Timberline’s Black Hawk firebomber making a splash

As fires rage across regional New South Wales this summer, an ex-US Army Black Hawk has proven to be a critical firefighting asset.

Thanks to a partnership struck between Scone-based aviation firm Pay’s Helicopters and Idaho-based Timberline Helicopters, a refurbished UH-60A Black Hawk, N5630J, has been busy helping emergency services contain fires across the state.

photo – Mark Jessop

This marks the second fire season that a Timberline Black Hawk has seen action, after another machine, N434TH, was first brought out in January last year.

While that season proved to be quiet with only about 105 hours of flight time, the Black Hawk’s performance, equipped with its formidable 3,400 litre multi-shot BBX7590 Bambi bucket, convinced Pay’s to bring it out again last December.

photo – Mark Jessop

Pay’s Helicopters managing director Ross Pay said the Black Hawk was a valuable tool that added to his existing firefighting fleet, which included a UH-1 Huey, AS350 B2 Squirrel and two AT-802 “Fire Boss” aircraft with amphibious scooping floats, among other types.

photo – Mark Jessop

“In the initial attack run, in the first hour or two of the fire, it’ll put a lot more water on a fire than a Sikorsky Skycrane could. Because of its speed and load carrying capacity, the Black Hawk is very good in that situation,” he said.

“I know it’s a different tool and it’s not dropping retardant in lines, but if you’re just talking about pure volume, there’s not much out there that can match a Black Hawk.”

photo – Timberline

While Timberline and Pay’s don’t have a formal contract with firefighting agencies, Timberline vice-president and Black Hawk pilot Brian Jorgenson said “call when needed” agreements were in place with New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia to use the aircraft.

So far, the Black Hawk has only seen action in New South Wales, but Jorgenson and his crew have been kept extremely busy as a spate of fires near Newcastle and recently, Pilliga National Park near Coonabarabran, keep the aircraft in hot demand. Timberline has also brought out a third pilot to help with the workload.

photo – Timberline

Jorgenson told Australian Aviation that as firefighters witnessed what the Black Hawk could do and how it complemented other firebombers in the fleet, its capability had proven invaluable.

“All the helicopters I’ve ever flown pretty much have an 80 knot VNE (Velocity to Never Exceed) with an external load. The Black Hawk’s VNE is 140 knots,” he said.

photo – Ammy Jorgenson

“We can pick up a full bucket of water and scoot along at about 110 knots going back and forth. It’s much quicker across the ground from a water source to a fire.

“And then with the pump, we’re able to get full buckets out of pretty small water sources.”

Timberline’s Black Hawk is expected to remain in Australia until about March before returning home to the United States.

photo – Ammy Jorgenson

Read our full feature story on Timberline’s Black Hawk in the upcoming March issue of Australian Aviation.

photo – Ammy Jorgenson

Comments

  1. Doug bell says

    Serious thought should be given for NSW to have 4 if these and a twin squirrel for logistic support as a permanent feature of our fire fighting capacity. Four aircraft of this size provides a reasonable economies of scale and allows for single deployment of 4 or two aircraft being utilised at 2 separate events. In the off season, they could be utilised elsewhere.

  2. SeeSure says

    If we cut our F-35 buy by 10-15 airframes, we could have one of these in every fire district, with the pilots being fed on truffles and caviar with a personal masseuse and still have cash left over. I know which threat I think is more important to defend ourselves against.

  3. Onlooker says

    If you are going to post a video here, it would be great if it was watchable. I don’t think I have seen a worse attempt at a cockpit video.

  4. AlanH says

    I’ve always thought we should have a small squadron of Bombardier CL-415s here in Oz, but then again, the versatility of helos is probably better suited to our conditions (as the pic of it landed on a road shows) and the lack of large expanses of water in Oz probably mitigates against a viable use and expense of the CL-415. But it is a purpose-built aircraft and very good at what it was designed for.