Nic Strohmeyer to be new NPS helicopter specialist

Nic Strohmeyer
Nic Strohmeyer

The National Park Service has selected Nicholas “Nic” Strohmeyer as the new helicopter specialist. The position had been vacant since Meg Gallagher moved into the branch chief job in early 2018.

Nic started his federal career in 1989 as a seasonal firefighter on the White River National Forest in Colorado where he worked on hand crews and as an engine captain. At Colorado State University he received a degree in Natural Resources Management with a minor in Geography. After graduation, Nic accepted a career seasonal position as the assistant foreman on Rifle Helitack, a combined Bureau of Land Management (BLM)/U.S. Forest Service (USFS) helicopter program in Colorado. He then worked as a station manager for Lakeview BLM and as a crew lead for Wenatchee Rappellers. After moving to Utah, Nic helped to start the Provo Rappel Crew, worked as the superintendent of the Wasatch Helitack Crew, and was the acting state aviation manager for Utah BLM.

While serving as the BLM Southern Unit aviation manager for the Alaska Fire Service he earned an Aviation Safety and Security Certificate from the University of Southern California studying aircraft accident investigations and human factors in aviation safety. In 2014, Nic moved back to the Great Basin where he worked as the unit aviation manager for Boise District BLM until 2018, at which time, he detailed and then served as the Idaho BLM state aviation manager and earned his Unmanned Aviation System (UAS) Pilot card.

In his role as a helicopter specialist, he will focus on policy and oversight of the National Park Service’s helicopters that are owned and operated by NPS. Additionally, Nic will represent the NPS on various committees and working groups to develop policy and guidance to ensure the helicopter program operates in a safe and effective manner now, and in the future.

Branch chief, John Buehler, looks forward to having Nic on the national aviation staff. “Nic’s extensive experience in helicopter operations and management, along with his many years in wildland fire operations, will make Nic the perfect fit for the NPS helicopter specialist position. The entire Fire and Aviation Management team is excited to have Nic join NPS. His knowledge and expertise will help the program move forward in the ever changing operational environment.”

Videos of firefighting aircraft in action

air tanker 137 737 wildfire
This is not a video, but it is a screengrab from the video below of Air Tanker 137, a 737, dropping on the Bruxner Highway Fire (Tenterfield LGA) in New South Wales, Australia. Usually it is not obvious when an air tanker drops simultaneously from more than one tank, but on the 737 the tanks are not adjacent to each other, making it possible to see the separation when the drop begins.

The video below shows Air Tanker 137, a Boeing 737, dropping on the Bruxner Highway Fire (Tenterfield LGA) in New South Wales, Australia.

A Blackhawk and an Air-Crane can be seen in the video below working on a wildfire in New South Wales, Australia.

Next, a Blackhawk in New South Wales.

Below, two helicopters work a fire north of Canadian, Texas.

Below, CAL FIRE helicopter 301 makes a swift water rescue.

Deal to purchase Columbia Helicopters canceled

The Bristow Group paid Columbia a $20 million fee in order to terminate the acquisition agreement

Columbia BV-107
Columbia helicopter, N192CH, at Custer, SD July 31, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The $560 million deal that the Bristow Group had to purchase Columbia Helicopters has been cancelled, the two companies announced Monday.

As required in the agreement Bristow paid $20 million to Columbia as a termination fee.

Columbia’s CH-47D helicopters with 2,800-gallon internal water tanks or external buckets are frequently seen over wildfires assisting firefighters on the ground.

Bristow had hoped that merging the two companies would open opportunities for their underemployed Airbus H225s to compete for military contracts using Columbia’s U.S. Department of Defense Commercial Airlift Review Board certificate. Columbia’s ships may have found work in the 10 countries in which Bristow maintains air operator certificates.

The plan was for Columbia to be a wholly owned subsidiary operating as a separate company with its own board and management structure, and would remain in Oregon, retaining the Columbia name and the aircrafts’ livery.

Bristow’s stock price dropped sharply both when the purchase agreement was announced the week of November 5 and again Monday when the termination of the purchase was revealed, losing 87 percent in the three months since disclosing the planned acquisition.

