By Ed Jensen, Airport Manager, Hot Springs Municipal Airport, South Dakota
The Hot Springs Municipal Airport has been a busy place this last month. The single engine air tanker (SEAT plane) based out of the Hot Springs Airport during the summer months has been especially busy. Just in the month of July alone, the Wildland Fire Division crew operating it has flown over eighty fire missions within western South Dakota. Wildland Fire was also quite busy with the Indian Canyon Fire by Edgemont, having four planes flying out of our airport to assist in putting that fire out. We are really glad to have them based here in Hot Springs for immediate the fire protection of our area.
Switching gears from firefighting operations at our airport, we also saw an increase of recreation users this last week during the Oshkosh, WI fly-in. Many planes traveling to Oshkosh for the fly in chose to land in Hot Springs for fuel with some renting hangar space for the night. Many also stopped again on their way home to refuel their planes. Separate of the fly-in, we were lucky enough to see a 7/8 scale P-51 Mustang land here on July 30th. For those familiar with aircraft, you know this was a sight to see.
Above: South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter drops water during training at Angostura Reservoir. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Four blackhawk helicopters and seven South Dakota National guard helicopter crews were put through their paces Friday at Hot Springs Municipal Airport and Angostura Reservoir. The flight crews were evaluated on dipping water from the lake, dropping it across, up, and down slopes, communication with firefighters, and hot refueling.
Firefighters on the ground practiced radio procedures with aviation resources, describing where water drops were needed.
This annual certification is required by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior and allows South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopters to respond to wildland fires.
In the video below, Ray Bubb of the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division describes the annual wildfire training.
Jim Fournier of New Frontier Aviation flies a Dromader single engine air tanker (SEAT) for the state of South Dakota. On September 1, 2015 we caught up with him at the SEAT base in Hot Springs a couple of hours after he dropped a load of retardant on the Bitter Creek Fire which enabled the firefighters on the ground to tie in the last piece of open fireline, stopping it at 87 acres. Tanker 455 put one 550-gallon load on the fire, split into two drops.
The Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) in South Dakota and Nebraska will have later starting dates than usual due to the abundance of moisture and very green herbaceous vegetation, as you can see by this photo taken in Wind Cave National Park a week ago.
For the last year or two South Dakota has brought on a contract SEAT July 1 but Jim Strain, the Chief Fire Management Officer for South Dakota’s Division of Wildland Fire, told us that it will start sometime after that, depending on how quickly things dry out. In 2012 they had a SEAT working out of Hot Springs in March. But, he said, this year it will definitely be on board before the start of the Sturgis motorcycle rally the first week of August. That event brings HUGE numbers of visitors to the Black Hills, and this year’s gathering is expected be larger than normal, since it is the 75th annual rally.
The Nebraska SEAT usually is based at Chadron, but the runway at the airport is being resurfaced this summer, so this year it will be either at Alliance or Valentine starting July 15.
Today the South Dakota National Guard Aviation Unit conducted their annual fire certification at Angostura Lake and the Hot Springs Airport. It was coordinated by the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division so that the National Guard Black Hawk helicopters can assist in suppressing wildland fires.
Crews were tested on fire aviation procedures which included dipping buckets attached to helicopters at a water source and accurately dropping the water on a target.
The helicopters used were Blackhawks and a Lakota. It was quite windy during the exercise, increasing the level of difficulty for the crews.