Australia’s Air Force assists with bushfire crisis

Their C-17A aircraft are transporting helicopters from New Zealand, retardant and spares from the U.S., and water tanks for an air tanker reload base

C-17a transports helicopter
C-17A Globemaster airplanes have transported three NH-90 helicopters from New Zealand.

The Royal Australian Air Force is providing assistance during the bushfire crisis on the continent in a number of ways:

  • A RAAF C-17A Globemaster collected the first 20-tonne load of fire retardant powder from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and delivered it to RAAF Base Richmond on January 18. It will be used to mix retardant for air tankers to slow the spread of bushfires in Australia in support of state and federal emergency authorities. A second load of retardant arrived on January 19 on an RAAF KC-30A multi-role tanker transport. A total of 117 tonnes will be delivered over four loads over the coming week as part of Operation Bushfire Assist.
  • C-17A Globemaster airplanes have transported NH-90 helicopters from New Zealand, water purification and desalination systems, and 80,000-liter and 40,000-liter water tanks for the Very Large Air Tanker reloading base. They also transported spares for the three DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers, including an engine, auxiliary power unit, and numerous tires.
  • Staged crash-rescue fire engines at helibases to support hot refueling.
  • Installed and staffed transportable air traffic control towers.
  • C-27J Spartan aircraft assisted in the evacuation of personnel from Mallacoota.
  • P-8A Poseidons conducted reconnaissance flights over fire-affected areas.
Retardant mix
Retardant mix the RAAF hauled from the U.S. to Australia.
RAAF Retardant air tanker
United States Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force personnel push a pallet of fire retardant up the ramp of an Australian C-17 Globemaster at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Photo courtesy of the United States Air Force.
C-17A water tanks
A C-17A Globemaster transported two water tanks to support a reloading base for Very Large Air Tankers.
Australia transportable Air Traffic Control tower
Transportable Air Traffic Control tower

The videos below illustrate some of the roles of the Royal Australian Air Force during the bushfire crisis.

Australian Navy recovers helicopter from reservoir

The UH-1H helicopter ditched while working on a bushfire

helicopter recovery fire Ben Boyd Reservoir Eden New South Wales
An Australian Army Heavy Recovery Vehicle is used to successfully recover a NSW RFS-contracted helicopter that ditched into the Ben Boyd Reservoir near Eden, NSW. Image by Royal Australian Navy SGT Bill Solomou.

On Sunday members of the Australian Army and Navy successfully recovered a UH-1H helicopter that had ditched into the Ben Boyd Reservoir near Eden, New South Wales on January 9, 2020.

UH-1H helicopter submerged Ben Boyd Reservoir
A UH-1H helicopter partially submerged in Ben Boyd Reservoir in the Ben Boyd National Park at Edrom, New South Wales January 9, 2020. Photo by Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service.

According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, “While conducting aerial fire control operations, [the helicopter] lost power and collided with water.” The aircraft submerged but the pilot, the only person on board, was able to self-extricate and swim to shore. The helicopter is registered to Garlick Helicopters and was working on the Clyde Mountain Fire under contract with the government.

The Canberrra Times reported that the 47-year old pilot was treated at the scene by paramedics for shoulder, back, and ankle injuries before being taken to the South East Regional Hospital.

The ATSB is investigating the incident.

The reservoir is a drinking water source and there was concern that fuel could contaminate the water.

helicopter recovery fire Ben Boyd Reservoir Eden New South Wales
Royal Australian Navy clearance divers examine a NSW RFS-contracted helicopter that ditched into the Ben Boyd Reservoir near Eden, NSW. Image by Royal Australian Navy SGT Bill Solomou.

Using floats secured by Navy Clearance Diving Team One, the helicopter was floated approximately 400 meters to a boat launching ramp while being held within containment and absorbent booms to alleviate potential water contamination.

The Bell UH-1H was then brought onto the shore by an Australian Army Heavy Recovery Vehicle.

helicopter recovery fire Ben Boyd Reservoir Eden New South Wales
Royal Australian Navy clearance divers prepare to recover a NSW RFS-contracted helicopter that ditched into the Ben Boyd Reservoir near Eden, NSW. Image by Royal Australian Navy SGT Bill Solomou.
helicopter recovery fire Ben Boyd Reservoir Eden New South Wales
Australian Army soldiers and Royal Australian Navy clearance divers work together to recover a NSW RFS-contracted helicopter that ditched into the Ben Boyd Reservoir near Eden, NSW. Image by Royal Australian Navy SGT Bill Solomou.

