Santa Barbara County hopes to purchase a used Blackhawk

The Fire Department may acquire it from the National Guard

LA County FD Firehawk
Santa Barbara County plans to purchase a used Blackhawk helicopter which could be retrofitted similar to the Firehawks operated by Los Angeles County. Photo by LA County FD.

The Santa Barbara County supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the submission of a competitive bid for the fire department to purchase a Blackhawk helicopter from the National Guard.

Currently the agency operates two Bell OH-58A+ helicopters used primarily for law enforcement operations.  These aircraft are equipped with multi-agency communications radios, Forward Looking InfraRed technology, powerful searchlights, LoJack stolen vehicle tracking equipment, photo and video equipment, and mapping technology.

The department also operates three Rescue/Firefighting aircraft: two Bell UH-1H Hueys and a Bell UH-1N twin-engine Huey.  All three Huey Aircraft are equipped with rescue hoists, capable of lowering rescue personnel into remote or otherwise inaccessible locations and extricating lost or injured persons who could not be rescued by conventional means.  All of the Huey aircraft are also capable of fire suppression missions using either fixed water tanks or removable long-line buckets.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Santa Ynez Valley News:

Interim Fire Chief Michael Dyer said the Blackhawk helicopter will cost less than $1.73 million, noting Cal Fire just purchased two new Black Hawks for between $20 million and $25 million each. He said there will be some additional costs to remove military-specific equipment from the Black Hawk and install the gear necessary to turn it into a Firehawk aerial firefighting unit. The annual operation and maintenance costs also will be higher than the choppers the county currently operates.

County Fire’s Hueys fly at 120 knots and carry 360 gallons of water, but the Firehawk will fly at 190 knots and carry 1,000 gallons of water, which can be released as a full load or in three separate loads. It can also carry twice as many personnel, Dyer said.

In addition to the $1.7 million purchase price of the Blackhawk, the additional costs of retrofitting and maintenance will bring the total up to about $4.7 million. The most costly task will be the installation of the 1,000-gallon water tank including extending the landing gear, which raises the aircraft to make room for the tank.

The helicopter they hope to purchase has been used as an air ambulance by the National Guard. It has about 3,200 hours on it and was built in 2002.

One of the Hueys now operated by the department flew in the Vietnam War and is 51 years old. Parts are becoming difficult to find for the helicopter fleet, with all of them being previously owned and retired by the military.

Two of the district supervisors stated that the fire department needs to develop a long range strategic plan for managing and funding the helicopter fleet.

At least three other firefighting agencies in California have recently purchased new Blackhawk helicopters, CAL FIRELos Angeles County , and San Diego Fire Department.


The article was revised to show that San Diego city, rather than San Diego County, is acquiring a new Blackhawk.

National Guard helicopters assist with firefighting in California

Above: screenshot from the first video below.

California Air National Guard helicopters are assisting with the suppression of wildfires in the state.

The Bambi Bucket shown in this first video holds 2,000 gallons. I’m thinking it is used under a Chinook

In the video below you’ll see a 650-gallon Bambi Bucket, probably used with a Blackhawk.

Simplex introduces internal tank for Blackhawks

There are two versions, holding 850 or 1,000 gallons

Above: The Simplex 850-gallon Fire Attack System installed on PJ Helicopters’ UH-60 Utility Hawk. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

For decades Simplex Aerospace has been manufacturing devices used by aerial firefighters, including the Helitorch and various internal and belly-mounted water tanks for helicopters. This year they added to the list by developing an internal water tank for Blackhawk helicopters. The 850-gallon tank can be installed in less than 15 minutes in several models of Sikorsky ships, including the S-70i, S-70A, UH-60A, and UH-60L.

According to the company, the 850-gallon tank drops water through the cargo hook well “with minimal modifications to the aircraft”. They also have a 1,000-gallon version with three dispersal doors, which requires “minimal modifications to the aircraft skin”.

