft in Chile during the 2020-2021 fire season: three Chinooks, a Blackhawk, and a Citation. All are present except for one Chinook. Coulson photo.

In 2019 Britt Coulson, Vice President of Coulson Aviation, told Fire Aviation they planned to acquire and convert for firefighting approximately 10 UH60 Blackhawks and 10 CH47D Chinooks. That same year the company purchased five C-130H’s from Norway.

Coulson Chinook helicopter
Coulson’s “newest” Chinook. Coulson photo, April, 2021.

Coulson said N43CU, seen below, has just completed an extensive heavy maintenance overhaul and complete airframe conversion into a Helitanker with their RADS-L Internal Tanking system capable of carrying up to 3,000 gallons. On April 7 it was in Port Alberni, BC and getting ready for its first ferry into the USA for a new coat of paint. This will be the fifth CH47D in Coulson’s fleet.

Citation, C-130, Chinook Coulson
Three Coulson aircraft in various stages of conversion: Citation, C-130, and Chinook (N43CU).  Tanker 137’s conversion, a B-737 (tail visible on the left), has been complete for a few years. Coulson photo, April, 2021.

NSW RFS installs aerial firefighting simulator

They will soon be adding an Aviation Centre of Excellence to the new Training Academy

NSW RFS Training Academy Aviation Centre of Excellence
Flight simulator at the NSW RFS Training Academy. NSW RFS image.

In 2019 our Australian friends in the New South Wales Rural Fire Service built a Training Academy in Dubbo for improving the skills of fire personnel when responding to emergencies across the state. They soon will be adding an Aviation Centre of Excellence which will have four flight simulators.

NSW RFS Training Academy Aviation Centre of Excellence
Flight simulator at the NSW RFS Training Academy. NSW RFS image.

One of those simulators is being used now in the Academy, and is based on a helicopter cockpit for trainees wearing virtual reality helmets. The immediate plans are for air attack supervisor roles and later for other airborne positions.

NSW RFS Training Academy Aviation Centre of Excellence
Flight simulator at the NSW RFS Training Academy. NSW RFS image.

The system will be for maintaining currency, and to give trainees new to aerial firefighting the chance to find out if the role is for them.

NSW RFS Training Academy
NSW RFS Training Academy. NSW RFS image.

The simulator was delivered in December and the staff has been building training scenarios, with some based on actual fire situations.

Located at the Dubbo City Regional Airport, the Academy includes classroom and practical training with a large auditorium, lecture theater, indoor and outdoor training areas, gym, and catering services with a commercial kitchen. The academy will ultimately have 97 bedroom accommodations for trainees.

“I think it’s really important that apart from the fact that we are launching the simulator here, it becomes another building to support our academy,” said Commissioner of the NSW RFS Rob Rogers. “This is the first of four simulators that we will have in that building. Having the ability to train our own people and use simulator systems like this to be able to upskill people in a non-hazardous environment and obviously then complement that with actual flying will help our people become better trained and have access to better technology.”

The video below is an introduction to the flight simulator.

The next video is about the Training Academy.

NSW RFS Training Academy Aviation Centre of Excellence
The planned Aviation Centre of Excellence. NSW RFS image.

Broward County’s helicopters respond on 2,500 missions a year

They operate four helicopters, two AS350’s and two EC135’s

Broward County Sheriff Office's Eurocopter EC135, N109BC
Broward County Sheriff Office’s Eurocopter EC135, N109BC. Photo March 5, 2020 by Jon Goldin.

In order to help serve and protect the nearly two million residents of their county, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office operates four helicopters for law enforcement, fire, and rescue missions. The county is located north of Miami, with Fort Lauderdale as the county seat.

On average, the aviation unit conducts 2,500 missions a year using approximately 2,000 flight hours. Over the past ten years, it has assisted on 33,397 law enforcement missions and 2,502 medevacs.

The county has four helicopters. Two Eurocopter EC135’s manufactured in 1999 and 2012 are used by Fire Rescue for Emergency Medical Services. Two Airbus AS350’s that came off the assembly line in 2017 are primarily for law enforcement.

Broward County Sheriff Office's Eurocopter EC135, N109BC
Broward County Sheriff Office’s Eurocopter EC135, N109BC. Photo March 5, 2020 by Jon Goldin.

