Interview with a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter pilot

Firefighting, rescues, and medical aids using an Agusta Westland 139

Los Angeles Fire Department helicopters
Two Los Angeles Fire Department helicopters prepare to take off on a mission to rescue a hiker in distress.

I interviewed one of the pilots that fly multi-mission helicopters for the Los Angeles Fire Department with the goal of obtaining enough information to write an article about the Department’s aviation program.

I recorded the interview, with Pilot Brandon Prince’s permission, so that I would not have to attempt to take detailed notes and in doing so miss some of what he was saying. But in playing the recording back it was obvious that Mr. Prince was very well-spoken and eloquent. He was describing the program better than an article I would have written.

So I put the interview in a video, and dressed up the audio with still photos taken at the Department’s base at Van Nuys Airport and 28 seconds of video showing two of their Augusta Westland 139 helicopters warming up before they departed on a mission to assist a hiker in distress.

In the interview Mr. Prince discusses the makeup of the seven-helicopter fleet, making decisions about where to drop water on a wildfire, hot refueling, how much fuel and water they begin a firefighting mission with, and the amount of training necessary to be qualified to serve on a helitack crew.

(If you’re having trouble viewing the video you can see it on YouTube)

Irish Air Corp AW139 assists villagers and firefighters in Ireland

Seven hours after the fire started the military approved the use of an AS139 helicopter to assist firefighters.

wildfire in northwest Ireland
Hundreds of villagers attacked a wildfire in northwest Ireland April 22, 2019. Screengrab from Kevin Mcbride video.

(This article first appeared on Wildfire Today)

A large wildfire burned hundreds of acres April 22 in northwest Ireland. It started at about 6 a.m. in Annagry in West Donegal and quickly spread to the neighboring villages of Loughanure and Belcruit and towards Dungloe. At 1 p.m. the Minister of State with Responsibility for Defense, Paul Kehoe, approved the use of an AW139 helicopter from the Irish Air Corps to assist firefighters. Donegal County Council also hired a private company with a smaller helicopter to drop water.

Hundreds of villagers swarmed to the fire with hand tools in attempts to stop the blaze. There were no reports of injuries or structures being destroyed. By evening the spread had been stopped.

The Irish Sun reported that one firefighter said, “This is unreal stuff. I have battled a lot of gorse fires over the years but this is amongst the most dangerous. Everything is bone dry and there is a strong wind so these are perfect conditions for the fires to spread rapidly.”

wildfire in northwest Ireland map
Satellite photo showing smoke from the wildfire north of Dungloe in northwest Ireland, April 22, 2019. Heat is represented by red dots. Heat from a second fire can be seen west of Monaghan.

wildfire in northwest Ireland
Irish Air Corps photo.
wildfire in northwest Ireland
Irish Air Corps photo.
wildfire in northwest Ireland
An AW139 helicopter operated by the Irish Air Corp assisted firefighters. Irish Air Corp photo.
wildfire in northwest Ireland
An AW139 helicopter operated by the Irish Air Corp assisted firefighters. Irish Air Corp photo.

Video helps children learn about firefighting helicopters

In a comment below our article about the Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations program, Chris pointed us to this excellent video that introduces firefighting helicopters to young children, saying his two-year old is obsessed with it. It has commercials, but you can skip through most of them after a few seconds.

The video features Los Angeles Fire Department’s Leonardo AW139 intermediate twin engine helicopters. The department has six helicopters, four AW139’s and two Bell Jet Rangers.

Thanks Chris!

Italy purchases three AW139 helicopters

Will be used for fire suppression and search & rescue. There is an option to buy 12 more.

Leonardo photo.

The Italian government’s Fire Brigade has signed a contract to purchase three AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters from Leonardo. The € 45 million order includes integrated support and training services for pilots and technicians and provides options for an additional 12 AW139’s . The delivery of the three new helicopters will begin shortly and will be completed in 2019. 

