Above: CH-54B, N722HT, at the Saddle Ridge Fire. Stonebrookphotography.
These photos of helicopters refilling at the Chatsworth Lake helispot during the Saddle Ridge Fire were taken by Stonebrookphotography October 11, 2019.
The fire has burned 7,965 acres and 21 structures on the north side of Los Angeles. Strong north to northeast Santa Ana winds caused the fire to spread seven miles across Southern California, from Sylmar to Granda Hills and almost to Chatsworth. More information is at Wildfire Today.
During the 2017-2018 bushfire season in Australia two helicopters were approved for dropping water at night with the use of night vision goggles (NVG) by the pilots. At least one of the ships, an S-61, was approved for hover refilling which was the first time this had been done anywhere.
Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), said the program will continue during the 2019-2020 fire season that is just beginning. This summer there will be a Coulson S-61 based initially at Ballarat, Victoria and a Bell 412 operated by Kestrel out of Mangalore, Victoria.
“Both machines are tank-equipped and capable of hover filling at night,” Mr. Alder explained. “Supervision and support will again be provided by a Coulson NVG equipped S-76 [helicopter] and a number of other locally based NVG equipped Type 3 helicopters. It is hoped that the night program will be able to move into initial attack over the course of the 2019/2020 season, but this still requires some work to establish appropriate systems of work and procedures for initial attack.”
Last summer NAFC started thinking seriously about fixed wing air tankers working at night. They are still interested in having that capability but are taking a “crawl, walk, run approach”, Mr. Alder said. The agency is working with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and vendors on parameters for a trial, and hope to make some progress over the 2019-2020 fire season.
Above: A second large air tanker is now operational in New South Wales. On September 24 an RJ85, Tanker 165 known as “Boomer”, completed final testing and became available joining Tanker 138, a B-737. NSW RFS photo.
As Australia moves into their summer and enters the traditional beginning of their bushfire season the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) in finalizing the lineup of firefighting aircraft for the 2019-2020 season. Contracts are in place for four large privately owned large air tankers and nine large Type 1 helicopters. In addition they will have the 737 that the New South Wales Rural Fire Service purchased earlier this year.
Large Air Tankers on exclusive use contracts
Already in place and available are the NSW RFS 737 (Tanker 138) and a FieldAir/Conair Avro RJ85 (Tanker 165) both based for now on the outskirts of Sydney at Richmond, New South Wales.
In early November the mandatory availability period (MAP) begins for what will be either another 737 or a C-130Q at Richmond, provided by Coulson.
Richard Alder, the General Manager of NAFC, said, “The contract with Coulson allows for either a 737 or C-130Q. The final decision on which type will be made shortly, according to how the season is developing.”
In early to mid-December the MAPs for two other large airtankers will begin for another C-130Q and a RJ85 from Coulson and FieldAir/Conair, respectively. The scheduled base for the two aircraft is Avalon, Victoria.
Like the United States and other fire-prone areas, Australia has been experiencing wildfires during times of the year when traditionally they did not occur in large numbers. The 737 air tanker that was delivered to the NSW RFS two months ago has been busy during much of the Australian winter, completing 60 missions and delivering 237,000 gallons of water and retardant.
The nine Type 1 helicopters under exclusive use contract will include six S-64E Air-Cranes (Kestrel/Erickson) and three S-61s (Coulson). Two of the Air-Cranes will be at Bankstown, and one each at Melbourne (Essendon), Melbourne (Moorabbin), Adelaide, and Perth.
The three S-61s are to be based in Victoria at Colac, Mansfield, and Ballarat.
The base locations for all of the aircraft could change throughout the summer as the bushfire season progresses.
Single Engine Air Tankers
The recent tender process for SEATs has not yet been signed off, but Mr. Alder expects there will be about 45 on national exclusive use contracts plus another six contracted directly to state government agencies. This is 8 less than in 2018/2019.
(Above: Coulson S-61 helicopters, N161CGD and C-FXEC, in Los Leones, Chihuahua, Mexico August 31, 2019. Coulson photo.)
