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 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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
“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.
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-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.
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.
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.
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.
After I visited Airstrike’s hanger last week to check on the progress on their P3, Tanker 23, I stopped by the Helimax Aviation facility just down the road. Two of their CH-47D Chinooks were undergoing maintenance in the hangar.
Helimax has two Chinooks on Forest Service exclusive use contracts and two on call when needed contracts, plus two others. Their mandatory availability period begins in early May for the EU ships. Upon mobilization they travel with two pilots, a non-rated crewmember, four mechanics, and one fuel truck driver hauling up to 6,000 gallons. As shown in one of the photos below they also load into the cargo bay a four-wheeler with an attached trailer for hauling the 2,600-gallon Bambi Bucket. The Chinook can cruise at 140 knots (161 mph), pretty fast for a helicopter, and has an endurance of about three hours.
To see large versions of the photos, click on one of the small images immediately below.
Above: the Air Tractor display at the Aerial Firefighting conference.
Here are a few notes that I scribbled in a notebook at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week. This is Part One — I will post Part Two later.
Air Tractor Mike Schoenau, an Air Tractor dealer out of Tulare, CA, said a new single engine air tanker is being flight tested now. The model name is AT-1002 and will hold up to 1,000 gallons. You will be able to purchase one for yourself for about $2.5 Million.
Fire Boss The Bureau of Land Management has not released their list of SEATs on contract this year, many of which will be the amphibious Fire Boss, a variant of the Air Tractor 802. Fire Boss doesn’t know if they will be converting the new AT-1002 1,000-gallon SEAT to use floats.
Their fourth converted DC-10, Tanker 914, will be ready to fight fire this summer. Rick Hatton, the President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, said their approval by the Interagency Airtanker Board came to the end of its six-year term, so they retook the grid test in December. Their three DC-10s averaged about 300 hours on fires in 2017, which is more than usual.
I got into a long detailed conversation with Mr. Hatton about how their retardant delivery system can maintain a constant flow, adjusting for the amount of retardant in the tank, drop height, and speed. It usually drops at 150 knots and 200 feet.
Hours per CL-415 As we reported yesterday, Shawna Legarza, the USFS Director of Fire and Aviation, said the two CL-415 scooping air tankers that were on USFS contract in 2017 each had over 400 hours of fire flight time. Due to a reduction in the firefighting budget, the two scoopers had to be cut this year from the exclusive use list. At least a couple are still on a CWN contract, but they may or may not be available if the USFS Calls them When Needed.
Columbia Keith Saylor, Columbia’s Director of Commercial Operations, said the company will have three Type 1 helicopters, CH-47 Chinooks, on exclusive use contract this year. Two have internal tanks and one will use an external bucket.
Conair Shawn Bethel, Conair’s Director, International Business Development, said the external tank on the Q400 can be removed in about three hours by 9 to 12 workers. They recently received a contract to supply six Q400’s to France’s Securite Civile (Department of Civil Defense and Emergency Preparedness).
The Q400 MR can carry up to 10,000 liters (2,600 gallons) of water or retardant. In addition to the nine S-2’s and two Q-400’s, France also has twelve CL-415’s and 40 helicopters.
Above: Before it was repainted and shipped to Australia, Helimax’s N948CH, seen in the background here, was photographed in Sacramento March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
(Originally published at 11:05 a.m. MST November 16, 2017)
One of Helimax’s CH-47D’s has been shipped to Australia and will be working for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service during their summer bushfire season.
According to the Wollondilly Advertiser, which has photos and more information, it will be working out of Camden, NSW southwest of Sydney (map) using an external water bucket carrying about 2,000 gallons.
An aircraft resembling the Chinook was spotted in a shipping box it shared with one of Coulson’s S-61’s in a photo posted November 3, 2017 by Coulson.
The video below from the Wollondilly Advertiser, shows the Chinook taking off near Camden, NSW.