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