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.

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

National Guard helicopters assist with firefighting in California

Above: screenshot from the first video below.

California Air National Guard helicopters are assisting with the suppression of wildfires in the state.

The Bambi Bucket shown in this first video holds 2,000 gallons. I’m thinking it is used under a Chinook

In the video below you’ll see a 650-gallon Bambi Bucket, probably used with a Blackhawk.

Helicopter mechanic on top of Chinook struck by rotor

Chinook at RDD
File photo of a California National Guard Chinook at RDD in 2014.

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has published a report written by individuals in the Rocky Mountain Geographic Area about an incident that happened July 8, 2018 after a Chinook helicopter that had been dropping water on a fire landed to refuel. As the pilot was shutting down the engines an error code for engine #2 indicated a failure. This code pointed to a cannon plug issue, which was pulled, inspected, reinserted, and the error code cleared.

Here is an excerpt of what happened after the Pilot in Command shut down the engines:

…Two of the crew’s mechanics climbed on top of the aircraft to complete their tasks. These tasks include, but are not limited to, visually checking certain fluid levels within a five minute window for the most accurate readings. As the crew members were busy at work and focused on their assigned tasks, the PIC began going through the engine start-up process to see if the error code issue was completely resolved.

Upon hearing the engine spool up, the crew chief immediately wanted eyes on top of the aircraft, knowing that there might be crew personnel engaged on top. Two crew mechanics were indeed on top of the aircraft, aft of the front rotor. Hearing the engines spool up, several support personnel noticed these two mechanics and began yelling: “Get down! Get down!” As the engine was spooling up and the rotors began to turn, one of the mechanic crew members was struck in the head, impacting the side of this individual’s face/head and their safety helmet. The crewmember immediately went limp and slumped down.

The second crewmember was able to grab the struck mechanic in a bear hug to prevent them both from falling off the aircraft. Crewmember 2 stated that he “fundamentally supported and slid partway down the aircraft and then pushed off the fuel tank near the bottom.” He explained that this response was based on his military training. Crewmember 2, still supporting the injured mechanic, fell onto the pavement—both landing safely. At this point, the injured mechanic sat up, stunned. Simultaneously, the PIC heard the noise outside the aircraft and immediately initiated complete engine shut-down…

After being checked by a paramedic at the helibase, the injured crewmember was driven to a hospital by a company driver to be examined. The individual was treated and released from the hospital the same afternoon.

Following the accident and before any other flight operations continued, the crew had a “safety stand-down”. This provided the crew with an opportunity to establish a clear understanding of what happened, how operations will continue moving forward, and closure for anyone who may have been traumatically affected by the incident.

Discussions within the company after the incident centered on safety meetings, communications, and continuing the use of helmets.

Kawak receives STC’s for new Chinook Internal firefighting tank

The tank can hold 2,500 gallons

Above: The test rig for the new Kawak 2,500-gallon internal tank. Kawak photo.

Kawak Aviation has received FAA Supplemental Type Certification (STC) for its CH-47D Chinook aerial liquid delivery system (ALDS) and auxiliary hydraulic system. The 2,500-US gallon (9,463-liter) tank fills in under 40 seconds and can release a full load of water in 3 seconds. The system is built around a fully independent 50hp hydraulic system, a new refill pump, and unique design of the water tank door.

Using their existing refill pump technology as a starting point, they designed an all new pump to meet the fill time requirements of the new system.

“Unlike swinging door designs, our sliding doors provide an unbroken ribbon of water that exits the tank with less wind break up providing a better drop pattern. In short more water reaches the fire for a more effective drop,” said Andrew  Sawyer, director of marketing.

Kawak internal tank chinook firefighting wildfire
Test fitting the first 2,500 gallon riveted tank prior to final riveting.

The system includes a secondary 128-US gallon tank that can add foam concentrate if needed as the main tank is filled. A live telemetry functionality automatically records how much water is taken on, how much is dropped, and where. This information is then transmitted to the agency managing the fire to assist in analyzing utilization of resources.

Having completed flight testing and received the STC, Billing’s Flying Service will be using the tank this summer.

(All photos are provided by Kawak)

billings flying service Kawak internal tank chinook firefighting wildfire
Billings CH47D flight testing the new internal tank.

test Kawak internal tank chinook firefighting wildfire
Kawak CH-47D firefighting system drop test.

Continue reading “Kawak receives STC’s for new Chinook Internal firefighting tank”

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.

Retardant from a helicopter’s internal tank

These days it is not uncommon on a large fire to see a helicopter dropping retardant or a Chinook with an internal tank, or… both at the same time.

This photo of a Columbia Helicopters ship supporting a very large firing operation on the Thomas Fire was in a tweet by the Los Padres National Forest.

In July we posted the KEYT video below which originally was streamed live on YouTube, showing and explaining the activities at a facility set up at the Whittier Fire northwest of Goleta, California for mixing retardant for helicopters that could draft to refill their tanks. The 11-minute video did not show any ships with buckets — just Type 1 helicopters with internal or external tanks.

The video below shows several helicopters including the same Columbia Helicopters aircraft and the 747, supporting the Thomas Fire on December 13, 2017.

Helicopter mobilized from the showroom floor of convention

Columbia BV-107
File photo of a Columbia BV-107 at Custer, SD July 31, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
While some have said the National Interagency Fire Center responded slowly to the very busy wildfire activity that started March 6 in the central plains where about a million acres burned in a few days, eventually they did take action.

In an effort to mobilize a Type 1 helicopter they contacted Columbia Helicopters who had one on display at a helicopter convention.

 “This is the first time we have received a resource order for firefighting duty, while displaying our helicopter at a convention,” said Keith Saylor, Director, Commercial Operations, for the Portland, Oregon-based company.  Reached by phone at the Helicopter Association International (HAI) convention in Dallas, Saylor 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, under an optional use clause of a US Forest Service (USFS) exclusive use contract.  The helicopter was dispatched with two pilots, five mechanics and ground support equipment drivers.

A former US Army-operated CH47D Chinook, the helicopter was modified by Columbia Helicopters with a 2,800 gallon capacity internal tank for water, jells, foam, or retardant dropping, and had been flown to the convention following firefighting duty on East Coast fires.

Also responding to the fires, Neptune Aviation Services dispatched three of its BAe-146 air tankers to multiple locations, according to Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer for the Missoula, Montana-headquartered company.  Three of the tankers were dispatched from Missoula between March 9 and 11, and flown to USFS tanker bases in Ardmore, Oklahoma, Abilene, Texas, and the Rocky Mountain Regional Airport, near Denver, Colorado.  A fourth BAe 146 tanker will continue to fly out of a base at Lake City, Florida, where it has been on duty since February 20.

On March 16 Neptune mobilized T-05, the first of their P2V piston engine tankers to start an assignment this year, which will probably be the model’s last season as the company completes their transition to the jet-powered BAe-146 airframe.