Coulson air tankers and helicopters are following the fire season to the southern hemisphere

The aircraft and crews will be assisting firefighters in Chile and Australia

Coulson firefighting helicopters
Coulson CH-47 prepares for a voyage to Chile. Coulson photo.

Coulson Aviation is in the process of deploying firefighting aircraft to the Southern Hemisphere for the summer wildfire seasons in South America and Australia.

For several weeks they have had three Sikorsky S-61N helicopters in Australia and in November flew air tanker 137, a Boeing 737 (N137CG), across the Pacific to join the helicopters. They will also have a Sikorsky S-76B in the country.

Two C-130 air tankers, T-131 (N130FF) and T-132 (N132CG), departed from San Bernardino, California December 12 for Australia. They both recently received new livery, featuring a new paint design for the Coulson aircraft.

Coulson Air Tankers 131 and 132
Tankers 131 and 132, before their flights to Australia. Coulson photo (heavily edited by Fire Aviation).

In the last week or so Coulson loaded two CH-47 Chinooks (N47CU and N40CU) and a Blackhawk onto a large ship to begin a voyage to Chile where they will assist firefighters.

Coulson firefighting helicopters
Coulson CH-47s and a Blackhawk prepare for a voyage to Chile. Coulson photo.
Coulson firefighting helicopters
Coulson CH-47 prepares for a voyage to Chile. Coulson photo.
Coulson firefighting helicopters
Coulson CH-47 prepares for a voyage to Chile. Coulson photo.
Coulson firefighting helicopters
Coulson CH-47s prepare for a voyage to Chile. Coulson photo.
Coulson firefighting helicopters
Coulson Blackhawk prepares for a voyage to Chile. Coulson photo.

A look at the Ventura County helicopters

Ventura County helicopter
The first time that Ventura County Copter 2 was used on a wildfire, June 10, 2020. Photo by John Carman.

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.

FIREHAWK blackhawk Ventura County
Ventura County Copter 5. Ventura County is converting military HH-60L Blackhawks into FIREHAWKS. VCSO photo, Capt. Romano Bassi January, 2019
Ventura County helicopter
Ventura County Copter 8. Photo by Ventura County Air Unit
Ventura County helicopter
Ventura County Copter 8. Photo by Ventura County Air Unit
Ventura County helicopter
Ventura County Copters 6, 8, 9, and 2. Photo by Ventura County Air Unit
Ventura County helicopter
Ventura County Copter 3. Photo by Ventura County Air Unit

Photos of aircraft working the Bighorn Fire near Tucson

As of June 17 the fire had burned over 31,000 acres five miles north of the city

Bighorn Fire RJ85
An RJ85 operated by Aero Flite. Ned Harris photo.

Ned Harris sent us these excellent photos of air tankers and helicopters assisting firefighters on the Bighorn Fire, which as of yesterday had burned over 31,000 acres five miles north of Tucson, Arizona. Thanks Ned!

More information about the Bighorn Fire is at Wildfire Today.

Chinook Bighorn Fire
Billings Helicopters and Heligroup Chinooks. Ned Harris photo.
Bighorn Fire Tanker 164, an RJ85
Tanker 164, an RJ85 operated by Aero Flite. Ned Harris photo.
Bighorn Fire Tanker 105 Tanker 10 BAe-146
Tanker 105 (foreground), an MD-87 (N295EA) operated by Erickson Aero Tanker, and Tanker 10, a BAe-146 (N472NA) operated by Neptune Aviation. Ned Harris photo.
Sikorsky UH-60A Bighorn Fire
A Sikorsky UH-60A operated by Coulson/Unical. N160CD. Ned Harris photo.
Bighorn Fire Tanker 910, a DC-10
Tanker 910, a DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier drops on the Bighorn Fire. N612AX. Ned Harris photo.

Photos of firefighting aircraft on the Elizabeth Fire in southern California

Elizabeth Fire helicopter
This is a new-to-them HH-60L Blackhawk operated by the Ventura County Fire Department.

Jay Widdows sent us these photos he shot June 10 on the Elizabeth Fire north of the city of Ventura in southern California. The fire burned 289 acres. Thanks Jay!

Elizabeth Fire helicopter
Bell 205A-1, Coastal Helicopters.
Elizabeth Fire dozer
This photo by the Ventura County FD is included here to provide a glimpse of the terrain and vegetation.
Elizabeth Fire helicopter
Los Angeles County Firehawk.
Coulson Air Tanker 137
T-137, a B-737.
CAL FIRE's Air Tanker 78
CAL FIRE’s Air Tanker 78, an S2-T
Elizabeth Fire dozer
A Ventura County Fire Department EH-1H.

An assortment of Coulson helicopters at San Bernardino

Coulson-Unical helicopters San Bernardino
Coulson-Unical helicopters at San Bernardino. Coulson photo May 25, 2020.

Coulson Aviation posted these photos May 25 of an assortment of Coulson-Unical helicopters at San Bernardino.

Coulson-Unical helicopters San Bernardino
Coulson-Unical helicopters at San Bernardino. Coulson photo May 25, 2020.
Coulson-Unical helicopters San Bernardino
Coulson-Unical helicopters at San Bernardino. Coulson photo May 25, 2020.
Coulson-Unical helicopters San Bernardino
Coulson-Unical helicopters at San Bernardino. Coulson photo May 25, 2020.

Two new Firehawks tested in Colorado

Eventually will be delivered to CAL FIRE and Los Angeles County FD

Los Angeles County's new i70 Firehawk helicopter
Los Angeles County’s new S-70i Firehawk, helicopter 22, being tested at Centennial, Colorado May 7, 2020. Photo by @skippyscage.

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.

CAL FIRE's new i70 Firehawk helicopter
CAL FIRE’s new S-70i Firehawk, helicopter 205, being tested at Centennial, Colorado May 7, 2020. Photo by @skippyscage.

Coulson-Unical Blackhawk spotted at McClellan

Coulson Unical Blackhawk
A Coulson-Unical Blackhawk, UH-60A, was photographed at Sacramento McClellan Airport August 14, 2019 by Mike McKeig.

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:

Coulson Unical Blackhawk
Coulson photo posted August 12, 2019.

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.

Air tanker 170 BAe-146
Air tanker 170 at MCC March 12, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The livery on the Coulson-Unical helicopter is very different from their Blackhawk that was on display in Atlanta.

Coulson-Unical CU-47 CU-60
Coulson-Unical CU-47 and CU-60 in Atlanta March 5, 2019. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Coulson-Unical CU-60 helicopter UH-60
The engineering design for the water/retardant delivery system on the Coulson-Unical CU-60. Coulson image.

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.

An additional firefighting helicopter to be available in San Diego County

Blackhawk helicopter
File photo of a Blackhawk helicopter that was working the Rankin Fire in Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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.

Skycrane helicopter
The Skycrane helicopter leased by the County and SDG&E from Erickson. SDG&E photo.