World’s largest helitanker now available for Southern California wildfires

It’s the largest and most capable heavy-lift fire helicopter in the world and it is now available to help firefighters get a jump on wildfires that erupt. A CH-47 Chinook helitanker, that can drop 3,000 gallons of water or retardant in a single pass, will now support firefighters during wildfires, as Southern California enters the peak of wildfire season.

With hot, windy weather forecasted through the end of the year, and more than three million acres already burned in the state, this heavy-lift helitanker could not have come at a better time. Southern California Edison (SCE) is providing funding for the CH-47 twin-engine, tandem rotor, heavy-lift helicopter for 83-days starting October 1, 2020. The helitanker, that is being leased and operated by Coulson Aviation, Inc., will be available around the clock to counties serviced by Southern California Edison including Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino.

“This Very Large Helitanker will deliver a very powerful punch and make a significant difference on the fire line,” said Chief Brian Fennessy of Orange County Fire Authority. “We are extremely grateful to Southern California Edison for once again providing critical aerial support during the height of fire season.” The state-of-the-art Retardant Aerial Delivery System (RADS) technology and equipment on this Very Large Helitanker (VLHT) allows pilots to adjust water/retardant flow rates based on speed and altitude, and is capable of both day and night vision goggle firefighting operations. The VLHT has other unique capabilities such as infrared technology, and the ability to hover-fill, even at night, making it the largest and most capable Very Large Helitanker in the world.

Southern California Edison is contributing more than $2.1 million toward OCFA’s lease of the Very Large Helitanker during what is expected to be an active and severe fire season. This helitanker, with a combination of fast response speed and higher load capacity, will strengthen daytime and nighttime fire suppression activities within SCE’s service area and beyond, if needed.

“There is no higher priority for us than the safety of our customers, the communities we serve, our employees and contractors, and the firefighters and first responders who protect them,” said Kevin M. Payne, President and CEO of Southern California Edison. “The intensity of the 2020 wildfires so far, plus the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, have put pressure on the state’s firefighting resources. With that in mind, it is a privilege for SCE to support the readiness of fire agencies such as the OCFA, which are on the front lines of protecting lives, property, and critical infrastructure.”

SCE’s funding of the helitanker lease is part of its Wildfire Mitigation Plan, which also includes enhanced inspections of SCE infrastructure, hundreds of miles of covered conductor (insulated power lines), vegetation management to maintain a minimum 12-foot clearance from power lines, as well as hundreds of fire-resistant poles, weather stations and high-definition cameras in High Fire Risk Areas.

In 2019, SCE provided funding for a 1,000 gallon capacity helitanker that assisted with about 20 wildfires, most of them significant incidents. By comparison, the existing OCFA helicopters can carry approximately 350 gallons. The Very Large Helitanker will be based at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos.

This article was released by the Orange County Fire Authority.