Another Firehawk helicopter has been delivered to Los Angeles County

In a couple of years the Department expects to have a total of 7 Firehawks

Firehawk Sikorsky S70I Los Angeles County Fire Department
Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Sikorsky S70I Firehawk being tested Nov. 16, 2019 in Colorado. Photo by Erick Lama for United Rotorcraft.

San Diego Fire-Rescue is not the only department that is adding new Sikorsky S70I Firehawk helicopters to their aerial firefighting fleets. The finishing touches are being applied to one for Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACFD).

This new aircraft, Helicopter 21 (N821LA) was photographed while it was being tested in Colorado (above) on November 16 by Eric Lama, United Rotorcraft’s program manager on the Firehawk.

On November 23, 2019, the day it was ferried to LACFD’s Barton helibase in Pacoima, California it was photographed again. Helicopter 21 departed from the Denver area at 6:15 a.m PST and arrived at Barton at 4:19 p.m. PST.

Firehawk Sikorsky S70I Los Angeles County Fire Department
Sikorsky S70I Firehawk on Nov. 23, 2019, the day it was delivered to Los Angeles County Fire Department. United Rotorcraft photo.

United Rotorcraft converted it into a firefighting machine with extended landing gear, a 1,000 gallon firefighting tank, and a retractable snorkel system. The FAA registration number is N821LA.

Another Firehawk purchased by LACFD is in the process of being converted at United Rotorcraft in Colorado and should be delivered in the Spring of 2020. The Department announced in July that they were going to buy two more.

So if you’re keeping score, they had three Firehawks, the one delivered last week brings the number to four, the one expected next Spring will make five, and considering the July announcement there will be a total of seven. LACFD also has five Bell 412 helicopters.

It takes one or two years, at least, for an S70I to be manufactured, painted, converted into a Firehawk, and delivered. It can also take additional weeks or months for the receiving department to further outfit the aircraft and train personnel.

Blackhawks are becoming very popular as firefighting machines. Other departments and private companies acquiring them in recent years include CAL FIRE, Ventura County, San Diego County, Firehawk Helicopters, and Coulson.

Firehawk Sikorsky S70I Los Angeles County Fire Department
Sikorsky S70I Firehawk on Nov. 23, 2019, the day it was delivered to Los Angeles County Fire Department. United Rotorcraft photo.

San Diego receives new Firehawk helicopter

San Diego Fire-Rescue Firehawk helicopter new
A new Sikorsky S70I has been outfitted as a Firehawk by United Rotorcraft for San Diego Fire-Rescue. Photo by Erick Lama.

San Diego Fire-Rescue is adding a Sikorsky S70I to their aerial firefighting fleet. After being retrofitted by United Rotorcraft it was delivered at Montgomery Field (map) November 23, 2019. It is now known as a Firehawk after being reconfigured with an aerial firefighting mission package including extended landing gear, a 1,000 gallon firefighting tank, and a retractable snorkel system. The FAA registration number is N283SD.

San Diego has two other firefighting helicopters, a Bell 212 (N800DM) and a Bell 412EP (N807JS) manufactured in 1980 and 2008, respectively. The Fire-Rescue Department has two registration numbers reserved to be used later, N281SD and 282SD.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Firehawk helicopter new
A new Sikorsky S70I has been outfitted as a Firehawk by United Rotorcraft for San Diego Fire-Rescue. Photo by Erick Lama.

In June, 2018 the S70I was ferried from Sikorsky’s manufacturing plant in Coatesville, Pennsylvania to Decatur, Texas where it was painted in United Rotorcraft’s facility. The rest of the Firehawk conversion was done by United Rotorcraft in Englewood, Colorado.

All of the Firehawk photos above were taken by Eric Lama, United Rotorcraft’s program manager on the Firehawk.

San Diego Fire-Rescue S70I Firehawk
The San Diego Fire-Rescue S70I before it was painted and retrofitted. June, 2018.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Firehawk helicopter new
A new Sikorsky S70I has been outfitted as a Firehawk by United Rotorcraft for San Diego Fire-Rescue. Photo by Erick Lama November 13, 2019.

The San Diego Police Department presently has four Eurocopter AS 350B3 helicopters manufactured in 2006 which they expect to replace in the foreseeable future at a cost of about $21 million, the LA Times reported November 20, 2019:

The City Council this week approved a five-year agreement with Airbus Helicopters to immediately buy one helicopter for $4.6 million and purchase three more for $5.5 million each before the deal ends in 2024.

City officials stressed that the council will be required to approve each of the additional helicopter purchases and that the purchases will be based on whether the city has adequate resources at the time.

The plan to replace all four helicopters is based on recommendations from a consulting firm that analyzed the city’s helicopter fleet in 2017.

San Diego PD will replace the four helicopters with Airbus H125s, which is basically an updated version of the 350B3.

CAL FIRE’s new Firehawk arrives at Sacramento

CAL FIRE plans to purchase up to 12 Sikorsky S-70i firefighting helicopters

CAL FIRE Firehawk helicopter 903

(Above: CAL FIRE’s Firehawk helicopter 903 at Centennial Airport southeast of Denver on the weekend of October 5, 2019, shortly before it was delivered to CAL FIRE in Sacramento. Photo by Kevin Falkenstine.)

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection showed off one of its new Firehawk helicopters Saturday, October 12 at Sacramento McClellan Airport. CAL FIRE has received approval to purchase up to 12 new Sikorsky S-70i helicopters retrofitted by United Rotorcraft as a wildland firefighting aircraft. The Firehawks will replace its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey helicopters.

