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Firefighting Black Hawk arrives for fire season

written by Paul Sadler | December 6, 2016

Scone Airport-based Pay’s Helicopters is bringing an ex-US Army UH-60A Black Hawk to Australia for the bushfire season to demonstrate the helicopter’s value and capabilities to state and territory fire agencies.

The recently refurbished Black Hawk, N434TH, from Timberline Helicopters in northern Idaho, will be equipped with a 900 US gallon (3,410lt) multi-shot BBX7590 Bambi bucket with a fast fill pump to help fill it in just over 30 seconds.

“We are very happy to have teamed up with Timberline Helicopters to be able to bring the Black Hawk out to Australia this season,” said Pay’s Helicopters’ chief pilot Mat Baker.

“We hope it becomes an ongoing relationship with Timberline as there has been quite a bit of interest from the fire agencies wanting to see it in operation and assess its capability. We are looking forward to showing them the value of this type of machine.”

N434TH was due to arrive at the Port of Brisbane in late December and once reassembled will fly to Scone in northern NSW to be put online and certified.


“To reassemble it, all you need to do is fold the tail out, put the blades back on, fuel it up and go,” said Baker.

“Since being brought online, Timberline have put 550 hours of operations on this helicopter in the last eight months in the US doing fire fighting, long line logging and precision lifts. It has not skipped a beat – it’s a very capable helicopter.”

N434TH, the first civilian registered Black Hawk to operate in Australia for aerial fire fighting operations, will operate under a discreet AOC with Pay’s while in the country.

“We hope to have a belly tank fitted to it next year,” said Baker.

“The big advantage of having twin engines and a tank allows helicopters to operate more in the urban interface as underslung loads are a little restrictive in those areas.”

To be flown by Timberline’s pilots, one of its engineers plus a container load of spares will be accompany the Black Hawk to Australia, which will be available as a call when needed resource for fire agencies until April 2017.

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Comments (10)

  • Holden


    A portent of opportunities to come with the pending disposal of Australian S70 series Blackhawks? There must be more than a few operators keen to get these aircraft into service domestically on the civil register.

  • Mick181


    The current tactic is to just lease the capability from the states for the Bushfire season. People have talked about converting ex ADF Aircraft such as Hercs, Orions and now Blackhawks to the Firefighting role but would this be any cheaper, by the time you convert the Aircraft, train aircrew, get hold of qualified ground Crew by either employing ex ADF personal or having people trained, and then maintain the Aircraft it’s going to get expensive. Probably cheaper and easier to just lease the capability from companies who are looking for the work in the Northern Hemisphere Winter.

  • Matt


    Form a reserve unit flying these, primary role could be civilian agency support for fires floods etc surely there would be enough old hands capable of operating and maintaining them

  • Gary


    Our ex Army Black Hawks are nothing more than museum pieces. Too complex with systems and equipment that is obsolete and expensive to repair. Against similar aircraft, they don’t stack up economically.

  • Alan


    Mick181, I am an ex Army refueller and an active rural fire fighter here in Queensland.
    May I say a proposal was put to the Commanding Officer (CO) at the 5th Aviation Regt to introduce Bambi buckets to the regiment and conduct training as all the ADF aircraft could be used in support on the Fire ground. The CO said it was a stupid idea and the idea was shot down in flames. Excuse the pun, it was intended.
    As a rural fire fighter I believe we should by now have a dedicated set of aircraft with a variety of applications ready to move to any location within Australia at a moments notice, as currently we use contracted companies to supply this service which I am guessing won’t be cheap.
    I would put my hand up in a heart beat to lead the ground crew in the utalisation of refuelling and refilling of Bambi buckets anywhere in Australia, all they have to do is ask!

  • Josh James


    Thank God for these unsung heroes! I hope that you have a quiet summer Down Under. Fantastic looking paint scheme too!

  • Robert Dennis


    Hell yeah, get some sort of Reserve Unit up and running in the West with these babies and I’ll sign up, I miss playing with these.

    With 816 Squadrons S-70-B’s coming up to the end of their service life, and the Army Blackhawks not far behind, this would make a ton of sense.

  • Holden


    In Australia it is frowned upon (or perhaps even legislatively prohibited) for military to conduct activities that deny commercial operations.

    In America the Army Engineers can actually bid for and compete to conduct commercial civil engineering work…. a good concept for keeping your forces in practice and contemporary.

    For this reason it’s very unlikely that military will undertake wide scale commercially competitive aerial firefighting in Australia…. can’t stop civil operators from having access to potential business – although in an absolute emergency the military may be called in when the situation has basically gotten out of control (one could question the wisdom of waiting that long).

    Having said that, ex-military equipment being used by commercial operators in Australia poses less of an issue – provided of course that commercial disposal doesn’t contravene the original procurement conditions.

  • BJ


    It would make perfect sense to have a reserve squadron flying refurbished Blackhawks out of Avalon, tasked with supporting the Reserves brigades in SA, Vic and Tas, and able to provide Defence Aid to the Civil Powers in times of flooding and bushfires.

    By the time the decision is made to ask the ADF for help, its too late to fly them down from Townsville!

    Having aircraft 2600kms closer would make the decision a lot easier

  • Boleropilot


    I recall reading somewhere that due to fire seasons expanding that there is likely to be an ever-worsening overlap problem for Australian access to airborne fire-fighting equipment from overseas.

    If that is the fact then we really need to start looking at other alternatives for Oz usage – I don’t think there is any doubt that having our own equipment would have saved lived in the past and would do so in the future.

    Now, is someone going to lecture me on the ‘cost effectiveness’ of having our own equipment? If so, let’s start by putting a value on human life…..

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