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Helicopter Fire-fighting (Merged threads)

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Helicopter Fire-fighting (Merged threads)

Old 1st Jul 2002, 08:29
  #1 (permalink)  
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Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: UK
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Lightbulb Helicopter Fire-fighting (Merged threads)

I see in the Press that the number of Fire Department helicopters in the US is increasing - perhaps not surprising in light of recent events.
Honolulu Fire Department Gains Second Helicopter
Honolulu Fire Department has replaced it's backup helicopter which was destroyed in a fatal crash in 1995. The new Air Two, a 1992 NOTAR MD-520, will be housed with Air One at the Honolulu Airport.
And San Diego gets its first
San Diego Fire Department hopes to have a the Bell 212 HP operational by August 3 - just in time for a potentially explosive fire season.
Los Angeles County has 16 firefighting helicopters and Orange County has 3. San Diego has been relying on federal helicopters which are delayed because they are not based in the County.
A private company will operate the aircraft.

Have any Rotorheads got experience of this type of work?
Please tell us about it.
Techniques for loading water, and fighting the fires?
Special considerations, particular problems, dangers etc
Heliport is offline  
Old 1st Jul 2002, 10:12
  #2 (permalink)  
Join Date: May 2002
Location: New Zealand
Posts: 6

Yes, I will stick my hand up and say I have done a wee bit of fire fighting.
Would have to say that it is the most interesting and rewarding flying that I have ever done.
Was involved in the Sydney Christmas/New Year fires of 2002 and had a blast.

Head out of door more accurate than Mirror
One issue that I am sure could spark a debate is the head out the door versus using a mirror technique. I'm a head out the door man myself, as I like to see where my water ends up and have seen a lot of mirror men miss the spot. Not saying for a minute that I have never missed, as we all lay water around the fire from time to time (usually when there is a camera pointed at you or the fire boss is watching from above), but I find it very hard to believe that a pilot with their head in the door can have a higher accuracy than someone who is looking at the their aiming point right up to the water/retardant release.
Long Line more precise than Short
Another difference in techniques is the preference of using a short line versus a long line. I myself prefer using a long line as it once again enables the pilot to drop with a bit of precision, as you blades are not munching on the foliage while trying to get the bucket close to the hot bit so that your water does not turn into steam on the way down (and fog up your mirror??).

I am by no stretch of the imagination an experienced fire fighting pilot as I would only have 250 hours of fire fighting under my belt, but I think I have done enough to offer a small amount of expertise to any budding fire fighting pilot.


Last edited by Heliport; 1st Jul 2002 at 12:03.
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Old 1st Jul 2002, 10:29
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Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Gold Coast, Australia
Age: 72
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Having skirted around a few flames over the years, I'd add to IC's comment about mirrors/doors off. IMHO, having delighted in blatting around with the door on, and the air con flat out for the past 5 years, and spent 26 out of 28 days on the same Sydney fires as IC with the door off, it makes little difference to the accuracy of the drop.

BUT not having a mirror can make a huge difference to the water pick up. I've watched many a driver with his head out the door, trying to watch the bucket, and getting into unusual attitudes I wouldn't contemplate at altitude, let alone 10 ft !! How one driver got away with getting the tail fin wet, but not the tail rotor, reminded me to pick up my water just a bit further away......

Heliport, you're asking for enough info to fill a book (or training manual)

Type of pickup/drop (ie bucket or tank), type of aircraft, type of fire, type of drop, etc etc. Long line, bucket on the hook, Sacksafoam, duty times, hours limits, engine comp washes, refuel dramas, Air Attack Supervisors (different from state to state), helibase personnel.

Where would you like us to start

C'mon John. You're being far too modest. Your posts on techniques are always excellent. Pick one or three of your list of topics and go for it!

Last edited by Heliport; 1st Jul 2002 at 12:00.
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Old 1st Jul 2002, 10:59
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We used long lines in Miramichi last year to resupply relay tanks, that is one in the relay, 2 on the drop and so on. That was only so we could clear the trees, otherwise I prefer a short line, particularly with using the twinStar/Astar, where the line needs to be at least 100 feet.
The big problem with the long line is that it's difficult to see whether the bucket electrics go into the water if you can't see it properly, so they get wet and short out.