Coulson Aviation announced Saturday night that the company has secured a contract with the Bolivian Ministry of Defense to provide three Type 1 helicopters to assist the firefighters that are battling wildfires.
After a few flight legs in the Western United States, two of the company’s S-61 helicopters departed from Tucson on Saturday August 31 and shortly thereafter crossed the border into Mexico.
An update appeared on Coulson’s Facebook page Sunday afternoon:
FLYING TO BOLIVIA!
The first two helicopters, S-61’s N161CG and C-FXEC are en Route to Bolivia and have just departed Saltillo, Mexico.
The crews have a long few days ahead of them, XEC started its journey in Yakima, WA while 161CG was in Elko, NV when we signed the agreement. Immediately both aircraft flew to San Bernardino, CA to load up and begin the long 4,900 NM journey to Santa Cruz, Bolivia.
The third aircraft will be leaving shortly, although taking a very different route!
They did not specify which aircraft the company will send as the third helicopter. In addition to S-61s, Coulson has recently been converting CH-47s and Blackhawks into firefighting machines. But they also have at least one more S-61, registered as C-FIRX. Having three of the same model in South America would simplify maintenance, spare parts inventory, and repairs.
This month the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) is beginning a trial of a night-flying firefighting helicopter that can refill its collapsable external water tank while hovering. Thanks to a $4 million grant from Southern California Edison the OCFA has awarded a 150-day contract to Coulson Aviation for two helicopters that will be based at the Fullerton Municipal Airport northwest of Anaheim, California (map).
The one that will be most visible is an S-61 that can carry up to 1,000 gallons of water. As demonstrated during the recent bushfire season in Australia the Coulson helicopter can hover over a water tank at night and use a hose to refill the tank. Night-flying helicopters have been used in the United States since the 1970s to fight fires, but until a few months ago they always had to land to reload, with firefighters on the ground dragging hose, connecting it, pumping water into the tank, disconnecting, and moving out of the way as the helicopter takes off. Hover refilling is more time-efficient.
Firefighting at night can be more effective, since usually winds subside, relative humidity increases, and temperatures decrease, resulting in lower intensity and rates of spread.
The second helicopter that is part of the trial is a Sikorsky S-76 that will work with the S-61 to provide intelligence, evaluate effectiveness, and identify targets with a laser designator. In Australia the S-76 orbited approximately 1,000 feet above the S-61 and used a GPS controlled illuminated laser pointer to inform the water dropping helicopter where to drop the loads. The S-61 is fitted with night vision goggles but also has twin adjustable Night Suns on the landing gear along with the helicopter searchlights.
The two helicopters will be staffed 24/7 and will be available to all regions serviced by Southern California Edison including Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.
Orange County’s regular helicopter fleet consists of two Super Hueys and two Bell 412ep ships, and has been using night-flying helicopters for years.
Nightflying BrushFire helicopters. OCFA Chief Brian Fennesey announces 150 day trial of Helo’s with Night Vision Technology for aerial brush fire attacks. Smaller chopper directs water drops & gives readings on effectiveness. So Cal Edison provides $4 M funding. @KNX1070pic.twitter.com/H8WGd0bi9y
Two of Coulson’s helicopters have completed their trip on board a ship and have arrived in Australia. The company is in the midst of putting them back together in a hangar in Avalon. The S-61 due to its size had to be broken down more than the S-76, but the mechanics have done this several times before.
The two ships will be used in the Aussie’s night vision goggle firefighting program, with training beginning November 7. The S-61 will be double crewed, providing assistance to firefighters well into the night. It will be capable of filling while hovering, something the North American firefighting agencies have not done.
Australia’s National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) has virtually settled on its lineup of the country’s firefighting aircraft for the 2018-2019 bushfire season which is getting underway. It was just a few years ago that they had no large air tankers, but this season they will have six privately owned large air tankers on contract, including three RJ85s, two C-130Qs, and one 737.
