Simplex has been acquired by DART

Simplex manufactures aerial application equipment for helicopters, including internal and external water tanks for firefighting

Simplex and DART exhibits
The Simplex and DART exhibits were adjacent to each other at Heli-Expo in Atlanta March 5, 2019.

Wednesday morning it was announced that Simplex Aerospace has been acquired by the Canadian helicopter parts manufacturer DART Aerospace.

For 73 years Simplex has been manufacturing an assortment of aerial application systems for helicopters, some of which are used in fighting wildfires. Most notable are the external belly tanks and a more recent addition, internal tanks for Blackhawks.

Simplex has been based in Portland, Oregon while DART’s headquarters is in Canada.

Simplex internal tank Blackhawk
A Simplex internal tank for a Blackhawk at Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.

The newly combined entity, which will transition into operating under the DART brand, will now have more than 320 employees in eight locations worldwide, including four manufacturing centers of excellence.

“With the support of Simplex’s 200+ international product certifications and its years of experience in the aerial firefighting sector, DART will strengthen its global leadership position by providing helicopter mission equipment for offshore, firefighting and utility applications, as well as an increased portfolio alongside our current product offering of 900+ STCs” states Alain Madore, DART’s President and CEO.

“We are proud to be delivering the added value that Simplex’s products and capabilities will bring to the DART brand” said Mark Zimmerman, President and CEO of Simplex who led the company through 18 years of success. “Together, our unique STC portfolio and complementary product lines will enable us to achieve revenue synergies and expand our reach across the aerial firefighting sector worldwide.”

Night-flying helicopter program to continue this season in Australia

NAFC is also looking toward developing a night-flying fixed wing air tanker program

night-flying helicopter Australia
An S-61 snorkels from a dip tank in phase 2 of the night-flying trial in Victoria, Australia. February, 2018. Coulson photo.

During the 2017-2018 bushfire season in Australia two helicopters were approved for dropping water at night with the use of night vision goggles (NVG) by the pilots.  At least one of the ships, an S-61, was approved for hover refilling which was the first time this had been done anywhere.

Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), said the program will continue during the 2019-2020 fire season that is just beginning. This summer there will be a Coulson S-61 based initially  at Ballarat, Victoria and a Bell 412 operated by Kestrel out of Mangalore, Victoria.

“Both machines are tank-equipped and capable of hover filling at night,” Mr. Alder explained. “Supervision and support will again be provided by a Coulson NVG equipped S-76 [helicopter] and a number of other locally based NVG equipped Type 3 helicopters. It is hoped that the night program will be able to move into initial attack over the course of the 2019/2020 season, but this still requires some work to establish appropriate systems of work and procedures for initial attack.”

Last summer NAFC started thinking seriously about fixed wing air tankers working at night. They are still interested in having that capability but are taking a “crawl, walk, run approach”, Mr. Alder said. The agency is working with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and vendors on parameters for a trial, and hope to make some progress over the 2019-2020 fire season.

Australia sets their firefighting aircraft lineup for the bushfire season

Above: A second large air tanker is now operational in New South Wales. On September 24 an RJ85, Tanker 165 known as “Boomer”, completed final testing and became available joining Tanker 138, a B-737. NSW RFS photo.

As Australia moves into their summer and enters the traditional beginning of their bushfire season the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) in finalizing the lineup of firefighting aircraft for the 2019-2020 season. Contracts are in place for four large privately owned large air tankers and nine large Type 1 helicopters. In addition they will have the 737 that the New South Wales Rural Fire Service purchased earlier this year.

Large Air Tankers on exclusive use contracts

Already in place and available are the NSW RFS 737 (Tanker 138) and a FieldAir/Conair Avro RJ85 (Tanker 165) both based for now on the outskirts of Sydney at Richmond, New South Wales.

In early November the mandatory availability period (MAP) begins for what will be either another 737 or a  C-130Q at Richmond, provided by Coulson.

Richard Alder, the General Manager of NAFC, said, “The contract with Coulson allows for either a 737 or C-130Q. The final decision on which type will be made shortly, according to how the season is developing.”

In early to mid-December the MAPs for two other large airtankers will begin for another C-130Q and a RJ85 from Coulson and FieldAir/Conair, respectively. The scheduled base for the two aircraft is Avalon, Victoria.

The five large air tankers available is one less than in 2018/2019.

Like the United States and other fire-prone areas, Australia has been experiencing wildfires during times of the year when traditionally they did not occur in large numbers. The 737 air tanker that was delivered to the NSW RFS two months ago has been busy during much of the Australian winter, completing 60 missions and delivering 237,000 gallons of water and retardant.


The nine Type 1 helicopters under exclusive use contract will include six S-64E Air-Cranes (Kestrel/Erickson) and three S-61s (Coulson). Two of the Air-Cranes will be at Bankstown, and one each at Melbourne (Essendon), Melbourne (Moorabbin), Adelaide, and Perth.

The three S-61s are to be based in Victoria at Colac, Mansfield,  and Ballarat.

 Erickson Air-Cranes Melbourne
Six Erickson Air-Cranes in Melbourne in 2009.

The base locations for all of the aircraft could change throughout the summer as the bushfire season progresses.

Single Engine Air Tankers 

The recent tender process for SEATs has not yet been signed off, but Mr. Alder expects there will be about 45 on national exclusive use contracts plus another six contracted directly to state government agencies. This is 8 less than in 2018/2019.

Coulson operating on three continents

location Coulson operated aircraft
The location of Coulson operated aircraft, September 15, 2019. Coulson image.