Helicopter 903, with “McClellan” painted on the side, will be able to carry up to 1,000 gallons of water in an external belly tank. Other features include a 9,000 pound capacity cargo hook, 360-gallon fuel cell, night vision compatible lighting, rescue hoist, augmented reality mapping system, and retractible drafting hose. It can cruise fully loaded at 130 knots (150 mph), or 150 knots (173 mph) unloaded.

Each of CAL FIRE’s new Firehawks costs about $24 million which includes pilot training and a two-year warranty.

The three photos seen here that were taken out of doors are by Kevin Falkenstine. He spotted the aircraft on the weekend of October 5 flying near the compass rose at Centennial Airport, which is where United Rotorcraft is located southeast of Denver.

CAL FIRE Firehawk helicopter 903
CAL FIRE’s Firehawk helicopter 903 at Centennial Airport southeast of Denver on the weekend of October 5, 2019, shortly before it was delivered to CAL FIRE in Sacramento. Photo by Kevin Falkenstine.
CAL FIRE Firehawk helicopter 903
CAL FIRE’s Firehawk helicopter 903 at Centennial Airport southeast of Denver on the weekend of October 5, 2019, shortly before it was delivered to CAL FIRE in Sacramento. Photo by Kevin Falkenstine.
CAL FIRE Firehawk helicopter 903
CAL FIRE’s Firehawk helicopter 903 at Sacramento McClellan airport October 12, 2019. United Rotorcraft/Sikorsky.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jack. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

L.A. County to purchase two new Firehawk helicopters

Tom Short
Tom Short, a Senior Pilot with Los Angeles County Fire Department, at Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department announced that they are going to purchase two additional Firehawk Helicopters. Adding two to their fleet will bring the total number of Firehawks up to seven. The Department also has five Bell 412 ships — three are the EP model and two are HP.

The last two Firehawks LA County ordered are still being outfitted for firefighting and should be operational in the next two to eight months.

Two scooping air tankers on lease from Canada are due to arrive in the County September 1.

Pilot’s view from a Firehawk

Dropping water on an active brush fire

Star Fire Los Angeles County
Pilot’s view from a Firehawk helicopter while dropping on the Star Fire in Los Angeles County, July 28, 2019. Screenshot from Mike Dubron video.

Michael Dubron, a helicopter pilot with Los Angeles County Fire, posted this impressive video shot during a drop on the Star Fire July 28, 2019. Mr. Dubron was flying a Sikorsky Firehawk, a variant of the Blackhawk converted for firefighting.

And, another:

As a bonus, below we have video posted by Mr. Dubron of cockpit video shot on the Skirball Fire in December, 2018:

Firefighting helicopters at John Day, Oregon

July 13, 2019

AS350B3 at John Day, Oregon
Firefighters prepare to depart for a new fire in an Airbus AS350B3 at John Day, Oregon July 13, 2019. Photo by Todd McKinley.

Todd McKinley sent us these excellent photos of helicopters working out of John Day, Oregon yesterday. He said the airport is staying busy with a variety of aircraft available this year.

Thanks Todd!

UH-60a helicopter John Day Oregon
A UH-60A Firehawk helicopter at John Day, Oregon July 13, 2019. Photo by Todd McKinley.
AS350B3 at John Day, Oregon
Airbus AS350B3 at John Day, Oregon July 13, 2019. Photo by Todd McKinley.

 

Firehawks are trending in the wildland fire service

helicopters firehawk
New Los Angeles County FD Firehawks. Photo by LA County FD. March, 2018. At that time it still needed to swap out the landing gear and have the belly tank installed.

Firehawk helicopters are becoming more popular across the wildland fire services, especially in California.

A rather loose definition of a Firehawk is a Blackhawk, a Sikorsky UH-60 or S-70i, usually with an aftermarket 1,000-gallon external water tank for fighting fires, and a suction hose for refilling while hovering.

The earliest Firehawk that we are aware of was used in 1998 when Los Angeles County leased one with a belly tank from Sikorsky for about four months. (I’m sure someone will correct me if there’s an earlier occurrence.) Since then many of the newly acquired firefighting helicopters have been, or will be, Firehawks. CAL FIRE has signed contracts and expects to have 12 brand new converted S-70i ships within three years. Their first fully modified aircraft should arrive in June. Other examples of Firehawks include — Los Angeles County’s five (not all are fully modified yet), San Diego Fire Rescue has a one (but it is not yet fully modified), Ventura County has started converting three HH-60L Blackhawks into Firehawks, and Coulson is partnering with Unical to convert about 10 UH-60 Blackhawks. There are also other companies that have various configurations of Blackhawks with tanks.

As far as I know most of the above ships will have external water tanks, which require installing a longer landing gear to raise the ship, making room for the belly tank. Coulson, on the other hand, is installing a version of their removable RADS tank internally, and at least one company, Simplex, for example, has built another version of a removable internal tank. The company had it on display last year in Sacramento and at HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta today.

 internal Blackhawk tank
Simplex internal Blackhawk tank.Seen at HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.
 internal Blackhawk tank
Seen at HAI Heli-Expo in Atlanta, March 5, 2019.

For the record, Sikorsky, the company that manufactures Blackhawks, does not support the use of an internal water tank in the ships. They are not worried about the floor being able to hold it, but are concerned that in the event of a hard landing the tank, especially when full, could pose a danger to the crew. A belly tank, their theory contends, would not threaten the crew as a projectile, but could crush under the aircraft, absorbing some of the energy — not unlike the crumple zone in the front of a well designed automobile.