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

Helicopter ditches in lake while fighting bushfire in Australia

The pilot swam to shore and was taken to a hospital

UH-1H helicopter submerged Ben Boyd Reservoir
A UH-1H helicopter partially submerged in Ben Boyd Reservoir in the Ben Boyd National Park at Edrom, New South Wales. Photo by Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service.

Thursday afternoon January 9 at about 4 p.m. local time a helicopter under contract with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia ditched into a lake on the far south coast of NSW. After impacting the water the UH-1H helicopter submerged but the pilot was able to self-extricate and swim to shore. The pilot was the only person on board.

The Canberrra Times reported that the 47-year old pilot was treated at the scene by paramedics for shoulder, back, and ankle injuries before being taken to the South East Regional Hospital.

The helicopter was refilling with water at Ben Boyd Reservoir in the Ben Boyd National Park at Edrom, in the Bega Valley Shire.

The aircraft had been moved from the Clyde Mountain Fire to work on the Border Fire in Eden which has crossed from NSW into Victoria. It merged with another fire creating a massive 150,000 hectare (370,000 acres).

Pilot of medical helicopter becomes unresponsive while in flight

Looking back at a story from January, 2019

Bell 206L-4 Long Ranger
File photo of an example of a Bell 206L-4 Long Ranger, operated by CTV in BC. Photo by Marek Wozniak. (This is not the helicopter in the story)

Wildland firefighters on large incidents commonly fly in helicopters, many of them with a single pilot. It is possible that some of those passengers may have thought about what would happen if the pilot was suddenly incapacitated due to a medical event or being struck by a bird or drone. The most-read story on Vertical magazine’s website in 2019 was about just that.

Elan HeadA Bell 206 LongRanger had just lifted off after loading a patient when the pilot became unresponsive. The story covers what happened during the flight and importantly, the long term effects.

It is an excellent article written by Elan Head, a helicopter pilot. Here is how it begins:

“Where are we going?”

It was Jan. 12, 2018. The Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter had just lifted from a scene call near its base in Kinder, Louisiana, north of Interstate 10 between Lake Charles and Lafayette. The patient was a frail, elderly woman who had been sedated and intubated on scene.

In the back of the Bell 206L LongRanger, flight nurse Tara Coupel and flight paramedic Lane Abshire were attending to the patient when the pilot’s voice came over the intercom: “Where are we going?”

“Lafayette General,” Abshire replied, referring to Lafayette General Medical Center, around 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the southeast.

“OK, where?” the pilot asked.

Abshire and Coupel thought at first that there was a problem with the intercom system. They unplugged their helmet cords and plugged them back in; tried telling the pilot again. But he repeated, “OK, where?”

The helicopter was now about 800 feet over the ground. Abshire asked Coupel to get out of her seat and tell the pilot where they were headed. She unbuckled her seatbelt, removed her helmet, and moved forward to tap on the pilot’s shoulder.

“Lafayette General!” she shouted at him. Although she was disconnected from the intercom, she could see him mouthing the words beneath his mic boom, “OK, where?”

After you read the full article, here is a link to a follow-up story about the incident: How Air Evac Lifeteam is helping crews prepare for a pilot incapacitation event

Erickson delivers another Air Crane to Korea Forest Service

This brings the KFS operational fleet up to six S-64 Air Crane helicopters

Korea Forest Service S-64 Air-Crane
File photo of a Korea Forest Service S-64 Air-Crane using its water cannon. Yonhap news Agency Photo, 2017.

This month Erickson Incorporated delivered another Air Crane firefighting helicopter to the Korea Forest Service (KFS), completing the delivery of the latest two-aircraft order. Another S-64 was delivered to the KFS in November. This brings the KFS operational fleet up to six S-64 Air Crane helicopters.

In 2001, KFS became the first foreign government to purchase S-64 helicopters from Erickson. The recently delivered versions have composite main rotor blades and glass cockpits. Some of the S-64 helicopters in the KFS fleet have the optional front-mounted water cannon.

Flight Global reports that the helicopter delivered in December, registration HJ9659, is a re-manufactured aircraft built by Sikorsky in 1968 that has been out of service since 1993. Erickson purchased it in November 2018.

Korea Forest Service S-64 Air-Crane load Antonov
Korea Forest Service S-64 Air-Crane being loaded into an Antonov An-124 transport for the flight to South Korea. Erickson photo.

Two S-64 helicopters have crashed while hover refilling in the last six years. One owned and operated by the KFS crashed into a lake May 9, 2013 near the Andong Dam, Kyeongbuk Province, South Korea. The two pilots died at the scene and a maintenance crew chief on board sustained serious injuries. On January 28, 2019 an Air-Crane impacted the water while assigned to a wildfire in Victoria, Australia. Three crewmembers sustained minor injuries.

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.