If anyone's interested, here's a bit from the helicopter Pilot's Handbook:

This is subject to the normal restrictions, such as weather or night, although fixed wing fire bombing operations do take place in darkness. You may be asked either to help fight the fire itself, move men and materials over natural barriers, scan with FLIR or report its dimensions back to the fire boss. Above a certain size, however, you won't be putting anything out , but rather slowing things down so the guys on the ground who do the real work can get on with it. Of course, what actually happens is a system of organised chaos, where it’s hard to tell if anyone really knows what’s going on and you end up fighting a little bit all by yourself. Otherwise, if you're not part of the operation, you should not be within 5 nm and below 3000 feet agl of the fire's limits. Anyone joining in should be in touch with the bird dog, if there is one—this is a light plane or helicopter used to control the water tankers, and you need to be told when they are coming so you can get out of the way.

Water bombers will be used either to drop retardant or water, sometimes with foam (which should not be dropped near anywhere environmentally sensitive). Retardant is phosphate fertiliser and water, with a dye so you can see where it hit.
Skimmers (like the CL415) pick water up from nearby lakes, but others get reloaded from nearby airstrips prepared for the purpose. Retardant is not actually used on the fire, but around it, so it is contained in a smaller area and allowed to burn out. There will often be dozers trying to create a break round the fire for the same purpose if it is small enough.
Bombers do not usually get below 150 feet, as the water pattern will get disrupted, so your safest height is well below that.

Helicopters make use of handy sources of water, like swimming pools or small rivers, typically using the Bambi Fire Bucket. These days, the minimum machine is likely to be the AStar B2, with anything lower in performance, such as the 206, being relegated to observation or putting out hot spots, since the bucket size is only 90 gallons. In most cases, the killing time is between 30-45 minutes from the start of the fire, so, if you're on standby, your response time should be as fast as possible.

In this case, you will typically be teamed up with three firefighters and their associated gear, which will fill every available hole in the cabin and baggage compartments. You will need enough fuel to get them to the spot and be useful while you're there, and get them back again, so, on the way, take note of the nearest airfield or refuelling spot. If the fire gets big enough, they may well bring fuel down in drums, but by that time the bombers could well be there anyway and you will be sent off to another one.
Your task, as an initial attack team, is just to stamp on a fire just starting, but you could well be involved in just slowing it down around people or property. You will get your instructions from the bird dog. Directions are given with reference to the head or tail of the fire, which are the downwind and upwind ends, respectively. Left and right flanks are counted from the tail to the head.

Anyhow, picking up water in single-engined helicopters beyond gliding distance from shore has the usual problems, plus possible disorientation if you go too far in. Fast moving streams don’t help, making you feel as if you were moving the wrong way, so it’s best to find a calm area, as otherwise you will have to move the helicopter to keep up with the water, ending up in a fast taxi unawares – always face the flow of the stream. Approach the water with some forward speed so the bucket tips over and starts to fill as you progress, as it has a tendency to drift forward otherwise. Get into a low hover, which will help push it under, and lift it mostly out. If you're heavy (i.e. with a lot of fuel), keep the power on and pull the bucket forward in one smooth movement, using translational lift to get airborne.
You will find that the wind direction is critical. Be careful if you're longlining with a bucket, as the connector plug for the release is difficult to see and might go under water where it shorts out. Longlining would be used where the trees are very tall and there is no water for the hoses nearby—the team will have a small relay tank for you to fill.

When actually bombing, there is about a second's delay between pressing the button and the liquid reaching its target, and pulling up before doing so will help stop the bucket swinging and making you miss in high winds, aside from punching it into the target. Although there is a risk of fanning the flames, you do need to get low over the fire, and preferably slow, as a good dousing will do most to kill them - evaporation will take its toll on whatever is dropped, ensuring that only so much of it is actually effective, and raising the humidity.
Hovering is not recommended, as your downwash may not only fan the fire (even up to twice tree height), but also blow up ash and produce a similar effect to whiteout (the ash will also stick to your windscreen, which will likely be wet from the water pickup). Dropping at some speed over an area is mostly used for cooling purposes after the flames are out, as a fire can stay underground for days. IR scanning is used to detect hotspots afterwards.

