First flight for a Washington DNR helicopter

First flight for N342WN Washington DNR helicopter
This tweet was posted by George Geissler, a Washington State Forester and Deputy Supervisor, Wildland Fire Management and Forest Resiliency.

Congratulations to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources for the first flight of their 10th helicopter. The agency began acquiring their military surplus UH-1H (B-205) ships in 1989 through the Federal Excess Property Program.

In an interview last September Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz talked about their aviation program and the addition of this helicopter. She believes in aggressive initial attack and keeping fires small:

“Helicopters are number one in initial attack and being able to get on top of fires quickly, get them contained, and help our firefighters get in safely… And then we can put the fire out and move on to the next one.”

Washington DNR acquiring their 10th helicopter

Their fleet is comprised of military surplus UH-1H ships

Washington DNR UH-1 Huey
A Washington DNR Huey. Photo by Washington DNR.

The Washington state Department of Natural Resources will be acquiring their tenth helicopter. The agency began acquiring their military surplus UH-1H (B-205) ships in 1989.

Last year we wrote a profile of the Washington DNR helicopter program.

SEAT makes hard landing while fighting wildfire in Washington

Pilot self-extricates, was transported hospital

On August 14 a Single Engine Air Tanker made a forced hard landing while working on the Horns Mountain Fire in Northern Washington. The pilot was transported to a hospital.

Air Spray USA, Inc, the company that owns the aircraft, stated:

The aircraft experienced an unknown problem on the fire it was working near the US/Canadian border. The pilot executed a forced landing on a logging road and was able to exit the aircraft. He was transported to the hospital. No other information is available at this time. An investigation is in process.

Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said on Twitter that the pilot is OK and receiving medical attention.

KXLY reported that the Department of Natural Resources told them the pilot survived the crash and was able to crawl to a nearby road to get help.

The aircraft was one of five amphibious FireBoss air tankers assigned to the fire Tuesday.

map Horns Mountain Fire
Map showing the location of the Horns Mountain Fire.

The lightning-caused fire has burned 832 acres in Washington southeast of Christina Lake, BC since it started August 11.

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

Washington DNR prepares helicopter fleet for wildfire season

Washington DNR's UH-1H helicopters

Above: One of Washington DNR’s UH-1H helicopters. Washington DNR photo.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources is getting their fleet of eight helicopters ready for the coming wildfire season. The agency began acquiring their military surplus UH-1H (B-205) ships in 1989.

The DNR started their helicopter program in the 1960’s with two Bell-47’s used for recon and carrying a 50-gallon water bucket which was designed by one of their pilots, Harold Clark. By the mid-1970’s the Kaman Husky, which could carry up to 450 gallons, replaced the Bell-47’s. Those six Kaman’s were phased out in the late 1970’s due to a shortage of spare rotor blades and the availability of the more reliable and faster Huey UH-1B, which were replaced by the UH-1H about 10 years later.

Kaman Husky
A Washington DNR Kaman Husky from the 1970’s. It had interlocking rotors, not unlike the present day Kaman K-MAX. DNR photo.

The agency now has a program manager, one helicopter coordinator, 11 U.S. Forest Service certified helicopter pilots, 6 aviation maintenance technicians (AMT) who maintain, and configure the aircraft, and one chief pilot who leads the team. Usually 7 helicopters are deployed, with one held in reserve as a spare.

All of the pilots have current Class II Medical Certificates and FAA Commercial Rotor Wing Certificates. Many maintain an FAA Certified Instrument Instructor rating and Airline Transport pilot certification.

In addition to the pilots and mechanics, the staffing includes one transportation supervisor, 7 helicopter managers, 7 squad leaders, 14 firefighters, and 8 support drivers. All helitack modules have an incident commander. Generally they stage at Omak, Deer Park, Dallesport, Pomeroy, Wenatchee, Colville and Olympia.

Washington DNR's UH-1H helicopters
Maintenance on Washington DNR’s UH-1H helicopters. DNR photo.

Below is an excerpt from an article at

The department pays for fuel, operations and maintenance, which works out to about $1,600 an hour when they fly.

Dropping water on forest fires can be rugged work. But while these “Hueys” are old – the most senior helicopter in the DNR fleet came off the factory line in 1963 and did two tours in Vietnam, where it was shot down twice – they’re extremely reliable and spare parts are plentiful.

Washington DNR's UH-1H helicopters crew
Washington DNR photo

Air Force reconnaissance aircraft is being used to detect and map wildfires in the Northwest

An RC-26 from Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane is assisting with situational awareness in the firefighting effort.


Above: An example of an RC-26, in this case a Texas Air National Guard aircraft. ANG photo.

(Originally published at 1:52 p.m. MDT August 16, 2017)

A military plane frequently used for supporting Special Forces is assisting wildland firefighters in Washington and Oregon. The Fairchild C-26 “Metroliner” twin turboprop from the 141st Air Refueling Wing was activated by the National Interagency Coordination Center on August 12 to perform up to three different types of missions using its array of infrared and video sensors.

  • Detect new fires, especially following lightning events. One of the goals is to find small fires early so they can be attacked before growing large.
  • Map existing fires, usually at night, to determine the perimeter and intensity.
  • Downlink live video to inform fire managers about the current status, location, and behavior of the fire. The Air Force calls that process “DRTI”, Distributed Real-Time Infrared.

