Video of 3,000-gallon drop from CH-47 Chinook

CH-47 Chinook 3,000-gallon water drop
CH-47 Chinook 3,000-gallon water drop November 17, 2020. Image from OCFA video.

A CH-47 Chinook Very Large Helitanker (VLHT) with night-flying capability operated by Coulson Aviation is working under an 83-day contract in collaboration with Southern California Edison (SCE) and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA).

Registered as N42CU, the Chinook is crewed 24/7 and available for responses day and night within the 15 counties served by SCE. The daily availability costs of $2.1 million for the contract period are being paid by SCE, while the hourly costs will be covered by the agencies responsible for the fire protection where the fires occur.

The Chinook is based at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Orange County. It can fill it’s 3,000-gallon internal tank while on the ground, or while hovering over a water or retardant source using its retractable snorkel hose.

To the best of our knowledge, here are the maximum capacities of firefighting helicopters, in gallons:

CH-47 Chinook   3,000
S-64 Air-Crane   2,650
S-70i Firehawk    1,000
CH-107   1,000
S-61    1,000
UH 60    900 or 1,000?
K-Max    700 or less
214-B    660
212    359
412EP    375

Night-flying Chinook begins fire contract in Orange County, California

October 2, 2020 | 3:12 p.m. PDT

N42CU Coulson CH-47 Chinook helicopter
Coulson’s CH-47 Chinook N42CU. Coulson photo.

A 3,000-gallon night-flying firefighting helicopter is available starting today October 1 in Southern California.

The CH-47 Chinook Very Large Helitanker (VLHT) operated by Coulson Aviation is working under an 83-day contract in collaboration with Southern California Edison (SCE) and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA).

Registered as N42CU, the night-flying Chinook will be crewed 24/7 and available for responses day and night within the 15 counties served by SCE. The daily availability costs of $2.1 million for the contract period are being paid by SCE, while the hourly costs will be covered by the agencies responsible for the fire protection where the fires occur.

The Chinook will be based at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base in Orange County. It can fill it’s 3,000-gallon internal tank while on the ground, or while hovering over a water or retardant source using its retractable snorkel hose.

As a comparison, the two Orange County Fire Authority Bell 412EP helicopters are capable of dropping up to 375-gallons. Water capacities of other helicopters: Bell 214B, 660 gallons;  K-MAX, 700 gallons; FireHawk S-70i, 1,000 gallons; and S-64 Skycrane, 2,650 gallons.

RADS tank N42CU Coulson CH-47 Chinook helicopter
The RADS internal 3,000-gallon tank in Coulson’s CH-47 Chinook, N42CU. Coulson photo.

In 2019 the OCFA also had an arrangement with SCE for a 24/7 night flying helicopter. In that case Coulson supplied an S-61 capable of 1,000 gallons and, a Sikorsky S-76 to provide intelligence, evaluate effectiveness, and identify targets with a laser designator. This year the contract is just for one helicopter, the CH-47 Chinook.

N42CU Coulson CH-47 Chinook helicopter
Coulson’s CH-47 Chinook N42CU. Coulson photo.

Coulson’s ground-based fleet

Coulson Ground Fleet vehicles helicopters CH-47 fire
Coulson Aviation’s maintenance support vehicles and fuel trucks for their CH-47 helicopters. Coulson photo.

Coulson Aviation posted these photos and text on their Facebook page:

Prior to dispatching out the second half of our Rotary Wing fleet this year we took one afternoon to do a photoshoot with N49CU and the rolling stock. Each CH-47 module consists of a brand-new fuel truck that was custom built to our specifications along with a 53’ ex-Nascar truck/trailer combination as a maintenance support vehicle. Great job to the fleet ops team for getting all this built up in time to go on contract!

Coulson Aviation’s maintenance support vehicles for their CH-47 helicopters. Coulson photo.
Coulson Aviation’s fuel trucks for their CH-47 helicopters. Coulson photo.