In valleys, be aware of the extra power required to get you out of the “hole” with a load on—buckets don't always release their load, especially if the connectors get wet when picking up.

Forest and moorland fires also require vast amounts of manpower, which are usually tired by the time they get to the fire from the long walk to get there, so you may be used as transport for fire-fighters and their equipment, as well as observation, where your passengers will have some rank and experience, since they will be directing ground forces from the air (this will be especially true for lesser-powered helicopters). Very often, you will be moving people in very short hops over rivers and streams.

One development of this is rappelling, which is the rapid deployment of fire crews by rope from a helicopter (and back in emergency) until the regular crews arrive.

You will also not necessarily be the only aircraft about. The combination of lots of smoke (and poor visibility), coupled with heat turbulence and other machines buzzing about could prove to be extremely dangerous – many people report it’s just like being in a war zone (the organised chaos only makes it more so), but if you've ever done the British Grand Prix or joined Biggin Hill circuit you should be alright.
Constant communications between machines (on the same frequency) are essential, especially if you are picking up from the same swimming pool (in practice, you will go through the bird dog if you want to change position). One pilot reported that the distance from a pond to the fire was so small as to only require a fast hover taxi between them both, which meant that oil temperatures began to redline, as there wasn’t enough airflow to cool things down (sometimes ash will clog the oil cooler). You will be tired, as well, after a couple of days continuous flying from dawn to dusk, though you probably won’t notice till afterwards, as adrenalin counts for a lot.

Upslope drops should be avoided as much as possible, and only be attempted by experienced crews, especially on low targets, as you will need more airspeed than normal to create a pull-up to clear the area with the load if necessary, without using extra power. Aside from trying to do a 180-degree pedal turn in a high hover out of ground effect, the resulting high power setting will likely fan the flames, as with a hover drop. It helps if you have a drop off place to one side, and approach with some airspeed, so you can climb with the cyclic, and turn one way or the other with the least power, depending on which way round your blades are going.

With downslope drops, you will not necessarily see the target until you clear the ridge, so you will need targets to line up on beforehand. For very steep slopes, try reducing speed before diving off the ridge, so you don’t end up going too fast. Cross-slope drops are OK, provided you remember where your rotor disk is. With North American blade rotation, keep downhill slopes on your right, so if the bucket doesn't open or you run out of power, you can drop the collective, put the nose down and be able to use the right pedal to take the strain off the tail rotor. Always approach at a 45°, unless you have a bit of height.


Last edited by Heliport; 1st Jul 2002 at 12:11.
paco is online now  
Old 1st Jul 2002, 20:12
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Join Date: Jan 2001
Posts: 166
My boss (says he) did a bit in Spain / Portugal with Bell 205's. He regaled me with tales of taking water from private swimming pools and blowing over the residents / furniture / barbecues in the process.

He said it was perfectly legal and kosher, but he is a bit of a cowboy. Anybody like to comment on this? (the legality,not the cowboy aspect as that is confirmed).

He also had a 205 that a couple of Portuguese crashed for him. Sadly, they did it in front of the advancing fire, so there was little to recover.

As they say "Third party fire and theft?" who would want to steal a burning helicopter?
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Old 1st Jul 2002, 20:17
  #6 (permalink)  
Scalextric for Men
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Location: Southern England outside the M25
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flying firefighters

I am grateful of everybodies input. Do you ever use helicopters as hose layers.
But the big-one as in Ericson aircrane, if using the forward
facing moniter does that effect the stability, more than the vertical release from a bucket. Does the nozzle adjust to a spray.
Do the pilots have difficulty obtaining life insurance.

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Old 1st Jul 2002, 23:59
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California Examiner, 20/3/1998:

Fire Authorities in California found a corpse in a burnt out section of forest while assessing the damage done by a forest fire. The deceased male was dressed in a full wet suit, complete with a dive tank, flippers, and facemask. A post-mortem examination revealed that the person died not from burns but from massive internal injuries. Dental records provided a positive identification. Investigators then set about determining how a fully clad diver ended up in the middle of forest fire. It was revealed that, on the day of the fire, the person went for a diving trip off the coast-some 20 miles away from the forest. The firefighters, seeking to control the fire as quickly as possible, called in a fleet of helicopters with large water buckets. The buckets were dropped into the ocean for rapid filling, then flown to the forest fire and emptied. You guessed it.

