CAL FIRE receives new Firehawk helicopter

The agency is replacing its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey firefighting helicopters.

CAL FIRE's new S-70i
CAL FIRE’s new S-70i. Photo provided by CAL FIRE.

CAL FIRE posted these photos today of a new addition to their fleet of helicopters.

A year ago the agency received approval to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks) from United Rotorcraft. These will replace its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey helicopters.

CAL FIRE's new S-70i
CAL FIRE’s new S-70i. Photo provided by CAL FIRE.

United Rotorcraft reported on October 26, 2018 that it had a contract from CAL FIRE for 12 Firehawks, worth a total of $240 million.

United Rotorcraft is also outfitting various configurations of Firehawks for Ventura County, San Diego Fire Rescue Department, and Los Angeles County.

Firehawks can carry up to 1,000 gallons of water in a belly tank while cruising fully loaded at 130 knots (150 mph), or 150 knots (173 mph) unloaded.

CAL FIRE’s acquisition of new helicopter fleet still up in the air

CAL FIRE Firehawk
Model of CAL FIRE Firehawk, by Sikorsky. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

After several false starts over several years, CAL FIRE selected a variant of the Blackhawk to replace its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey firefighting helicopters, but that acquisition is stalled. In what appeared to be the final hurdle an administrative law judge ruled in December against a protest filed by a competing company clearing the way for CAL FIRE to purchase up to 12 new Sikorsky S-70i’s (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR).

When the effort began years ago to replace the fleet of aircraft that is now at the end of its useful life, the legislature was told each new helicopter would cost around $12 million, but they realized the price could escalate. The new Firehawks will run $24 million each with the additional features recently added by CAL FIRE and the Department of General Services.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Sacramento Bee:

The Governor’s Office and Cal Fire are ready to start buying the new machines. “We believe we have provided the Legislature with all the necessary and requested information to move forward on this project,” Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jim.
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CAL FIRE’s helicopter program

Barry Lloyd describes the coming transition from Hueys

Wednesday morning at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento, Barry Lloyd, CAL FIRE’s Helicopter Program manager spoke about some of their operational objectives and the possible transition to Sikorsky Firehawk ships.

California’s legislature has approved funding for replacing the 12 Vietnam War era Hueys with new helicopters. The contract has not yet been signed, but all indications are that the purchase will actually occur.

In Mr. Lloyd’s presentation he described the helicopter program and some of the specifications that led to the selection of the winning vendor.

One of his main points was that CAL FIRE’s goal is to respond to every fire in the state for which they have suppression responsibility, within 20 minutes, and contain 95 percent of all fires before they grow to 10 acres.

(UPDATE: we initially had approval to include about half a dozen slides from Mr. Lloyd’s presentation, but on March 16 higher level personnel in CAL FIRE rescinded that approval and asked that we delete them.)

CAL FIRE Firehawk
Model at Sikorsky’s booth at the Aerial Firefighting conference.
CAL FIRE helicopter program manager Barry Lloyd
Barry Lloyd, CAL FIRE Helicopter Program Manager. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE receives final approval to purchase new Sikorsky S-70i helicopters

Above: A Los Angeles County Fire Department Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter demonstrates a water drop during a 2013 airshow. Photo credit: Trent Bell.

An administrative law judge ruled last week against a protest filed by a competing company clearing the way for CAL FIRE to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR). This was in spite of the fact that their bid was $63.8 million higher than the one submitted by AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation (AWPC, part of Leonardo Helicopters). When adjustments were made after the protest, there were only two points separating the analysis of the two proposals, out of a possible 1,000 points.

AWPC intended to supply the AW189 which are popular in the offshore oil industry.

Los Angeles County Fire Department has successfully used the Firehawk for several years and just received two more. Firehawk Helicopters in Boise operates several S-70’s.

firehawk helicopter
N137BH, a Sikorsky S-70 “Firehawk” flies to refill its water bucket after dropping on the Rankin Fire in South Dakota September 13, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE will replace up to 12 of their aging Bell Super Huey helicopter with the Firehawks.

CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey helicopter
One of the few CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey helicopters that still has “CDF” painted on the tail. The photo was taken March 24, 2016 at the CAL FIRE facilities at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento, California by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE began the contracting process for the new helicopters in 2015 or early 2016. There were issues with the first attempt and the solicitation and bids were all thrown out. After the second round the agency announced on August 2, 2017 that they “intended” to award the contract to AMUR for the Firehawk but there would be a period to allow protests to be filed.

Vertical Magazine has an in-depth article about the protest.

CAL FIRE selects Blackhawk as replacement for Super Huey helicopters

Above: A CAL FIRE Super Huey undergoing winter maintenance at the agency’s aviation facility at McClellan Air Field March 24, 2016. This was one of the few CAL FIRE helicopters that still has “CDF” painted on the tail.

(Originally published at 8:40 a.m. MDT August 3, 2017)

The last time we wrote about the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s (CAL FIRE) attempt to purchase a new fleet of firefighting helicopters they had just thrown out the submitted bids. The potential suppliers hoping to replace CAL FIRE’s 12 Super Hueys interpreted the solicitation specs in different ways. One company, for example, was bidding on what they assumed were apples, while another was picturing oranges. Then it was back to the drawing board.

That process is nearing completion, with the announcement yesterday by CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott that they “intend” to award the contract to Air Methods/United Rotorcraft of Englewood, Colorado, which offered the Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk, configured as a civilian version of the UH-60 Black Hawk.

Sikorsky S-70i Black_Hawk
Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk (reg. SP-YVC), built by PZL-Mielec in Poland, at ILA Berlin Air Show 2012. Photo by Julian Herzog.

Before the contract is signed other bidders have the opportunity to protest the award. If one is filed, the final decision will be made by a neutral administrative law judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings.

The original plan in 2016 was to buy nine helicopters — about three a year for three years, with an option to spring for an even dozen. But that commitment appears to have changed.

“Even after a contract is awarded”, Chief Pimlott said yesterday, “the number and timing of the State’s orders will be determined on a year-by-year basis. The contract does not commit the State to any specific number of purchases or delivery schedule.”

Since 2010 at least some, if not all, Sikorsky S-70i’s have been built by Poland-based PZL Mielec, a subsidiary of Sikorsky Aircraft. Sikorsky, now owned by Lockheed Martin, advertises the helicopter as being suitable for utility uses and complex search and rescue missions. It can be ordered with a window gun — or at least a mount for one.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jerome and Norman.
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