Above: File photo of South Dakota National Guard Black Hawk helicopter during training at Angostura Reservoir, May 20, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
The Knoxville News Sentinel has an interesting article about the crews that flew the National Guard Black Hawk helicopters in Tennessee during the siege of wildfires at the end of last year.
Here is an excerpt:
You’re piloting a Black Hawk helicopter through the smoke choking the sky over Gatlinburg, a city consumed in fire.
Your co-pilot sits beside you, squinting ahead, listening to communications, watching the instrument panels. Behind the co-pilot sits a Tennessee Division of Forestry officer who earlier instructed you on which fire to hit but is now looking out a small side window. In the back are two crew chiefs, their backsides planted on the bottom edges of open doors on either side of the helicopter. They are held in by harnesses as their legs dangle in open air. This is so they can look straight down at the 600-gallon water bucket hanging by a cable from the ‘copter. They are holding button devices; one will let loose water from the bucket when the time is right.
You’re all talking – constantly communicating through headsets not only with each other but also with other helicopters, air traffic controllers and, most importantly, a spotter on the ground. Talking and looking.
“Fighting fires is pretty stressful,” he said. “You are tense. A ‘copter does not fly very well (because of the 1,500-pound weight of a mostly filled water bucket). It flies like it’s drunk almost. You get that slow, little go-forward, pull-back. It’s almost like it starts to sway a little.
“You get a little tight, a little tense. You’re flying into places where you can barely see because of the smoke. You also have wires and trees to watch out for.”
Above: South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter drops water during training at Angostura Reservoir. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Four blackhawk helicopters and seven South Dakota National guard helicopter crews were put through their paces Friday at Hot Springs Municipal Airport and Angostura Reservoir. The flight crews were evaluated on dipping water from the lake, dropping it across, up, and down slopes, communication with firefighters, and hot refueling.
Firefighters on the ground practiced radio procedures with aviation resources, describing where water drops were needed.
This annual certification is required by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior and allows South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopters to respond to wildland fires.
In the video below, Ray Bubb of the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division describes the annual wildfire training.
Above: planning for the helicopter water drop training. All photos were taken by Justin Jager.
Members of the 2-285th Assault Helicopter Battalion participated in an annual training and certification course for wildfire response at the Papago Park Military Reservation in Arizona May 4 and 5.
At the completion of the 24-hour course, 16 pilots and crew chiefs were certified to respond and assist with helicopter bucket operations and to deliver water for aerial firefighting.
“The Arizona National Guard’s aviation crews possess a number of skills critical to the wildfire fighting efforts,” said Justin Jager, interagency aviation officer for the National Parks Service and U.S. Forest Service. “Developing the interagency operability of these crews to help support the ground crews is invaluable to the state and region in terms of preparedness.”
Aside from water drop capabilities, the Arizona National Guard’s aviation crews can support lift operations, extraction and insertion of personnel, search and rescue, hoist operations, and sling load equipment transport. There are also specially trained crewmembers who can perform casualty and medical evacuations.
This year the annual fire suppression training for California and Nevada Air and Army National Guard helicopter crews was held April 15-17, 2016 near Sutter Creek, California. Chinook, Blackhawk, and Lakota helicopters participated in a mock fire incident using Pardee Lake as a water source.
The Guard is only activated when private sector helicopter operators cannot fill the incident commander’s resource orders for a particular type or mission specific helicopter. Usually the requests are for a Type 1 helicopter, a Blackhawk or Chinook, that cannot be supplied by the private sector in a reasonable period of time.
The Lakota helicopter is used as a helicopter coordinator platform and for medical evacuation missions. If requested by the incident commander the Lakota can be dispatched with military medics. During the last five decades the Guard assisted on fires in almost every fire season.
The policy of teaming a Guard helicopter with a CAL FIRE military helicopter manager serving as a flight crew member has been a successful program for twenty years. The military manager not only provides tactical fire direction including initial attack on new fires but arranges for complete logistical support. The manager works closely with a military liaison to make sure the program flows smoothly.
These photos were taken by Bob Martinez, a Volunteer in Prevention Photographer for CAL FIRE. You can see more of his work at his web site.
A Blackhawk and a Homeland Security surveillance aircraft are staged at Burns.
Above: file photo of Department of Homeland Security’s Beechcraft Super King Air 350 (N50056). FlightAware photo.
As we reported on January 10, the FBI has been staging equipment at the Single Engine Air Tanker Base at Burns Municipal Airport four miles east of Burns, Oregon. Initially a large truck with numerous antennas showed up that is probably used as an incident command post.
The airport is 21 air miles north of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge where armed domestic terrorists broke into and seized the facilities at the site.
In the last few days additional equipment arriving at the tanker base included about half a dozen armored vehicles, a Blackhawk helicopter, and a Beechcraft Super King Air 350 surveillance aircraft (N50056) with very obvious external accoutrements, sensors, and communications gear.
The King Air, registered to the Department of Homeland Security, has a logo that appears to be “U.S. Customs and Border Protection”. According to FlightAware records it flew in from Boise on January 27 after having been at St. Augustine, Florida on January 25.
The Bureau of Land Management operates the SEAT base independently of the city-owned airport which remains open. The base, which cannot handle air tankers larger than a SEAT, has one pit for loading aircraft and parking for three.
The FBI’s Blackhawks are rarely seen. Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia about aircraft operated by the agency’s Hostage Rescue Team:
The HRT’s Tactical Aviation Unit is staffed by FBI special agents. The Tactical Helicopter Unit, a sub-unit of the Tactical Aviation Unit, contains a variety of specially modified helicopters. These helicopters include military converted Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk tactical transport helicopters and tactically enhanced Bell 412 and Bell 407 helicopters. The HRT’s tactical aviators are required to fly daily.
A Los Angeles County Fire Department Firehawk helicopter (@lacofireairops) makes a drop while assisting the Ventura County Fire Department at the Princeton Fire near the 118 Freeway between Moorpark & Simi Valley. (? by #lacofd Volunteer Photographer @resqric Rick McClure)