Coulson ships a CH47D to Bolivia on an Antonov

Coulson CH47D Antonov AN 124 Bolivia
Coulson photo

Coulson Aviation announced on August 31 that the company had secured a contract with the Bolivian Ministry of Defense to provide three Type 1 helicopters to assist the firefighters that are battling wildfires.

Shortly thereafter two of the company’s S-61 helicopters departed from California to begin their multi-day ferry to South America.

On September 4 the third ship began its journey from the airport at San Bernardino, California. Here’s what the company wrote on their Facebook page, along with these photos they posted:

The Coulson Unical CH-47D, N47CU, was loaded onto the Antonov this afternoon after a long night and morning of teardown. To fit in the airplane the blades, both the forward and rear drivetrain, and the rear pylon needed to be removed. This is a huge task to accomplish in such a short time but the team came through and will get some well deserved rest on the flight down.

Coulson CH47D Antonov AN 124 Bolivia
Coulson photo.

Coulson has partnered 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. We interviewed Britt Coulson about this venture at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.

Coulson CH47D Antonov AN 124 Bolivia
Antonov AN 124. Coulson photo.
Coulson CH47D Antonov AN 124 Bolivia
Coulson photo.
Coulson CH47D Antonov AN 124 Bolivia
Coulson photo.

Interview with Britt Coulson about their firefighting Chinooks and Blackhawks

Britt Coulson blackhawk helicopter
Britt Coulson with one of their recently acquired Blackhawks.

The Vice President of Coulson Aviation describes the new Chinook and Blackhawk program they are undertaking with Unical. He also updates us on the firefighting aircraft they have working in Australia during the 2018-2019 bushfire season. It was filmed at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.

If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it on YouTube.

Coulson adding UH-60 and CH-47 helicopters to their fleet

By 2020 the company expects to have 10 additional helicopters between the two types.

Coulson-Unical CU-47 CU-60
Coulson-Unical CU-47 and CU-60 in Atlanta.

Coulson Aviation is expanding their aircraft fleet. Until a few weeks ago the company had four C-130 type fixed wing air tankers, one converted Boeing 737 air tanker (with another that is 60 percent complete), and a mixture of five S-61 and S-76 helicopters.

Today Coulson announced a new partnership with Unical Air, a new unit of the Unical Group of Companies. The organizations have joined forces 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. Coulson’s expertise in the operation of heavy lift and firefighting helicopters will mesh with Unical Air’s abilities in supply chain, and parts, plus aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and component repair and overhaul (CRO).

Coulson-Unical CU-47 helicopter
The first Coulson-Unical CU-47 lands in a remote area east of Albuquerque February 24, 2019. Coulson photo.

“When we met Unical, our companies meshed very well,” Britt Coulson, Coulson Aviation’s vice president, said. “Since both are family owned and extremely passionate about what we do, it was a natural fit to work together. Others that have bought either of these types has struggled with serviceability and parts support and with our partnership we are confident that will not be an issue.”

The capabilities of the helicopters will include night-vision, IFR navigation, and hover filling.

Coulson-Unical CU-47 helicopter CH-47
The engineering design for the water/retardant delivery system on the Coulson-Unical CU-47. Coulson image.

At least some of the newly acquired CH-47s and UH-60s will be outfitted with RADS internal tanks. The basic design of the RADS was created by Aero Union decades ago and features steep slopes on the sides when space allows, to facilitate enough head pressure at the bottom to ensure quick and constant flow. The technology used will enable automated target drops for the night vision goggle firefighting program and will have the capability to adjust flow rates based on speed and altitude. A Coulson helicopter that has been certified in Australia for night drops has been used on a regular basis for the last several months during the country’s 2018-2019 bushfire season.

Coulson has engineered several different sizes of the tanks to enable them to be used in a variety of aircraft, including the C-130 and the 737. The CU-60 will carry up to 1,000 USG, and the CU-47 will carry up to 3,000 USG.

The snorkels used for hover refilling will be a brand new Coulson design, using an electrically-powered pump which will retract into the belly allowing flight to and from the fire with no speed restrictions, along with the ability to taxi around airports or tanker bases.

