In 2000 the 'Sea Snorkel' allowed for dynamic filling of the fire suppression tank on the S-64 with salt water from oceans and other water sources, great for conserving fuel and reaching more remote fires. In the photo left, a mechanic works on an Erickson S-64F at Fox Field, with the Sea Snorkel clearly visible.
Also noticeable on this particular Skycrane was the fact that it was fitted with new composite main rotor blades.
With the important role these guys play it is imperative that the helicopters are maintained to the best possible standards, and that starts with the simple things. Headquartered in Yuba City, near Sacramento, CA., the history of Siller Helicopters is rooted in the majestic timberlands of the High Sierras, where founding partners and brothers, Andy and Neal Siller, started the company over 40 years ago. Since then, Siller Helicopters has grown to include firefighting, transmission line construction, ski-lift construction, power grid expansion, HVAC placement, logging, heavy-lift operations, and hydro-seeding across the United States.
Siller Helicopters part of the ramp at Fox Field is indicative of how the companies operate in the aerial firefighting field - each company bringing not only their aviation assets but also all of their own support equipment and personnel. As with all those involved, the equipment is kept in pristine condition and great pride is clearly taken in keeping it so.
normally spends around one hour ‘on station’ during a typical two-hour mission, during which it is used by the USFS for spotting and monitoring any potential fires and fire risks, downloading information and images as it happens.
Sikorsky CH-54A SkyCrane
Used in the Lead Plane role, Beech 200GT King Air N24HD is in essence a 'spotter' or first respondent aircraft used in wildfire operations. Seen in the photo above and at the top of the page; as the name implies, they are crucial when there is a need to assess a fire situation. Lead Planes are small, highly manoeuvrable aircraft used to fly over various terrains, allowing the pilot to access the situation below, before clearing the larger planes to deposit their payload. Operating ahead of other aircraft conducting the actual firefighting, they mark the region by releasing white smoke, or providing coordinates where and when the Lead Pilot judges it safe for the water bombers to get involved to drop suppressants. The most used planes for this operation are the Beech 200 Super King Air and the Rockwell Aero Commander 690, of which both types are flown by the USFS.
Jack Erickson founded Erickson Air-Crane in 1971, pioneering heli-logging techniques before expanding into powerline construction and firefighting. At the time, firefighting required ground crews to wrap cables around fallen timber and hook them to the aircraft long line.
Over the next couple of years, Erickson purchased three S-64E from Sikorsky Aircraft Company, and in 1992 purchased the rights to the S-64 from Sikorsky, becoming the sole manufacturer and type
The old USFS control tower at Fox Field still looks in remarkably good condition even though it has been condemned and is no longer in use. All aircraft movements are controlled from the new state-of-the-art tower located by the general aviation part of the airfield adjacent to the FBO.
The peak of the wildfire season in California usually occurs between July and November when hot, dry winds are most frequent - typically ending when the first significant rainstorms of autumn arrive, which is usually around October in Northern California, and early November in Southern California. During fire season, Fox Field becomes a major hub for aerial firefighting suppression, with additional aircraft and helicopters taking up residence. At the time of our visit in mid-October, it was evident that the season was winding down as one of the two Erickson S-64s in residence was due to leave within the next couple of days to head for Australia.
REGIONAL AVIATION GROUP
General William J. Fox Airfield, otherwise known more simply as Fox Field, is the only general aviation airport in the Antelope Valley, serving several communities including Palmdale, Rosamond, and Lancaster. Fox Field has one paved non-precision instrument Runway (6/24), which is 7200 feet in length, along with a state-of-the-art FAA air traffic control tower.
More importantly for us, Fox is also home to the ‘Fox Tanker Base’ and a fleet of fire-fighting aircraft operated on behalf of the United States Forest Service (USFS). The United States Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that administers the nation's 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands. With a variety of aircraft and helicopters at Fox, it is worth pointing out that all the firefighting aircraft and helicopters are not owned by the Forest Service but contracted to USFS, aside from a couple of fixed-wing aircraft used as ‘Lead Planes.'
(Photo courtesy of Marty Wolin)
Coastal Helicoptershas a long history in the aerial firefighting industry, servicing many government agencies across the nation on various
We would like to thank everyone from Coastal Helicopters, Dynamic Aviation, Erickson Air-Crane, Siller Helicopters and the U.S. Forest Service for being so hospitable and helpful during our visit to Fox Field, but particularly Matte Joseph (USFS) and Jan Kubic (Dynamic Aviation).