Large air tankers:
RJ85, T-165 (Aeroflite/Conair via FieldAir) based in Sydney (Richmond) – already in place;
B-737, T-137 (Coulson) based in Sydney (Richmond) – subject to regulatory approvals;
RJ85, T-166 (Aeroflite/Conair via FieldAir) based in Sydney (Richmond)/Dubbo;
C-130Q, T-134 (Coulson) based in Sydney (Richmond) – already in place. (This is an “extra” for the 2018-19 season only, considering the predicted above-normal potential of the fire season on the east coast of Australia);
RJ85, T-163 (Aeroflite/Conair via FieldAir) based in Melbourne (Avalon);
C-130Q, T-131 (Coulson) based in Melbourne (Avalon)
In addition, NAFC will have 51 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) on contract across the country, including 2 amphibious water-scooping Fire Bosses. Another 8 SEATs have been contracted directly by State agencies. The SEATs can also be supplemented by other aircraft on Call When Needed (CWN) arrangements if required.
There will be 77 Helicopters of all types for a variety of roles across the country. This includes six Erickson S-64E Aircranes, as well as five Type 2 /Type 3 helicopters that will be specially equipped for intelligence gathering, with gimbaled sensors and on-board image processing, mapping, and transmission gear.
This season one Type 1 helicopter (a Coulson S-61) based at Ballarat, Victoria and one Type 2 helicopter (a Kestrel Aviation Bell 412) based at Mangalore, Victoria will have a Night Vision Imaging Systems or Night Vision Goggles (NVIS/NVG) for water dropping. Several other Type 2 and Type 3 helicopters based in Victoria and New South Wales will be capable of NVIS mapping, reconnaissance, supervision and aerial ignition.
“We aim to continue and extend the helicopter NVIS firebombing trial in Victoria, operationalizing the learnings from the Victorian trial earlier this year, but it will be in small, careful steps” Richard Alder, General Manager of NAFC said. “At this stage”, he continued, “it is anticipated that night firebombing will only occur on fires where the aircraft crew has operated during the day – so at this stage there won’t be any initial attack at night.”
Night flying air tanker
Mr. Alder said they may experiment toward the end of the 2018/2019 bushfire season with a fixed wing large airtanker (the C-130Q, T-131) using NVIS/NVG, but there is much work still to be done to design the trial and obtain the necessary regulatory approvals.
“Fighting fires in the dark hours, in the cooler part of the night or in the early parts of the morning would enable us to get on top of fires quicker, particularly those in remote parts of Victoria where access may be difficult,” Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said Monday.
“While the use of night vision goggles and infrared technology isn’t new, these have not been used together in Australia. We are very keen to trial this capability, and understand how it would work in a system, and make it safe to do so.”
CASA has approved the trial which will involve controlled conditions at all times.
The first of its kind in Australia, the test will be based at Ballarat Airport. Emergency Management Victoria is the lead with Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Country Fire Authority, and the National Aerial Firefighting Centre.
The trial will test the ability to hover-fill helicopters at night and the efficiency of night vision technology, including infrared systems and night vision goggles.
Several agencies in Southern California have been conducting night helicopter operations for years, but their SOPs require that they land to refill with water, rather than hover-fill. One of the reasons is that the B-212’s and B-412’s create too much mist for the pilots to see with night vision goggles.
The results of the trial will guide the future use of night-time aerial firebombing operations in Victoria as well as other states and territories.
Two firefighting helicopters operated by Coulson Aviation are participating in the trial. A Sikorsky S-61 will drop water while a Sikorsky S-76 will provide intelligence, evaluate effectiveness, and identify targets with a laser designator.
In the trial the S-76 Firewatch helicopter orbited approximately 1,000 feet above the S-61 water dropping operation. It used a GPS controlled illuminated laser pointer to inform the fire bombing helicopter where to drop the loads. The S-61 is fitted with night vision goggles, but also has twin adjustable Night Suns on the landing gear along with the helicopter searchlights.
In the video below an australian official says the next step is to consider using fixed wing air tankers at night.