The EC-135’s recently received new red livery, which was a significant change from the black, green, and gold theme as seen below in a photo from 2013.

Broward County Sheriff's Office Fire Rescue Eurocopter EC135, N109BC
File photo of Broward County Sheriff’s Office Fire Rescue Eurocopter EC135, N109BC, Dec. 31, 2013 by Jon Goldin.

The AS350’s are used for criminal search and apprehension, search and rescue in the Everglades and offshore, and deployment of the SWAT team. They are piloted by Deputy Sheriffs.

All four of the Unit’s helicopters are outfitted with a Forward Looking Infrared system, night vision capabilities, 30 million candlepower Night Sun, moving map systems, and Lojack.

Broward County Sheriff helicopter, N783BC
Broward County Sheriff AS350 helicopter, N783BC. Photo by Jon Goldin March 25, 2021
Broward County AS350, N782BC
Broward County AS350, N782BC, and the men who operate it. Broward County SO photo, July, 2020.

Helicopter-based wildfire suppression training scheduled for Colorado

National guard units from six states will participate

blackhawk helicopter drops water
South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter drops water during training at Angostura Reservoir. May 20, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

National guard units from six states will participate in helicopter-based wildfire suppression training next week along with firefighters from two cities and the U.S. Forest Service.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) will conduct airborne and virtual classroom training April 9th-18th near Longmont with the Colorado Army National Guard. This annual interagency wildland fire training exercise is in coordination with Boulder Fire-Rescue, the City of Longmont, the U.S. Forest Service, and other National Guard units from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming, and New Mexico. The majority of aircraft will be flying April 13th-18th.

The training exercises, incorporating federal, state and local authorities, include practicing aerial water bucket drops at Denver-metro lakes and reservoirs to improve coordinated response for air- and ground-based response elements during emergencies.

“This type of interagency training with both our community and military partners to suppress wildland fires ensures unity of effort and speed of response.” said DFPC Director Mike Morgan.

In addition to aerial operations, organizers have planned virtual academic training at the Army Aviation Support Facility, Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora. Training will be conducted in a safe, socially distant manner. Months of planning have included coordination with local authorities for site locations, movement of equipment, and environmental considerations.

“This training is an integral part of our overall domestic response training,” ‎said Colorado Army National Guard, Director of Aviation and Safety, Colonel Will Gentle. “We will use this exercise to qualify and validate our aircrews to ensure they are ready to respond to wildland fires. Integrating aircrews with ground personnel adds a dynamic and complex layer of realism.”

The goal is to provide a safe and realistic training environment for comprehensive training, practice, and development of skills for all agencies involved.

Blackhawk helicopter drops water
South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter drops water during training near Angostura Reservoir, May 20, 2016. Photo provided by South Dakota Wildland Fire Division.

Two large air tankers relocated to Rapid City for the Schroeder Fire

Two local National Guard Blackhawk helicopters were also used on the fire Tuesday

4:07 p.m. MDT March 30, 2021

Schroeder Fire helicopter
One of the South Dakota National Guard HH-60M Blackhawk helicopters working the Schroeder Fire at Rapid City, March 29, 2021. Photo via Pennington Co Sheriff.

On Tuesday, the day after the 1,900-acre Schroder Fire broke out just west of Rapid City, South Dakota two large air tankers were relocated to the tanker base at the airport.

Air Tanker 167 at Medford Oregon
File photo of Air Tanker 167, an RJ85, at Medford Oregon September 9, 2019. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tanker 105, an MD-87, flew  in from New Mexico, and Tanker 167, an RJ85 arrived from Minnesota.

Each of the tankers had made at least two drops on the fire as of mid-afternoon Tuesday.

Bighorn Fire Tanker 105 Tanker 10 BAe-146
File photo of Tanker 105 (foreground), an MD-87 operated by Erickson Aero Tanker (N295EA), and Tanker 10, a BAe-146 (N472NA) operated by Neptune Aviation, working the Bighorm Fire near Tucson, June, 2020. Ned Harris photo.

Other aircraft working the fire today include a fixed wing aerial supervision module, two National Guard Helicopters, and a PC12 intelligence gathering aircraft owned and operated by the state of Colorado.

