California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has received delivery of a new Sikorsky S70i Firehawk at Ukiah Air Attack Base.
The firefighting helicopter, which is a civilian version of the Sikorsky Blackhawk military aircraft, has a cruise speed of 260km/h, a range of 400km and an endurance time of approximately 2.5 hours.
The aircraft is night vision capable and is equipped with a twin turbine T700-GE701D engine and a 16.4m diameter rotor, which can continue flying with reduced manoeuvrability in the event of partial engine failure.
“Now, if one engine goes out, we wouldn’t be able to continue fighting fires, but we will be able to safely fly back to an airport to land,” said Cal Fire Captain Eric Chisholm, speaking to the Ukiah Daily Journal.
More capacity to respond to wildfires
The new aircraft is also equipped with a fixed water tank and can carry a maximum weight of approximately 3400 liters of water – more than double the 1470 liter capacity which the Super Hueys can carry in their external bucket – as well as a fixed external hoist for rescues.
“Previously, we would have to remove the back seats and load a hoist for rescues,” added Chisholm, who said that this addition alone could reduce response times by about 20 minutes.
The helicopter is one of up to 12 S70i helicopters approved for purchase by Cal Fire from United Rotorcraft by the California Governor’s Office in 2018. The new fleet, which is currently being phased in, is intended to replace Cal Fire’s ageing fleet of 12 Vietnam-era UH-1H Super Hueys which were acquired by the department in 1990.
California has experienced severe wildfires in recent years, including the Alisal Fire which burned approximately 14,500 acres in and around Goleta earlier this year.