Instead of the water or retardant flowing through a relatively small opening at the cargo hook, Coulson will modify the bellies of both the CH-47 and UH-60.

Coulson-Unical CU-60 helicopter UH-60
The engineering design for the water/retardant delivery system on the Coulson-Unical CU-60. Coulson image.

“We are cutting the lower skin and adding in structure between the frames, the same way we have done on the C-130 and B-737 to create the optimal, linear door opening”, Mr. Coulson said. “We are also engineering the tank to incorporate the hook which will allow us to longline with the tank installed.”

The helicopters will be type certified and FAA approved, and the models will be renamed.

“This partnership with Unical Aviation is the future of aerial firefighting, combining the best of both companies as we introduce the CU-60© and CU-47© Next Gen Helitankers,” stated CEO, Wayne Coulson, Coulson Aviation.

The helicopters will receive upgraded cockpits, featuring the Garmin G500H TXi synthetic vision displays and Coulson’s touch screen SMART Delivery System Controller for regulating the delivery of the water or retardant.

Coulson UH-60 cockpit
The concept for the cockpit of the CU-60. Coulson image.

Coulson-Unical will have a CU-60 and a CU-47 at the HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, March 5 to 7. Both have been painted but have not yet received the internal tank modification. The two ships will be available this year with conventional water buckets. By 2020 the company expects to have 10 additional helicopters between the two types.

Billings Flying Service begins helicopter contract in Chile

The Chinook will be working for a private company, assisting wildland firefighters

Billings Flying Service CH-47D helicopter
Billings Flying Service’s Helicopter 03, a CH-47D Chinook, just before being unloaded from the ship in Chile December 24, 2018.

On Christmas Eve Billings Flying Service unloaded one of their CH-47D Chinooks off a ship in Chile. Two days later after reinstalling the rotor blades they flew it to a base just east of Concepción where it will begin a firefighting contract for one of the largest pulp and paper companies in Latin America. Compañía Manufacturera de Papeles y Cartones (CMPC ), which translates to Manufacturing Company of Papers and Cartons, employs over 15,000 people in Chile and seven other countries in South Ameria.

Billings Flying Service CH-47D helicopter
Billings Flying Service’s Helicopter 03, a CH-47D Chinook, being unloaded from the ship in Chile December 24, 2018.

The helicopter that Billings shipped to Chile is N303AJ, a Boeing CH-47D manufactured in 1989 that fights fire with an external water bucket. At least one of the company’s ships was testing a new 2,500-gallon internal tank last summer. Billings became the first non-military owner of CH-47D Chinook helicopters when they purchased their first two in 2014. Gary Blain, co-owner of the company, and another pilot flew those aircraft from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to the company’s facilities south of Billings, Montana near the Yellowstone River. Anything you do with aircraft is expensive. Mr. Blain said they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska.

Billings has seven other Chinooks, one Sikorsky UH-60, five Bell 206s, five Airbus AS350 B3s, one MD 500, and one Hiller 12B.

All of these photos in Chile were provided by Brian Jensen of Billings Flying Service.

Billings Flying Service CH-47D helicopter Chile
Rotors being reinstalled.
Billings Flying Service CH-47D helicopter Chile
Billings Flying Service CH-47D helicopter Chile
Billings Flying Service CH-47D helicopter Chile

The only shade was under the Chinook at Sierra Vista

N949CH Chinook helicopter
Helimax’s N949CH at Sierra Vista, Arizona. Photo by Jerry Messinger.

Jerry Messinger sent us this photo of N949CH, one of HeliMax’s CH-47’s at Sierra Vista, Arizona. He said it is on an exclusive use contract and has already flown about 75 hours on fires in the Southwest this spring. It is very dry there, he said.

Those large rotor blades can provide a little shade on a hot day.

The weather prediction for Sierra Vista today, 96 degrees, 6 percent RH, with southwest winds gusting to 27 mph. For Friday, Red Flag Warning with winds gusting to 45 mph. And zero percent chance of rain.