One minute our diver was making like Flipper in the Pacific, and next he was doing a breaststroke in a fire bucket 300 feet in the air. Apparently, he extinguished exactly 5'10" of the fire. Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.
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Old 2nd Jul 2002, 00:20
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Join Date: Oct 2001
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Hey John

Any tips on removing said bambi buckets with full loads, without dragging them some nice beautiful shrubbery surrounding swimming pools at Kurrajong Heights

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Old 2nd Jul 2002, 04:13
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Heliport - excellent thread!

Paco - fascinating stuff. I knew that scuba diver well - he was a good guy, real shame.
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Old 2nd Jul 2002, 05:41
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Join Date: Jan 2002
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Indy Cleo,

Which aircraft were you flying during the last Sydney fires? I was doing air-attack for the most part and enjoyed working with a few Kiwis. (Ahhhhh....Helitak 66 .....Shut Hut Drup on thut run!)

G'day John.


Last edited by Gibbo; 3rd Jul 2002 at 11:01.
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Old 2nd Jul 2002, 08:38
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Sure. Don't go out downwind, crosswind, downslope, hot, heavy, or anywhere some photographer is likely to spot an opportunity


You lie like a hairy one..............
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Old 2nd Jul 2002, 10:19
  #12 (permalink)  
Join Date: Oct 2001
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Its a Bitch when the photog is up in the air attack helo, best place to see and you cannot hide

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Old 3rd Jul 2002, 09:57
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Join Date: May 2002
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Hello Gibbo,

I was one of the pilots flying the Helipro BK117 mostly out of Woodlands air base. I also did a stint up in Port MacQuarie as well as a few days to the south of Sydney. Enjoyed my time immensely at the woodlands air base and found everyone a pleasure to work with.

Would not hesitate to do it again if the opportunity arose.

Hello John, thanks for the loan of the fin.

Indy Cleo is offline  
Old 3rd Jul 2002, 10:37
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Age: 72
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One item that IC hasn't touched on is the type of bucket. Most Oz operators have Bambi's, which are well proven and reliable, albeit with some weak points.

HeliPro brought over some Spray (?) buckets for their 117 and Huey, which had a bottom fill, and variable drop, both of which proved quite valuable. Whilst the fill time was considerably longer than a Bambi, the amount of water taken up was always the maximum achievable for the weight and conditions, not always achievable in the Bambi. Watching the Huey drop a full or partial load was easily as efficient and effective as the 205 with a belly tank. Both HeliPro machines worked a medium/long line, but the one area which the Spray bucket wasn't too good at was hover drops. The manner in which the water flowed around the bottom valve spread the pattern such that a solid vertical soak into a smoker was nigh on impossible to achieve.

Comparative pictures: the HeliPro vertical drop is one of Neville's pictures, you can see how the spray pattern leaves a "hole in the middle":

This shot is from inside the BK117 with a vertical drop onto a smoker, with a Bambi Bucket. Note the "tighter" vertical stream of water, 900+ litres straight down the throat of the tree:

Bambi weak points: always have a box of spares. There aren't many parts in a Bambi, but if you don't have a spare solenoid when yours fails, you are history as a bomber. Purse strings (the parts, not the bean counters ) are often overlooked, as are the cables and bladder seal. End of day post flight may highlight increased wear, especially those days of 100+ drops, but an hour's attention will reward itself with faultless performance the next day. Equally, end of season cleaning and maintenance is worth the effort.

In the same fashion, SEI Industry's Sacksafoam units are very reliable, but need a bag of spares in the field, plus routine maintenance. There are other foam injection systems around, all of which will need the same attention.

