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.
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.
Tim Crippin sent us these photos of a new S-64 Erickson Air-Crane that is being tested before it is delivered to the Korea Forest Service.
“Heard it is supposed to be delivered to them in the next week,” Tim said. “It’s temporary N- number registration is N915AC. It’s been doing plenty of flight testing the past few weeks around Southern Oregon. I heard it is the first Air-Crane to have composite rotor blades.”
Above: CH-54B, N722HT, at the Saddle Ridge Fire. Stonebrookphotography.
These photos of helicopters refilling at the Chatsworth Lake helispot during the Saddle Ridge Fire were taken by Stonebrookphotography October 11, 2019.
The fire has burned 7,965 acres and 21 structures on the north side of Los Angeles. Strong north to northeast Santa Ana winds caused the fire to spread seven miles across Southern California, from Sylmar to Granda Hills and almost to Chatsworth. More information is at Wildfire Today.
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.
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.
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.
The Sikorsky S-64E Air-Crane helicopter (N173AC) that crashed into a lake near Jericho, Victoria, Australia has been extracted. It impacted the water while assigned to a wildfire on January 28, 2019, then sank and came to rest inverted resulting in minor injuries to the three crewmembers.
Below is an excerpt from a report by Emergency Management Victoria:
The specialist salvage operation has involved the use of underwater divers surveying helicopter and undertaking initial disassembly work, including the water tank and hoses while Christine is submerged.
The complexity and scale of the operation has required months of careful planning and design. Due to the limited space, remote location of the dam and the size of the aircraft, a purpose-built lifting device has been designed to remove the Air-Crane from the dam.
The main components of the Air-Crane have been removed from the remote location by truck to a decontamination site to be sent back to America. The salvage operator will begin working on the environmental rehabilitation of the work site.
Photos and video courtesy of Australian Aviation Salvage & Recovery.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating but has not yet released a report.
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.
(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 six Air-Cranes under contract in Australia can carry more than 2,500 gallons of water or retardant. This one was N173AC, named “Christine”. Victoria 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).
Since 2009 San Diego Gas and Electric has made an Erickson Air-Crane helicopter available to assist wildland firefighters in San Diego County for four months each year, July through October. The company just announced that they are modifying the contract they have with Erickson and will now have it stationed year-round at Gillespie Field near El Cajon, California. The 2,650-gallon helicopter is flown by Erickson pilots under the direction of Cal Fire.
This change, according to SGE&E officials, is in response to “what is now the year-round threat of wildfires”.
It is a unique financial arrangement that shares the cost with the County of San Diego. SDG&E, via its ratepayers, has been picking up the $1.75 million annual tab for four months of availability each season as well as the first two hours of flight time when used on a fire. San Diego County pays for hours three and four. If it is needed for more than four hours it would most likely be on a large fire and the additional cost could be paid by another agency such as the state or federal government, if they needed the aircraft.