The AW139 was chosen by the Fire Brigade following a tender held in mid-2017. The helicopters will be equipped with a wide range of equipment including a recovery winch, cargo hook for the use of a firefighting water bucket, weather radar, satellite communication system, electro-optical system, high-definition mission console, data transmission system, an advanced anti-collision system, night vision capability, searchlight, floats, lifeboats, PA system, and medical instrumentation.

The Los Angeles Fire Department currently operates four AW139’s as well as two Bell Jet Rangers. 

A LA Fire Department AW139 sits atop LAPD’s Hooper Heliport. Photo by Ryan Mason.

Introduction to the Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter program

LAFD helicopter
AgustaWestland AW139. Screenshot from the LAFD video.

The Los Angeles Fire Department(LAFD) aviation program started in 1962 with one Bell 47. Today they have six helicopters, four AgustaWestland AW139’s and two Bell Jet Rangers. To work as a pilot with the Department, you can’t simply walk in off the street. The minimum qualifications are:

  • Private helicopter license,
  • At least 100 hours of flight time in a helicopter, and,
  • Four years experience as a firefighter with the LAFD.

LAFD helicopter crane rescue
Screenshot from the LAFD video.

After a pilot is accepted into the program they are shipped over to the Los Angeles Police Department aviation program where they receive training with 150 hours of flight time, a commercial license, and an instrument rating. If successful there, they go back to the Fire Department and get another 200 flight hours of training. Then there is additional schooling at AgustaWestland to fly their 139.

The video below has much more information.

NTSB investigating LAFD helicopter tree strike

lafd fire 4 helicopter
On June 20 the Los Angeles Fire Department announced their just-purchased helicopter, “Fire 4”, was en route to LA.

The Los Angeles Fire Department is not saying much about an NTSB investigation into an accident that involved their brand new firefighting helicopter, Fire 4, an AW139 that they just put into service one or two months ago. On September 2 Fire 4 was making water drops on the La Tuna Fire in Los Angeles and struck a tree, according to a preliminary accident report by the FAA.

At least one person told NBC 4 in Los Angeles that while monitoring fire traffic on a scanner he heard the pilot say he hit something and put out a Mayday call. The pilot made a successful emergency landing at the Verdugo Hills High School football field.

fire 3 lafd helicopter
File photo of Fire 4’s sister ship, Fire 3. Both are AW139’s. LAFD photo.

You’ll probably want to click on full screen at bottom-right in the video below.

Heliweb has photos that appear to show small tree branches embedded in the damaged areas of the fuselage while the aircraft was parked on the football field. The helicopter apparently received substantial damage to the tail boom, stabilizers, and left side sponson/wheel housing. The left side stabilizer is missing in the photos.

Continue reading “NTSB investigating LAFD helicopter tree strike”

L.A. City Council questions why maintenance issues prevented two helicopters from responding to a wildfire

A Los Angeles City Fire Department AW139 sits atop LAPD’s Hooper Heliport, still recognized today as the busiest heliport in the world. Photo by Ryan Mason.

This article first appeared at It is used here with permission.

By Ryan Mason

Councilors from the Los Angeles City Council have demanded answers from the city’s general services department that is responsible for maintenance of both the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) A-Star fleet and the city’s fleet of Leonardo AW139’s and Bell 412 helicopters, giving administrators a two week deadline to outline why the backlog of maintenance occurred and to also detail any backlogs that exist regarding the fleets of the LAPD and Department of Water and Power for comparison.

Los Angeles City Fire is scheduled to receive another Aw139 in the coming months as the department cycles out the remainder of Bell 412 helicopters operated by the fire department for the much larger AW139 that is fitted with a belly tank for firefighting duties. the LAFD recently donated one of the departments Bell 412 helicopters to the LAPD to use for speacialty training and deployment that will likely fill the gap left when the department pulled their last remaining UH-1H from service several years ago.

The general services department released a statement late last week reaffirming their commitment to ensuring that all LAFD helicopters were returned to service as quickly as possible and that all backlogs would also be cleared as soon as they could be completed.