Helitak Fire Fighting Equipment announced June 2nd, 2020 that the  FT4500 Black Hawk fire tank, has successfully received an Exclusive Use contract from the U.S. Forest Service for the upcoming 2020 North American fire season. Taking a lead on other tank manufacturers, and showcasing the Australian designed and manufactured tanks working on a global scale.

Following purchase by High Performance Helicopters in Redlands, California, and fitted to the companies UH60A helicopter, the combination of both will see the tank working wildfires in California. HP Helicopters was certified by the US Federal Government in 2017 to produce FAA certified civilian versions of Sikorsky’s UH60A helicopters under its own Type Certificate. The company performs upgrades and modifications as shown by the companies Helicopter 286 (N8286) the white and black flagship helicopter that has undergone a full demilitarisation and revitalization program. 

Now fitted with an FT4500 tank which is the brainchild of aerial firefighting pilot and engineer, Jason Schellaars, who started Helitak in 2006 and heads up the team from their Noosa based facility in Queensland, Australia. 

After years of research and development, Helitak first offered the Black Hawk fire tank to the US National Guard (NG) some 10years ago but was unable to secure a contract at that time.  

The Helitak 4500 tank undergoes testing affixed to the HP helicopters UH-60A Blackhawk. Photo by Dave Soda.

The Helitak 4500 tank undergoes testing affixed to the HP helicopters UH-60A Blackhawk. Photo by Dave Soda.

“the original concept was pioneered from the natural progression from the previous Helitak fire tanks operating on helicopters in both the USA and Australia since 2006. The team went about designing a tank that required no aircraft modifications, could be fitted or removed to all the Guard’s UH60 Black Hawk aircraft in under 25 minutes and offered a maximum water capacity of 800 gallons” (3028 litres) said Schellaars. 

The original National Guard designed tank was along similar lines to the Helitak AS350, Bell Medium and Sikorsky S-58 and S-61 tanks that were already flying fires and were well tried and tested. The Helitak expandable tank design was designed by Schellaars to provide head pressure or mechanical force for water exiting the tank to provide maximum impact but could also be dialed back to whatever drop pattern was deemed acceptable for the type of fire being attacked.

The new FT4500 Black Hawk tank design came about with the release of surplus military UH-60 aircraft into the civilian market for heavy lift and aerial firefighting operations. Using the Helitak Patented mounting system the tank has a capacity of 1100 gallons and can still be installed or removed in the same amount of time. The Helitak HP6000 Hover Pump fills the tank in around 46 seconds.

Operating the tank is done so through the Helitak Programmable Logic Controller.  This offers the operator touchscreen control choice of available drop patterns, water collection, discharge telemetry, and tank maintenance reporting. The door design means that in any event of loss of power, the doors automatically emergency release the load in around 4 seconds and the tank will retract to its normal empty profile of only 300mm (12 inches).

Following on from the successful release of the FT3500 Bell 214ST fire tank for McDermott Aviation in December, the FT4500 Black Hawk received approval back in January just before the HAI Heli-Exp and was able to fly in with the fire tank installed to display the finished product on the Helitak stand at Anaheim Convention Center.

Helitak is now busy rolling out production of the FT4500 Black Hawk fire tank and is currently in discussions with operators from Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. Full video of the FAA Flight Evaluation can be viewed here: