United Rotorcraft continued its rapid pace deliveries of two more Sikorsky S-70i Firehawks this week. Delivering a completed Firehawk to both Los Angeles County Fire and San Diego County Fire over the last week. This in addition to the delivery of the first Firehawk delivery to Calfire in a ceremony on October 16th.
The Air Methods subsidiary also continues fitting out multiple other firefighting configured Sikorsky aircraft that includes a UH-60 acquired by Ventura county that will soon be delivered from the company’s maintenance and modification division based in Colorado. Each aircraft fit out is uniquely configured per each department’s configuration requirements, although each similarly feature a 1,000-gallon tank for firebombing activities.
Ventura County’s order, finalized in August of 2019 covered the conversion of two repurposed U.S. Army HH-60Ls to Firehawks . The reconfigured aircraft will include an aerial firefighting mission package with extended landing gear, firefighting tank, and a retractable snorkel system.
Being a truly multi-mission aircraft, the interior of their aircraft will include reconfigurable crew stations that will allow the aircraft to perform a variety of missions such as firefighting, fire crew transport, search and rescue, and medical evacuation. In addition to mission equipment, upgraded avionics and a new instrument panel will be installed on the flight deck.
United Rotorcraft’s contract with San Diego County is a new purchase fit out of an S-70i to Firehawk configuration that adds to existing orders already in progress from CalFire that still have five aircraft remaining to be fitted out, and two remaining for Los Angeles County, according to company president Mike Slattery. The new orders, coupled with existing work, have a cumulative total of 10 aircraft.
The CalFire contract alone, valued last year at $240 million, had called for a total of 12 aircraft over three years that as of now will keep the program running to at least 2020, Slattery said. But he believes the program has a bright future well beyond that date for two main reasons: fire seasons are getting longer and the Firehawk’s ability to quickly drop more water on a fire faster and for less money.
“The fire season is extending,” Slattery said, and that means operators need more equipment. “You’re getting in a situation where you can’t have seasonal firefighting. It used to be you fight fires in North America then operators take their aircraft and go fight fires in Australia. The problem is that the fire seasons are starting to overlap and you are getting to the point where you cannot move aircraft like that. It will put pressure on the inventory to place aircraft in both hemispheres.” For this reason alone, the Firehawk program “is attracting a lot of international interest,” according to Slattery.
Customers such as CalFire are opting for brand new S-70i aircraft straight from Sikorsky and that is where Slattery sees the bulk of his company’s new business coming in the future.