Sikorsky to help fight fires

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 29, 2003

The latest in aerial fire-fighting technology was on display Friday morning at Sikorsky Support Services in Troy.

The S-70A Firehawk, a high-tech helicopter designed to douse flames, is the latest project at the Troy Sikorsky facility and Chip Washington, an ace helicopter pilot based in Connecticut, put the machine's capabilities on display for members of the media and Sikorsky employees.

Washington piloted the machine over a pool of water, extended a hose from the base of the helicopter and sucked up 1,000 gallons in less than a minute. After making a lap around the facility airfield, the Firehawk, a modified Blackhawk helicopter, dumped the 1,000 gallon payload of water onto the airstrip.

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The impressive cascade gave observers a taste of how the helicopter will be used to fight forest fires around the nation.

&uot;We're working on several of these here for national guard units around the nation,&uot; said Tony Scott, head of the Troy Sikorsky Support plant. &uot;Los Angeles County has already orders two of them and there will be two in every state in the union except in the states where they need more, such as California and Montana.&uot;

Sikorsky's Troy facility, which repairs and upgrades helicopters, will be responsible for adding water tanks and the 12 foot retractable hose to the helicopters - a task which Sikorsky employees say is trickier than it sounds.

&uot;You really have to put it on and then iron all the bugs out,&uot; said Roger Evans, an employee who has worked on the Firehawk. &uot;The addition of the tank changes the vibrations and the center of gravity.&uot;

With a full water tank, the machine takes on a different dimension, said Washington, who has logged numerous hours flying fire-fighting helicopters and estimates that he has helped to contain ten fires of 1,000 acres or more.

&uot;The last one in LA was huge. We dumped 80,000 gallons in one day,&uot; he said. &uot;The people on the ground really, really liked what we did.&uot;

The Firehawk makes the task of aerial fire-fighting much easier, Scott said.

&uot;The old method of holding a bucket under a helicopter and dipping water out of a lake was much harder to do. This is more precise.&uot;

That precision in dropping water from above can not only help to quench flames, but also to relieve some of the fire fighters on the ground, Washington said.

&uot;You can drop a stream of water 55 feet wide and 600 feet long and drop it with enough accuracy that you can hit the first two or three fire fighters in the crew and cool them off.&uot;

Marsha Gaylard, head of the Pike County Economic Development Corporation, was on hand for the demonstration.

&uot;We are so fortunate to have Sikorsky,&uot; she said. &uot;This is one more of the programs that shows that keeping them in our community is vital.&uot;

Stephen Stetson can be reached at stephen.stetson