Lt. Col. Jeremy Higgens, one of the pilots on the aircraft that requires a three-person crew, told us today that so far on this assignment they have been mapping and detecting fires, but have not yet been asked to stream any live video like they did when on a similar assignment in 2016. On the ground two displays are available, the video from the sensors and another with a map showing the location of the aircraft or the sensors’ target.

The plane is expected to work the fires seven days a week, so they brought a total of five people to provide daily service.

Lt. Col. Higgens said the infrared sensors can detect a fire that is 50 to 80 miles away. They have been flying one to two sorties a day each lasting for three to five hours. Their mapping data is sent to Geographic Information System (GIS) operators in Portland or Boise who analyze it and produce maps.

Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft”
Colorado’s Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft” at McClellan Air Field March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Two State of Colorado Pilatus PC-12 Multi-Mission Aircraft with similar capabilities were also mobilized earlier this summer to assist with wildfire detection and mapping and are currently operating from Redding, California and Missoula, Montana.

A couple of decades ago the U.S. Forest Service had a variant of the RC-26, a Swearingen Merlin affectionately known as a Flying Culvert outfitted with infrared equipment for detecting and mapping fires. Now they operate a King Air turboprop and a Citation jet for that mission.

Yakima firefighters save helicopter from crash landing

Last week members of the Yakima Fire Department rushed to save a damaged helicopter from a crash landing at the Yakima Air Terminal.

The helicopter had been on a search and rescue mission for a lost hiker when its fuselage and one of its skids were heavily damaged, according to local media reports. 

In dramatic fashion, the helicopter was forced to hover over the tarmac while firefighters cobbled together a landing platform out of wooden palettes, The Yakima Herald reported. Some crew members and passengers jumped out of the helicopter while it hovered.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Patrick.

Snake on a helicopter

No, this is not a movie. It happened for real on the Kettle Complex of fires in Washington August 27, 2015.

Below is the Rapid Lesson Sharing report from the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center. It is told from the perspective of the Helicopter Manager.


Snake on helicopterOperations had us go up and do some recon. One of the fires in the Complex was picking up and had spotted. We were going to check that out.

About five minutes after taking off, I look down and there’s a snake looking up at me. He’s by my right foot pedal, crawling out just inches from my foot. Right before the flight, I’d been talking to a local landowner about rattlesnakes—so that’s my first thought.

I pull my foot back from the snake and it crawls into the helicopter’s clear “chin bubble”. It looked to be about 12-18 inches long with diamonds on its back—like a rattlesnake. But I couldn’t see its tail.

I say to the pilot: “I don’t want to freak you out.”

Pilot: “What?”

“I got a snake by my feet.”

Pilot: “What?!!”

“Yeah, it’s for real.”

Can’t Do Mission Due to Snake in Helicopter

Searching for snake helicopter
Searching for the snake.

I radio Operations and Helibase to inform that I can’t do the mission due to a snake in my helicopter.

As we return to Helibase, there is a suggestion. Apparently, the fuel truck driver likes snakes, so maybe he could get it out and we could take off.

I decide, no. Let’s not try to do that with rotors running.

So we land and shut down.  The snake now slides into a hole in the cowling under my seat. While we are looking for it, he pokes his head out a few times—and retreats back inside the cowling.

Not a Rattlesnake

One of the guys gets a look at the snake’s face. He says it’s not a rattlesnake. He says it could be a bull snake; they also have diamonds on their backs. We’re informed that most of the rattlesnakes in this area are timber rattlers. So we figure this one is probably a bull snake.

Can’t Find Snake—Decide to Put Helicopter Back in Service

We pull the helicopter apart trying to find the darned snake—but we never do locate it. We make the decision to put the aircraft back in service—even though the snake could be anywhere.

So, how did the snake get into the helicopter? We think it either crawled up the long line into the belly, or was hiding in someone’s line gear or in the bucket bag when we loaded it. (A SAFECOM was filed on this incident, #15-073).

Eight Days Later, Snake Crawls Out Again

Eight days later, while the relief pilot is in flight, the snake crawls out again.

The pilot lands and the fuel truck driver grabs it. It is confirmed to be a bull snake. It is released unharmed.

Bull snake


Submitted by: Brad Mayhew, Damen Therkildsen, and Patrick Romportl with support from the Pacific Northwest Wildfire Coordinating Group.

Helicopter pilot shortage at Washington DNR

A shortage of pilots is grounding some of the Washington DNR helicopters.

Washington DNR UH-1 Huey
A Washington DNR UH-1 Huey. Photo by Washington DNR.

The acting Chief Pilot for the Washington Department of Natural Resources said a shortage of pilots is grounding some of their helicopters. The DNR has eight UH-1 Hueys in their fleet and their goal is to have at least six operational at any given time during the fire season.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Seattle Times:

Just days before a series of deadly, record-setting wildfires began exploding across Washington, the acting chief pilot for the state’s wildfire-attack helicopters wrote a letter to his superiors.

Unfilled pilot positions were grounding some helicopters, John Adolphson wrote to senior staff at the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Of the agency’s eight helicopters, “Right now we can only fly between 4-5 DNR helicopters because we don’t have the pilots,” Adolphson wrote in a letter sent Aug. 11 and obtained by The Seattle Times.

Adolphson argued low pay was making it hard to recruit pilots, and the state should spend some of the money it uses to contract for additional helicopters to beef up its own staff…

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick.