With fire season rapidly approaching in the Western United States, Columbia Helicopters is prepared once again to assist in battling wildland fires. The Oregon-based company announced on April 21 that it has five aircraft under contract with the US Forest Service this season and more helicopters could be made available if needed.
Jim Rankin, president of Columbia Helicopters, said: “We have a long history of supporting Forest Service firefighting efforts with our aircraft, and are pleased that the US Forest Service recognizes the value of our flight personnel and fleet. The new Simplex FAS tank system will allow us to fight fires in urban and forested areas.”
Among the aircraft on Exclusive Use’ (EU) contracts with the Forest Service are two CH-47D Chinook helicopters that are equipped with newly certified internal tanks that will permit the aircraft to fight fires in urban areas. The 2,800-gallon Simplex Aerospace tanks can be removed, allowing crews to switch to conventional buckets for firefighting if requested by the fire managers.
These tanks were custom developed in conjunction with Simplex Aerospace of Portland, Oregon. While the tanks are the largest available for any helicopter fighting fires in the United States, Columbia maintains safety-first standards for all its operations. The Simplex Fire Attack System (FAS) tanks received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification in December.
“Our teams worked together to engineer and certify this system, and we are excited to bring these aircraft to the fire lines,” Rankin said. The system consists of an internal 2,800-gallon water tank and a 140-gallon foam concentrate reservoir tank. Pilots use a 12-foot long hover pump to fill the internal tank, and can deploy the water or foam through a variety of drop or spread patterns.
The US Forest Service (USFS) awarded Columbia Helicopters two EU contracts for the tanked Chinook helicopters beginning this year. The Forest Service also awarded the company three EU contracts for the company’s helicopters equipped with high-speed pump buckets.
The company’s two tanked CH-47D helicopters will report to their assigned contract bases in May, with one aircraft assigned to McCall, Idaho and the second Chinook assigned to Rifle, Colorado. Columbia’s bucketed aircraft include a Columbia Model 234 Chinook assigned to Silver City, New Mexico, and two Columbia Vertol 107-II helicopters assigned to Hamilton, Montana, and Custer, South Dakota respectively. Columbia’s Model 234 Chinook deploys to fires with a 2,600-gallon bucket while the Vertols each carry 1,100-gallon buckets. Alan Warnes