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.

San Diego to get a new Sikorsky Firehawk

The City of San Diego Fire Department expects to receive their new Sikorsky Firehawk helicopter in October. Their staff just completed simulator and hands-on flight training for the new aircraft.

San Diego will borrow a scooping air tanker

SEAT Tanker 210 Fire Boss

Above: Aero Spray’s Tanker 210 makes a demonstration drop in San Diego County on June 22. Screen grab from San Diego Fire-Rescue’s video.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department will have the free use of an amphibious Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss single engine air tanker for about six weeks this summer. They worked out a deal with Aero Spray to have the aircraft available through the end of July. (The Aero Spray company should not be confused with Aero-Flite, Aero Tech, or Air Spray — all are different outfits.)

Over the last 15 to 20 years the city of San Diego and the County of San Diego have both been criticized for fighting wildland fire on the cheap. In 2008 Wildfire Today covered the last time the City contracted for scooping air tankers, when they actually paid for two Bombardier CL-415 Superscoopers and a lead plane for three months. The City has at least two Type 2 helicopters with belly tanks for dropping water on fires. According to the department’s web site, they are also used for:

…hoist-air rescue, short-haul air rescue, shoreline rescue, helicopter swiftwater rescue, night vision goggle operations, patient transport, vehicle rescue, large animal rescue, fire mapping, infrared detection, disaster assessment, and have the ability to assist in high-rise fire incidents.

Joanna Clark, with Aero Spray’s communication firm, told us that three lakes have been approved as scooping sites, Lower Otay Lake, Sweetwater Reservoir, and Lake Hodges. 

The Aero Spray Fire Boss can carry up to 800 gallons of water it scoops from a lake. It has a thermal infrared system to assist the pilot in targeting hot spots. Jamie Sargent from the company said half of their nine Fire Bosses have blending systems for mixing gel into the water to increase its effectiveness.

The arrangement between the City and Aero Spray was announced June 22 at Lower Otay Lake where a Fire Boss made demonstration drops for the media, as seen in the video below.

San Diego to add a third firefighting helicopter

san diego county helicopter
San Diego County’s Bell 205 A-1 ++. Photo credit: San Diego County Sheriff Department.

San Diego County is adding a third helicopter to its firefighting fleet.

The Bell 205 A-1 ++ will be based at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, California and flown by ASTREA, the Sheriff’s Department aviation unit. It will have a hoist that can rescue injured firefighters and includes a 375-gallon external belly tank for fire suppression. The Board of Supervisors called for the new helicopter in the wake of the May, 2014 wildfires.

ASTREA crew members work with CAL FIRE in the rescue role. While ASTREA deputy sheriffs pilot the helicopter, CAL FIRE personnel operate the hoist and deploy on the hoist cable to assist victims on the ground.

San Diego County already has two other Bell 205 A-1 ++, as well as other helicopters used for law enforcement, including an MD530F, an MD500D, and Two Bell 407s.

Southern California adds to its helicopter fleet

San Diego County will be adding a third firefighting helicopter to their fleet, implementing one of the recommendations in a report on the 14 fires that broke out in May in the northern part of the county. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday allocated $5.2 million for another helicopter to become part of the County Sheriff’s stable of aircraft.

Photo by San Diego County.

The Supervisors also approved contracting with the city of San Diego to use its night-flying helicopters for fighting fires or making rescues at night.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s office Astrea unit (Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies) currently operates the following helicopters:

  • One MD500D. This is the oldest in the fleet, the workhorse of ASTREA since the late 1980s. The “D” model will eventually be replaced with a more powerful helicopter.
  • Three MD500F, better suited for high altitude and high temperatures than the MD500D.
  • Two Bell 205 A1++, for fire and rescue
  • One Bell 407 equipped with a data-link antenna and associated hardware which makes it possible to pass a live video feed to ground personnel. It  is also equipped with a FLIR 8500 thermal imager with laser designator.