Simplex internal blackhawk water tank
The Simplex 850-gallon Fire Attack System installed on the PJ Helicopters’ UH-60 Utility Hawk. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

While hovering, the tanks can be refilled at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute, or on the ground using ports on either side. Pilots can select the number of drops, flow rate, and percentage of foam concentrate to be mixed with the water.  There is also an automatic emergency water drop feature.

Mark Zimmerman, Simplex’s CEO said “Simplex’s internal Fire Attack systems eliminate the need for the Blackhawk gear extensions required for belly mounted tanks, making the internal tanks ideally suited for civil Blackhawk operators.”

Ken Pimlott discusses the acquisition of a new fleet of helicopters

We interviewed Chief Pimlott at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018.

Above: Model of CAL FIRE Firehawk

Ken Pimlott, the Director California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, talks about the 2017 wildfire season, aerial firefighting resources available in 2018, and the acquisition of a new fleet of Blackhawk, (or Firehawk) helicopters. We interviewed Chief Pimlott just after he made a presentation at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento, March 13, 2018.

CAL FIRE receives final approval to purchase new Sikorsky S-70i helicopters

Above: A Los Angeles County Fire Department Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter demonstrates a water drop during a 2013 airshow. Photo credit: Trent Bell.

An administrative law judge ruled last week against a protest filed by a competing company clearing the way for CAL FIRE to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR). This was in spite of the fact that their bid was $63.8 million higher than the one submitted by AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation (AWPC, part of Leonardo Helicopters). When adjustments were made after the protest, there were only two points separating the analysis of the two proposals, out of a possible 1,000 points.

AWPC intended to supply the AW189 which are popular in the offshore oil industry.

Los Angeles County Fire Department has successfully used the Firehawk for several years and just received two more. Firehawk Helicopters in Boise operates several S-70’s.

firehawk helicopter
N137BH, a Sikorsky S-70 “Firehawk” flies to refill its water bucket after dropping on the Rankin Fire in South Dakota September 13, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE will replace up to 12 of their aging Bell Super Huey helicopter with the Firehawks.

CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey helicopter
One of the few CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey helicopters that still has “CDF” painted on the tail. The photo was taken March 24, 2016 at the CAL FIRE facilities at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento, California by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE began the contracting process for the new helicopters in 2015 or early 2016. There were issues with the first attempt and the solicitation and bids were all thrown out. After the second round the agency announced on August 2, 2017 that they “intended” to award the contract to AMUR for the Firehawk but there would be a period to allow protests to be filed.

Vertical Magazine has an in-depth article about the protest.

Video: LA County helicopter drops on Skirball Fire

The Skirball Fire burned 475 acres early Wednesday morning in Los Angeles and forced the closure of the 405 freeway, one of the busiest highways in the nation.

Aircraft used on the Beaver Fire in South Dakota

Incident Commander Todd Hoover provided information about the Beaver Fire east of Pringle, South Dakota, September 14, 2017. We asked him about how aircraft were used, and we also have video and still photos of firefighters, air tankers, and helicopters.

The fire has burned approximately 400 acres between Wind Cave National Park and Pringle, South Dakota. On Friday, September 15, it was slowed by rain in the area.

We apologize for wind noise in the recording.

Articles tagged Beaver Fire and the Rankin Fire on Wildfire Today.

Excellent photo of MD-87 dropping on the Beaver Fire

Above: An MD-87, probably Tanker 103, drops on the Beaver Fire west of Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Herb Ryan used with permission.

(Originally published at 10:46 a.m. MDT September 14, 2017)

Herb Ryan of the Custer Free Press gave us permission to use these excellent photos he took September 13 at the Beaver Fire which is burning west of Wind Cave National Park in southwest South Dakota.

(More information about the Beaver Fire and the nearby Rankin Fire.)

The photo above is spectacular. It is a close-up of one of the most recently converted air tankers, an MD-87, dropping on the fire.

This is how he described getting the shot:

I was waiting for this and it broke out [of the] heavy smoke and this is the one full image I shot. Was on the back side of the fire with a Canon 7D and a 70-200 f2.8 on the camera cranked all the way down to 70mm.

The photo below of a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter on the Beaver Fire is also courtesy of Mr. Ryan.