This Beechcraft C-12D is operated on behalf of the USFS by Dynamic Aviation. It is equipped with a FLIR Star SAFIRE 380-HD camera system (seen below the rear fuselage), which provides superior image stabilization, ultra-long range imaging performance, and true metadata embedded in the digital video. It also features internal navigation for precise targeting, a medium wave infrared (MWIR) thermal imager, HD color and low-light cameras, along with multiple laser payload options. Equipped with satellite communication (SATCOM), the C-12D
The coloured retardant seen in most photos you see is Perimeter Solutions- PHOS-CHEK MVP-Fx, as per the image of a Cal Fire S-2 Tracker (right). PHOS-CHECK is a powder concentrate transported into Fox Field, which is then mixed with water. A highly visible colour retardant that provides superior visibility in the air and on the ground, it slowly fades during exposure to sunlight. PHOS-CHEK is a gum-thickened, medium viscosity retardant that provides highly-effective and accurate aerial drops, its elastic nature improving aerial delivery performance by reducing drift and evaporation.
PHOS-CHEK is made up of ammonium polyphosphate, water, fertilizer type salts, a colouring agent, corrosion inhibitors, and flow conditioners. As a long-term fire retardant it means it can be sprayed on an area and unless it gets washed away by a rainstorm it will stay in situ for months.
This Coastal Helicopters Bell 205A-1 Huey was seen at Fox in October 2022, and despite being built way back in 1973 looked in immaculate condition. The aircraft and crews from Coastal Helicopters were awaiting some distinguished guests from Greece at the time of our visit, illustrating the sharing of experience in the aerial firefighting community. During a fire situation the Bell 205 can be quickly and easily deployed, and can draw water from almost any accessible source via a snorkel attached to the belly tank, which can be seen in the photo above.
certificate holder, with the first new S-64F also rolling off the Erickson production line in Central Point, Oregon. With fire season in California coming to an end, this S-64F seen at Fox Field in October 2022 was getting ready to make the long journey to Australia within the next few days.
AEROFLITE AERIAL FIREFIGHTING is one of the most experienced aerial firefighting companies in the United States, delivering an extensive range of next-generation fire control aircraft and services to a variety of customers. Aeroflite have over 57 years of fire management experience in aerial forest firefighting, employing more than 150 skilled individuals with a fleet of 11 aircraft. Aero-Flite has grown from flying converted military planes to operating modern, purpose-built and engineered firefighting aircraft.
‘Exclusive Use’ and ‘Call When Needed’ contracts. Currently operating for the United States Forest Service, Department of the Interior, Oregon Department of Forestry, Washington Department of Natural Resources and Cal Fire, each agency has its own strict set of requirements for safety, equipment, and personnel.
Beech C-12D N40Y has a varied and interesting past. Built in 1982, it was placed on the military register as #82-23782 with the Montana Army National Guard. In its time with Dynamic Aviation, #N40Y has also been seen in an overall grey scheme wearing U.S. Army markings. Although not seen in the photo here, the aircraft can be equipped with tip tanks or nacelle tanks to increase fuel capacity - giving it over nine hours of flight time.
The S-64’s old aluminum rotor blades used expensive, antiquated WWII extrusion equipment that required time-intensive hand shaping and twisting in manufacture. Erickson’s new composite blades deliver, improved production cycle, reduced initial and life-cycle operating costs, fuel savings and performance gains, reduction in engine torque required when lifting objects out of the water, reduced vibration, reduced wear and fatigue on the airframe, and increased flight comfort for the pilot.
N7095B (ex 67-18430) is one of two CH-54A Skycranes operated by Siller. Designed by Sikorsky Aircraft for the United States Army in 1962, only 54 CH-54As were ever produced, making the aircraft one of the most sought-after helicopters across the heavy-lift industry. Siller also operates two S-64 Skycranes – the CH-54’s civilian counterpart.
In the photograph above is one of Aeroflite's Avro RJ85-AT tankers, which have proven to be an efficient, fast, and reliable aircraft, delivering a large volume of fire retardant in a short period of time in support of wildland fire management and ground firefighters. The four-engine RJ85’s reliability provides excellent short-field performance along with multiple system redundancy, whilst also giving it excellent low-speed and high-speed performance, making the aircraft an ideal airtanker in any terrain.
Powered by twin 4,500 horsepower engines, the CH-54 is capable of lifting payloads approaching 20,000 lbs, which in the past have included United States Army tanks, other helicopters, and heavy munitions. Now retired from military service, modern payloads are more likely to include transmission towers, fire suppression tanks, construction equipment and HVAC units, as well as custom-rigged loads. Its revolutionary centre-spine airframe, which increases lift capacity and dramatically reduces payload shift, combined with the introduction of a specialized third pilot, makes the CH-54A ideal for operations requiring pinpoint precision and immense power.