Coulson Aviation posted this image on their Facebook page September 15 that shows company-operated aircraft in North America, South America, and Australia at the same time. Three continents is probably a record, at least for North American based firefighting aircraft companies.

Washington DNR acquiring their 10th helicopter

Their fleet is comprised of military surplus UH-1H ships

Washington DNR UH-1 Huey
A Washington DNR Huey. Photo by Washington DNR.

The Washington state Department of Natural Resources will be acquiring their tenth helicopter. The agency began acquiring their military surplus UH-1H (B-205) ships in 1989.

Last year we wrote a profile of the Washington DNR helicopter program.

Three firefighting helicopters have crashed in Portugal recently, killing 2 pilots

In the last 16 days two pilots have been killed in three helicopter crashes in Portugal while fighting wildfires.

The most recent fatality occurred today, September 5, involving a helicopter owned by Afocelca, a private firefighting company working for various Portuguese pulp producers. There are media reports that the aircraft crashed after hitting power lines, but that can’t be confirmed. The helicopter went down near Valongo, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Porto.

Reuters reported that yesterday, September 4, another helicopter crashed in Portugal while assisting wildland firefighters. Thankfully the pilot only had minor injuries.

fires map Portugal
The red dots represent heat detected in Portugal by a NASA satellite September 5, 2019.

In a third incident in Portugal, a pilot died August 20 in a helicopter crash.

From Safe Communities Portugal:

A helicopter fighting a fire in Castro Daire, Viseu, fell shortly before 13:00 hrs today Sunday 20th August, killing the pilot, Américo Sousa, aged 51 years.

The helicopter crashed into high-voltage cables, crashed and burned, and the pilot was trapped in the helicopter, according to a source at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MAI).

The helicopter had just dropped off a GNR GIPS team at a fire at Cabril, Castro Daire.

Américo Sousa was an experienced pilot. For several years, he had been flying helicopters on several missions, but especially for rescue and firefighting
The helicopter was based at the Air Media Center in Armamar, Viseu. The Eurocopter AS350 Ecureuil belonging to Everjets is a single-pilot single-pilot helicopter with a maximum capacity of 5 people.

Castro Daire’s mayor, Fernando Carneiro, and fire chief commander Paulo Almeida confirmed the helicopter’s fall.

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

Coulson ships a CH47D to Bolivia on an Antonov

Coulson CH47D Antonov AN 124 Bolivia
Coulson photo

Coulson Aviation announced on August 31 that the company had secured a contract with the Bolivian Ministry of Defense to provide three Type 1 helicopters to assist the firefighters that are battling wildfires.

Shortly thereafter two of the company’s S-61 helicopters departed from California to begin their multi-day ferry to South America.

On September 4 the third ship began its journey from the airport at San Bernardino, California. Here’s what the company wrote on their Facebook page, along with these photos they posted:

The Coulson Unical CH-47D, N47CU, was loaded onto the Antonov this afternoon after a long night and morning of teardown. To fit in the airplane the blades, both the forward and rear drivetrain, and the rear pylon needed to be removed. This is a huge task to accomplish in such a short time but the team came through and will get some well deserved rest on the flight down.

Coulson CH47D Antonov AN 124 Bolivia
Coulson photo.

Coulson has partnered 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. We interviewed Britt Coulson about this venture at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.

Coulson CH47D Antonov AN 124 Bolivia
Antonov AN 124. Coulson photo.
Coulson CH47D Antonov AN 124 Bolivia
Coulson photo.
Coulson CH47D Antonov AN 124 Bolivia
Coulson photo.

Coulson helicopters en route to assist with wildfires in Bolivia

(Above: Coulson S-61 helicopters, N161CGD and C-FXEC, in Los Leones, Chihuahua, Mexico August 31, 2019. Coulson photo.)

Coulson Aviation announced Saturday night that the company has  secured a contract with the Bolivian Ministry of Defense to provide three Type 1 helicopters to assist the firefighters that are battling wildfires.

After a few flight legs in the Western United States, two of the company’s S-61 helicopters departed from Tucson on Saturday August 31 and shortly thereafter crossed the border into Mexico.

An update appeared on Coulson’s Facebook page Sunday afternoon:


The first two helicopters, S-61’s N161CG and C-FXEC are en Route to Bolivia and have just departed Saltillo, Mexico.

The crews have a long few days ahead of them, XEC started its journey in Yakima, WA while 161CG was in Elko, NV when we signed the agreement. Immediately both aircraft flew to San Bernardino, CA to load up and begin the long 4,900 NM journey to Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

The third aircraft will be leaving shortly, although taking a very different route!

They did not specify which aircraft the company will send as the third helicopter. In addition to S-61s, Coulson has recently been converting CH-47s and Blackhawks into firefighting machines. But they also have at least one more S-61, registered as C-FIRX. Having three of the same model in South America would simplify maintenance, spare parts inventory, and repairs.

Coulson-Unical CU-47 CU-60
Coulson-Unical CU-47 and CU-60 in Atlanta March 5, 2019. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Coulson helicopter personnel, with N161CG in La Esmeralda, Coahuila De Zaragoza, Mexico. Coulson photo.
Coulson helicopters fire Bolivia
Coulson’s S-61 helicopters, N161CGD and C-FXEC,In Los Leones, Chihuahua, Mexico August 31, 2019. Coulson photo.
travel route Coulson helicopters fire Bolivia
Part of the route for the Coulson S-61 helicopters to Bolivia. Coulson data.