As the fire season in the northern hemisphere winds down, arrivals and preparations have begun as aviation assets contracted through the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) arrive in Victoria ahead of their dispatch to the various local state fire agencies in Australia. This season sees the return of the two CU-47D Chinooks and Sikorsky S-61s to operate in New South Wales and Victoria, Conair’s Q400AT after its stint in Queensland, and Erickson Inc.’s Air Crane “Bubba,” managed locally by Mangalore-based Kestrel Aviation.
Last year Coulson secured two four-year contracts from New South Wales and Victoria to operate the largest (in tank volume) rotary assets seen on an Australian fire ground. First to arrive at the Sydney docks in early December was N40CU (Helitak 231) which is contracted to the NSW Rural Fire Service in New South Wales.
The Very Large Helitanker or VLHT or Type 1 helicopter with a tank capacity of 10,000 liters (3000 gallons) features the same technology Coulson has used successfully on their fixed-wing C-130 fleet over the past years. Scaled down to suit the cargo hold of the CU-47, the tank can be quickly removed and either a bucket or tank removed for other firefighting tasks. This helicopter has again taken up operations from the RAAF Richmond fire base on the outskirts of Sydney.
The next to arrive was the Victorian-based machine N42CU (Helitak 341). Arriving at the Melbourne docks, the machine was assembled before departing to its operating base at Essendon Fields Airport. This helicopter is contracted to the Victorian State Government. Last year, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the Australian Aviation regulation body, cleared the Chinooks for night fire suppression operations. These operations will again be used this season should the need arise for this type of firefighting. The Coulson Chinooks have operated for fire agencies in the USA, Chile, Argentina, and Australia.
The third machine and the first to arrive in the country was the Sikorsky S-61 C-FXEC (Helitak 348), arriving in November, which was quickly assembled and cleared for operations and tasked to support the flood disaster in New South Wales and Victoria. As flooding dissipated, the aircraft then moved to prepare the helicopter for firefighting operations at its Mansfield fire base in Victoria’s high country.
Fire Season 22/23 marks Coulson’s 22nd year of operations in Australia. Alongside the rotary assets are the Coulson-operated and flown Bell 412, Boeing 737 Fireliner, and Cessna Citations operated, owned, and in support of the NSW Rural Fire Service.