The elevated fire danger and the passage of the cold front with 50 mph+ winds which caused the fire to spread very rapidly was predicted two days before the fire started on Monday.

Weather forecast two days before the Schroeder Fire
Weather forecast two days before the Schroeder Fire

The wind was too strong for any aircraft to be used safely or effectively Monday, so if the aircraft had been proactively prepositioned on Sunday they probably would have been grounded on Monday when the fire was reported that morning. One person we talked to on Tuesday who was not authorized to speak for the firefighting agencies about the air tankers said, “Yesterday the winds were too high. No one wanted to come to South Dakota.” However there was a report that a National Guard Blackhawk based in Rapid City made some marginally effective drops late in the day on Monday after the wind speeds decreased.

If you are a weather geek, you will be fascinated by the data captured as the cold front moved into the Schroeder Fire area on Monday, March 29. The fire was reported at 9:22 a.m. MDT Monday.

Schroeder Fire aircraft
Schroeder Fire as seen from an air attack or lead plane aircraft, March 29, 2021. @PennCoFire photo. The distortion of the propellers is caused by the rolling shutter that is used in most cell phones.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue is refreshing their fleet with AW139 helicopters

They have received three of the four ordered so far

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Helicopter #1, an AW139, N911RZ
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Helicopter #1, an AW139, N911RZ. Photo by Jon Goldin.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue (MDFR) has received three of the four Leonardo AW139 helicopters that they ordered in December, 2019, with the fourth due in April. As we noted in a 2015 story about the department’s helicopter fleet, they have been operating four Bell 412 EPs.

The MDFR will use the fleet of four AW139s in a multitude of missions which include emergency medical services, firefighting, search and rescue, and disaster relief.

Two of the new helicopters have shown up so far in the FAA aircraft registry.

MDFR helicopters, FAA registrations
MDFR helicopters, FAA registrations, March 29, 2021
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Helicopter #3, N208LC
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Helicopter #3, an AW139, N208LC. Photo by Jon Goldin.

Leonardo has received over 1,100 orders for AW139s in more than 70 countries since their first delivery in 2004. The AW139s built for MDFR have the ability to quickly reconfigure the cabin interior based upon which mission the crew will be executing. These new aircraft are equipped with a Goodrich hoist, fast roping, cargo hook, and Bambi bucket for firefighting missions, a Trakka searchlight, a Forward Looking Infrared unit, a mission console in the cabin linked to the 5th display in the cockpit, broadband radios to include USCG Comms, weather radar, and other avionics systems such as traffic alert and collision avoidance (TCAS), obstacle and terrain avoidance, obstacle avoidance detection, and they are compatible for NVG.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Helicopter #4, N911RA
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Helicopter #4, an AW139, N911RA. Photo by Jon Goldin.

The AW139 is able to fly in all weather conditions with advanced protection against icing. It is the only model capable of 60 minutes of flight without oil in the transmission, double the time set by certification authorities.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Helicopter #1, an AW139, N217LC
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue’s Helicopter #1, an AW139, N217LC. Photo by Jon Goldin.

Dennis Brown, CAL FIRE’s Senior Chief of Aviation, to retire

Dennis Brown, CAL FIRE Senior Chief of Aviation
Dennis Brown, CAL FIRE Senior Chief of Aviation, at the HAI conference in Anaheim, California, January 28, 2020. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Dennis Brown, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s Senior Chief of Aviation, has worked in wildland fire longer than most people in the agency have been alive. But he is about to move on.

“We’re going to be advertising for a new Senior Chief of Aviation because I will be retiring April 30,” the Chief told Fire Aviation.

“Last fire season was my 50th fire season, so I’m ready to retire and spend some time with my wife,” the Chief said. “It’s a tough decision, you know, I love what I do and I’m proud of our program. We have a great team that’s going to keep it going.”

Chief Brown began his career in wildland fire with the U.S. Forest Service in 1971 and served as Firefighter, working his way up to Regional Aviation Safety Officer for the agency’s California Region (Region 5). In 2009 he started working with CAL FIRE as a pilot and will retire as the Senior Chief of Aviation.

Congratulations Chief Brown.