Skycore Aviation confirms that utility helicopters equipped with the correct mission equipment are important firefighting resources, especially with the increase number of wild fires. These helicopters, including the recently added UH-60 Black Hawks, have the ability to deliver large quantities of water (also known as the aerial dispensing of liquids or ADL) for fire suppression.

As part of a former series of articles on how mission equipment impacts the role of a UH-60 helicopter, Skycore has updated its previous article on firefighting mission equipment to include the new internal tank systems designed specifically for the Black Hawk. However, the exact choice of equipment employed varies depending on location of fire, weather conditions, helicopter configuration and firefighting strategy.

Internal Tanks

Traditional aerial firefighters use internal water tanks where a pump system draws water through a snorkel into the onboard tank from a lake or river. The tanks carry fire retardant made of a slurry mix a chemical salt compound, water, clay or a gum- thickening agent, and a coloring agent.

Today there are two new Black Hawk specific internal tank systems on the market awaiting a supplemental type certificate (STC). The first system was developed by BHI2 (Squared) and the second by Simplex Aerospace. Both represent new technology for an established method of fighting fires.

The BHI2 system contains a modular 925-gallon tank installed within the Black Hawk cabin using existing tie-down points to secure it. The tank slides into the aircraft eliminating the need to cut or modify the Black Hawk. Its electric drive system controls the door system with use of a gear box. The system’s 15-foot snorkel is capable of filling the tank in 40 – 50 seconds and can be programmed for partial tank drops.

Black Hawk with BHI2 Internal Tank System

BHI2 Black Hawk at 2019 HAI-Heli Exp Rob Reyno photo

The Simplex Aerospace system, branded as the Fire Attack System, is a carbon fiberglass tank available in 850- and 1,000-gallon sizes. The 850-gallon tank uses a single dispersal door that drops water through the cargo hook well with only minimal modifications to the Black Hawk. It has a 1,000 gallon per minute (gpm) refill rate and features a retractable hover pump that can be mounted on either side of the tank. There are also dual ground fill ports for easy refill when conditions require ground fill and during night operations.

Crucial in time sensitive firefighting missions, the Fire Attack is installed or removed in less than 15 minutes with standard ground equipment. For emergencies, an automatic emergency water drop feature is also included.

Black Hawk with Simplex Fire Hawk Internal Tank System

Black Hawk with Simplex Fire Hawk Internal Tank System

Helicopter Bucket

A helicopter bucket is suspended on a cable underneath a helicopter to deliver liquids for aerial fire suppression. Today, the majority of helicopters utilize the Bambi Bucket for firefighting. It’s lightweight, strong and flexible. The Bambi Bucket uses gravity to open its dump valve. This valve is controlled by the helicopter crew with practically no electrical power. It can be hooked up to any helicopter using a standard power plug.

This ‘plug-n-play’ capability allows the Bambi Bucket to be used by different helicopters to deliver a solid column of water or foam on target. When the helicopter hovers over the position, the crew releases the water (referred to as a drop) to suppress the fire. To refill the bucket the helicopter hovers over a water source such as a lake, river, reservoir or tank and lowers the bucket into the water. An alternative is refilling the bucket with water siphoned from a portable tank through a hanging snorkel.

Black Hawk with Bambi Bucket

UH-60 Black Hawk filling its Bambi Bucket

Night Vision Device

Night vision devices allow firefighting at night, when fire intensity has weakened from increased humidity and decreased temperatures and winds. Using Night Vision Goggles (NVGs), crews can identify hot spots or prevent a smoldering fire from burning out of control. Night vision systems also increase the accuracy of night drops and enable night rescues.

Black Hawk with Night Vision Device

Black Hawk helicopter with Night Vision technology

Fast Rope Insertion / Extraction System (FRIES)

Fast-rope insertion and extraction systems (FRIES) enable the rapid deployment and retrieval of firefighters in areas where helicopters can’t land. Fast roping is the technique used to quickly descend from a helicopter using a special braided (pleated) rope attached to the FRIES bar. In a UH-60 Black Hawk, the FRIES bar is mounted to the interior upper frame of the cabin and extends outside of the cargo doors. Crews descend on ropes attached to the bars. Multiple firefighters can slide down the rope at the same time and more speedily than rappelling or using a hoist. The ropes may also have integrated loops to allow firefighters on the ground to “hook in” while wearing harnesses for an aerial extraction.

Black Hawk with FRIES

A Fast-Rope Insertion and Extraction (FRIES) system in use.

Skycore Aviation

Skycore Aviation is an international helicopter personnel services and UH-60 Black Hawk provider. Our knowledge and experience enable Skycore to provide personnel and turnkey solutions for helicopter programs tailored to meet our customer’s operations, maintenance and training needs. To stay atop of the rotary wing industry, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.