Bristow has not filed as required their final financial results for the quarter that ended December 31, 2018, and released only preliminary figures, explaining that since March 31, 2018 they have not have adequate monitoring control processes in place.

Thomas C. Knudson, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Bristow, stated, “The decision to enter into a mutual termination of the purchase agreement was based on a number of developments following the entry into the agreement, which led both Bristow and Columbia to conclude that it was not possible to combine the two companies at this time. We continue to value our relationship with Columbia and look forward to having the opportunity to work together in the future.”

Steve Bandy, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Columbia, stated, “We continue to believe in the potential for collaboration between Bristow and Columbia, and the companies are actively considering mutually beneficial opportunities to work together.”

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

Helicopters and airplanes reseed burned areas in Idaho

helicopter reseed Idaho
A helicopter is outfitted with a hopper to reseed areas burned in wildfires in Idaho. BLM photo.

After being delayed by the partial government shutdown the Bureau of Land Management has completed a large reseeding project in Idaho. The agency treated 52,000 acres of land that burned in wildfires during the last two years including portions of the 99,502-acre Grassy Ridge fire northwest of St. Anthony and other fires near Atomic City and Menan Buttes. Helicopters and fixed wing planes dispersed the seed.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Idaho State Journal:

Experts on the subject say the best time to reseed is when there’s snow on the ground.

“If you have a sunny day when you’re applying, the seed will heat up and melt below the snow layer,” Ben Dyer, BLM fire ecologist, said. “You try to have it put down when a storm is predicted in the near future so you can cover it up with another layer of snow.”

If all goes well, the snow melts in spring and provides the seeds with wet soil to germinate and flourish. There is currently 6 to 8 inches of snow on most of the ground where the Grassy Ridge Fire occurred last summer, Dyer said.
Dyer said the hope is that grass and sagebrush seed will establish itself before cheatgrass does and also help prevent soil erosion.

“We include a mixture of native grasses and forbs and we also have some introduced (seeds) that are a little more aggressive at choking out and competing against cheatgrass,” he said. “In the event that our native components don’t do well, at least we have that non-native component that has a little bit better chance.”

Grassy Ridge Fire
Grassy Ridge Fire, July, 2018. InciWeb.

Helicopter crashes into lake while fighting wildfire in Australia

The crew of three swam to shore

Christine 341 Air-Crane crash
File photo of Air-Crane 341, known as “Christine”. Photo taken in November, 2018 by Uniform Photography.

(UPDATED at 8:49 p.m. MT [USA] January 28, 2019)

9 News has an update on the crash of an Erickson Air-Crane in Victoria, Australia on January 28, 2019. Video shows the Air-Crane on its side with a portion of the tail boom and main landing gear protruding above the water. Also the white skimming tube is visible which can be lowered as the helicopter flies near the surface of a body of water, using the same principle to refill the tank as the Be-200, Fire Boss, and CL-215/415. Drafting or skimming with the Air-Crane takes 45 seconds. It is unlikely that the aircraft was skimming when the accident occurred due to the lack of sufficient space. The Air-Crane also has a snorkel or drafting hose that is more often used for refilling while hovering over water.

Below is an excerpt from an article at ABC News Australia that was updated Monday evening, US time:

Five similar Air-Cranes — in NSW, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria — were grounded while the crash was investigated.

Kestrel Aviation managing director Ray Cronin, whose company manages the fleet, said the ground was a “precautionary measure” while the company interviewed the crew and determined a probable cause.

He said after an initial investigation, the company and authorities had agreed that the grounding of the Aircrane fleet would be lifted.

“The Aircranes will return to service almost immediately,” Mr Cronin said.

“The crews are with the aircraft ready to rejoin the fire fight in Victoria.”

He said while he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) investigation, he understood “the serviceability of the Aircrane” was good at the time of the crash.

Air-Crane crash Australia
Parts of the Air-Crane can be seen above the water in this screengrab from the 9 News video.
Air-Crane crash Australia helicopter
The Air-Crane crashed in a valley surrounded by rising terrain. Image from ABC Australia video. Arrow added by Fire Aviation.

