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.

Getting ready for the wildfire season at HeliMax

Helimax has six Chinook CH-47D’s

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.

News from the Aerial Firefighting conference, Part One

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
Fire BossThe 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.

10 Tanker

Rick Hatton, 10 Tanker
RIck Hatton of 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

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
Columbia HelicoptersKeith 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
ConairShawn 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.

Helimax CH-47D begins its bushfire season in Australia

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.

Helimax CH-47D helicopter
Another one of Helimax’s CH-47D’s photographed by Bill Gabbert March 23, 2016 in Sacramento, Calif.

2,800-gallon internal water tanks being used in two CH-47D helicopters

Above: A 2,800-gallon internal water tank in a Columbia CH-47D Chinook. Screen grab from Columbia video.

The last time we wrote about the 2,800-gallon internal water tank for Columbia Helicopters CH-47D Chinooks was April 6, 2016 as Simplex was developing the system soon after they had been granted a supplemental type certificate by the FAA. The tank can be filled in 60 seconds using a pump on a 12-foot-long 10-inch hose. Foam concentrate can be added to the water from a 140-gallon reservoir. The water tank can be rolled onto the helicopter and attached with four bolts. Multiple drops can be selected by the pilot and it has an emergency drop feature.

The tanks were fully operational during the 2016 wildfire season and were used by two of Columbia’s CH-47D’s for a total of 740 hours.

One of their ships was on display during the HAI HELI-EXPO conference in Dallas earlier in March. Thanks go out to Mark Johnson at Columbia for the photo and videos.

internal water tank Columbia CH-47D
Columbia CH-47D Chinook at the HAI HELI-EXPO 2017 conference in Dallas earlier in March. Columbia photo.

When the National Interagency Fire Center started mobilizing aircraft to the central plains after a million acres burned in Kansas and Oklahoma, they dispatched the helicopter you see in the photo above while it was at the conference.

Keith Saylor, Director, Commercial Operations, for Columbia explained that transitioning the helicopter from a static display to a mission-ready firefighting aircraft involved removing the rotor blades, exiting the convention center, then reinstalling the rotor blades. This was followed by a flight to a nearby airport for refueling and overnighting. Called up on March 9, the helicopter was deployed the following day to Ardmore, Oklahoma with two pilots, five mechanics and ground support equipment drivers.

internal water tank Columbia CH-47D
A 2,800-gallon internal water tank being loaded into a Columbia CH-47D Chinook. Screen grab from Columbia video.

The video below shows one of the CH-47D’s making a water drop.

The next video is a Columbia promotional video, but it has some brief interior shots of the internal tank system.