Ventura County, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, has an air unit which is a cooperative enterprise of the Fire District and the Sheriff’s Office. The unit has four Bell UH-1 helicopters and one Bell Long Ranger. In addition, they purchased three military HH-60L Blackhawk helicopters in order to convert them into FIREHAWKS to be used for fighting wildland fires, personnel transport, search and rescue, law enforcement, and medical evacuation.
As of June 17 the fire had burned over 31,000 acres five miles north of the city
Paul Filmer sent us these photos of new S-70i Firehawk helicopters being tested at the Centennial, Colorado Airport.
Several wildland fire agencies have used the services of United Rotorcraft at Englewood, Colorado to retrofit Sikorsky S-70i helicopters — adding extended landing gear, external belly tanks, retractable snorkels, and rescue hoists. CAL FIRE is purchasing up to 12, Los Angeles County Fire Department is adding two more to their fleet, San Diego Fire-Rescue has received one, and Ventura County FD is converting three HH-60L Blackhawks formerly operated by the U.S. military. Coulson-Unical is taking a different approach, outfitting UH-60s with RADS internal tanks.
As we reported in March, Coulson Aviation is partnering 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.
At the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019, Britt Coulson explained that they intended to install internal tanks in both models of helicopters. In the last few weeks the new partnership has been working to get their first aircraft of the joint venture carded, the company said in a Facebook post August 12, when they posted the photo below:
The camo paint job reminds me of Air Spray’s T-170. We’ll have to see if this makes it less visible to other aircraft when flying low and slow over a fire.
The livery on the Coulson-Unical helicopter is very different from their Blackhawk that was on display in Atlanta.
In the video below, Mr. Coulson describes the new Chinook and Blackhawk program they are undertaking with Unical. It was filmed at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.
The helicopters that are fully certificated and available in San Diego County for firefighting has grown in the last 15 or 20 years from practically nothing to eight now that an additional helicopter will be added to the mix.
Last week the County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to split the cost of a Blackhawk helicopter with San Diego Gas and Electric. After the agreement is finalized, the helicopter will be positioned in the north part of the county during Red Flag Warning conditions.
Under the agreement SDG&E will cover the costs to operate the helicopter for the first two hours of any new flight, and the County will cover the second two flight hours. If used during a fire, the County could pay a maximum of $150,000 depending on flight time and reimbursements from the State of California or the federal government.
The County also shares a year-round lease with SDG&E for an Erickson Skycrane helicopter, which was put into action for several 2018 fires including the West Fire in Alpine, the Rangeland Fire in Ramona, the Pasqual Fire and the Recycle Fire in Campo.
The region currently has 10 aircraft available for initial attack:
- A U.S. Forest Service firefighting helicopter during fire season
- Three CAL FIRE fixed-wing aircraft, which consists of two retardant dropping airtankers and an air tactical supervisor plane,
- Three County Sheriff/CAL FIRE helicopters
- Two City of San Diego helicopters
- The SDG&E-leased Erickson Skycrane helicopter.
For an extended attack the County can also call on 26 military helicopters if available.
A U.S. Navy Blackhawk helicopter, an MH-60S, helped suppress a wildfire that was threatening homes on Guam. Not deterred by darkness, the flight crew dropped 4,200 gallons of water using an external bucket.
Here is how the squadron describes their mission:
“HSC-25 is the Navy’s only forward deployed MH-60S expeditionary squadron. We provide an armed helicopter capability for US Seventh Fleet as well as detachments to various commands covering a diverse mission set. Flying the MH-60S, HSC-25 supports permanently assigned detachments to the USS Bonhomme Richard homeported in Sasebo, Japan, and Commander, Task Force 73. These detachments perform logistics, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance for US Seventh Fleet. HSC-25 is a tenant command on board Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. HSC-25 provides 24 hour search and rescue (SAR) and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) service for Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands.”
Below are videos of them dropping on other fires.