Long line/bucket on the hook? I'm on holiday, skiing; I'll think that one over for another day

Last edited by John Eacott; 3rd Jul 2002 at 10:56.
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Old 3rd Jul 2002, 13:22
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Join Date: Jun 2002
Location: Melbourne, Australia
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1. Urban Legends Reference Pages: Horrors (Corpus Crispy) ••••
Was the charred body of a scuba diver recovered from a tree after a forest fire?
...Claim: The charred remains of a scuba diver were discovered in a tree after a forest fire. Status: False. Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1996]...
...forest fire. The deceased male was dressed in a full wetsuit, complete with a dive tank, flippers and face mask. A post mortem examination revealed that...
...how a fully clad diver ended up in the middle of a forest fire. It was revealed that, on the day of the fire, the person went for a diving trip off the...
Sun, 09 Jun 2002 17:37:13 GMT http://www.snopes.com/horrors/freakish/scuba.htm
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Old 3rd Jul 2002, 13:25
  #16 (permalink)  
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The first shot is such as masterpiece of photography, shame it hasnt got Lifeflight down the side

Have dug out some more images and will email them as soon as I get back from Africa.

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Old 3rd Jul 2002, 18:36
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Join Date: Jun 2001
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Up to 3 years ago i've flown fire fighting helos to and in spain and portugal. During the allyears fire fighting season they chartered helos from all around in europe. In portugal are not so much civil turbine helos and the most pilots flew only in the fire season on the bigger singles. Helicopters are based on several bases and you have to work with the local residents and fire authorities. Due to the language problems most pilots came from brasil and portugal. Especially in the first weeks that business comes together with a lot of bended and overheated metal.
Have seen there some really hot cowboys and acrobatic helo jocks. Maintenance in country is superb, very clean and absolute professional.
Taking water from private swimming pools isn't a tale!!!
Innercountry, really "outlands" it's very dry and dusty. Sometimes it's difficult to get enough water. But residents are very, very friendly and symphatic. And who needs a swimming pool in front of the burning finca??? Or wants to look to the burning neighborhouse from the fresh pool, drinking well cooled pina-colada?

Maybe we can compare the fires with them in australia?! I don't know. The trees (eucalyptus,without koalas) burning like hell.

Seems to be a "macho" country but i've seen some female mechanics .
respect! really impressive pictures

Last edited by tecpilot; 3rd Jul 2002 at 18:52.
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Old 4th Jul 2002, 04:34
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Hey Indy Cleo,

We did quite a few days on the same fires then. I worked with your BK (Helitak 66 from memory) for about two weeks on and off; around Woodlands (both Bowen Mountain and Colo Heights) and Patonga (that nice little spot on the coast towards the end of the show.

I rate the bucket the Kiwis had (as shown in John's photo above) It sprays a nice even "fan" of water, which is great for doing a linear drop such as a fire front or spot over. Agree 100% regarding the vertical drop from the spray bucket; bambis are much more suitable for dousing a tree or log.

I have very little experience as a fire bomber, but have done plenty of air attack, which is my preference. Having multiple bombing assets on a fire, with different systems, means that it is easy to allocate horses for courses. A linear run that suits a fixed wing bomber (dromader or thrush) can be allocated in conjunction with some cleaning work, such as a burning tree that needs the whole lot down the throat.

Must remember the blokes on the ground when a run is starting; a couple of tonnes of water at 80 kts can upset their day.

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Old 4th Jul 2002, 09:31
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Join Date: May 2002
Location: New Zealand
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Hello Gibbo,

We actually have a skirt that can be fitted to the bucket which gives it the same drop pattern as a bambi. I am not to sure if you would have seen it in use though.

Another advantage that our bucket has over the bambi is the ability to vary the amount of water uplifted. A great thing to have when freshly refuelled as we could release water until the machine started flying, as the gas was used more water could be carried (1100 litres max). A bambi is restricted to what the helicopter can uplift with full mission fuel.

When using the scoop technique (below) our bucket is just a fast as the bambi (when uplifting the same amount of water that is). Takes a bit of practice to perfect.

Indy Cleo is offline  
Old 5th Jul 2002, 16:50
  #20 (permalink)  
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Bowen Island B.C. Canada - one of the greatest places to live on Earth...
Posts: 173
Post Fire-fighting in Alaska

Some images of fire-fighting just south of the Arctic Circle in May and June this year. Based out of the Fairbanks area at Chena Hot Springs and then at Livengood, adjacent to the Alaska pipeline.

Alaska fire photos

Hope you like them!

Phil Kemp is offline  

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