(Originally published at 12:47 MT [USA] January 28, 2019)

A helicopter crashed into a lake while fighting a wildfire Monday in Victoria, Australia. The Erickson Air-Crane had a crew of three, two pilots and an engineer, while it was working on the Thomson Complex Catchment fires in Gippsland. The personnel are safe after swimming to shore. Ambulance Victoria will assess the crew members. Emergency Management Victoria said the helicopter was Air-Crane HT 341, known as “Christine”.

The aircraft was one of ten aircraft working on the fire. The site of the crash, in the Yarra Ranges National Park, is about 50km (31 miles) south of Benalla.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said that he was grateful that the crew are safe.

The Flight Safety Foundation reports the helicopter is “damaged beyond repair”.

The two Air-Cranes under contract in Victoria can carry more than 2,500 gallons of water or retardant. The state also has 47 other aircraft on contract.

A total of six large fixed wing air tankers from North America have been working in Australia during their 2018-2019 summer.  Tankers with their primary base at Richmond, New South Wales include a RJ85, (Tanker 166); a  737 (T-137); a C-130Q (T-134); and another RJ85 (T-165). Based at Avalon in Victoria are a C-130Q (T-131); and an RJ85 (T-163).

The accident is being investigated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. The agency expects to complete their report during the third quarter of 2019.

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

Ventura County is converting military Blackhawks into FIREHAWKS

FIREHAWK blackhawk Ventura County
Ventura County is converting military HH-60L Blackhawks into FIREHAWKS. VCSO photo, Capt. Romano Bassi.

Ventura County has purchased three military HH-60L Blackhawk helicopters and is in the process of converting them into FIREHAWKS that will be used for fighting wildland fires, personnel transport, search and rescue, law enforcement, and medical evacuation.

Ventura County Battalion Chief Gary Monday said 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. One of them is now being 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 will be replaced with higher gear to enable the installation of the belly tank.

FIREHAWK blackhawk Ventura County
A Ventura County HH-60L Blackhawk before being painted and converted into a FIREHAWK. VCFD photo.

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

Ventura County, in Southern California, has a joint Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department Aviation Unit. In addition to the FIREHAWKS, they have one Bell 206 Jet Ranger, one 212 HP, one 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.”

FIREHAWK blackhawk Ventura County
Ventura County is converting military HH-60L Blackhawks into FIREHAWKS. VC FD photo.

In 2016 one of the Hueys, Copter 7, developed a mechanical problem while fighting the Pine Fire on the Los Padres National Forest. It had to be stripped down in order to transport it via truck on a route that included a tunnel with a height restriction.

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

Kamov helicopter shipped to Chile on IL-76

Photographer Heath Moffatt grabbed some photos of a Kamov Ka-32A11BC being loaded onto a Volga-Dnepr Ilyushin IL-76TD in Victoria, B.C. The IL-76 used internal cranes to lift and load the helicopter which was then flown to Chile. On Christmas Eve Billings Flying Service unloaded one of their CH-47D Chinooks off a ship in Chile. Both helicopters will be working on firefighting contracts.

The IL-76 can be loaded with a slip-in retardant or water delivery system that can hold over 11,000 gallons. In 2017 one of them was used to fight fires in Chile along with the 747 and a BAe-146.

IL-76 747
An IL-76 and 747 at Santiago Chile, January 30, 2017.

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

CAL FIRE receives new Firehawk helicopter

The agency is replacing its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey firefighting helicopters.

CAL FIRE's new S-70i
CAL FIRE’s new S-70i. Photo provided by CAL FIRE.

CAL FIRE posted these photos today of a new addition to their fleet of helicopters.

A year ago the agency received approval to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks) from United Rotorcraft. These will replace its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey helicopters.

CAL FIRE's new S-70i
CAL FIRE’s new S-70i. Photo provided by CAL FIRE.

United Rotorcraft reported on October 26, 2018 that it had a contract from CAL FIRE for 12 Firehawks, worth a total of $240 million.

United Rotorcraft is also outfitting various configurations of Firehawks for Ventura County, San Diego Fire Rescue Department, and Los Angeles County.

Firehawks can carry up to 1,000 gallons of water in a belly tank while cruising fully loaded at 130 knots (150 mph), or 150 knots (173 mph) unloaded.