Southern California receives new firefighting helicopters

The Coulson UH60 Helitanker
The Coulson UH60 Helitanker, The OCFA is currently deploying a Helitanker series aircraft in its firefighting pilot program. Photo: Coulson Aviation

New aerial firefighting equipment has been deployed in Southern California in the US with the addition of two new helicopters to the Orange County Fire Authority’s (OCFA) fleet

The two helicopters work in collaboration with one another: one, which has the capacity to carry 1,000 gallons (typical OCFA helicopters can carry around 300 gallons) and can fill its tank while in flight, will perform the water drops, and the other works as the reconnaissance aircraft, tracking the location of water drops precisely and measuring their effectiveness.

The program, which is funded by Southern California Edison, is still in its pilot stage. Once operational, the two aircraft, which have been leased from Coulson Aviation, are to be manned 24/7 and will serve all regions serviced by Southern California Edison. These include Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

“Flying at night is not new, hover-filling at night is new and hover-filling with a large helitanker is brand new,” said OCFA Chief Brian Fennessy.

Fennessy explained that the conditions for firefighting at night are preferable: with lowered temperatures, increased humidity and less wind, it’s the ideal time to battle the blazes. “For the pilots there are less aircraft in the air, less radio traffic,” he added. And the addition of military-standard night vision goggles and infrared technology will enable aerial firefighting flight crew to see at night while combatting the fires.

The demand for aerial firefighting capabilities is increasing across the globe, and new approaches to the challenges of payload, navigation and fire management are a welcome development. “The unprecedented scale of this fire threat has been called the new normal,” commented Chris Thompson of Southern California Edison. “We want to ensure the safety of this region.”