Helicopter Pilots Discuss Different Approaches to Aerial Firefighting Around the World

By Michael Doran | September 28, 2022

With forest fires occurring around the world, the demand for helicopter operators specialized in fighting fires from the air has never been greater. But from America’s West Coast to the Greek Islands, the techniques for combating fires differ noticeably.

For anyone who lives in a fire zone, there is no more comforting sight than when the ubiquitous Erickson S-64F Air Crane appears in the sky. With its praying mantis-like profile and distinctive orange body, the Air Crane is seen on fire grounds from North America to Australia and Europe.

Air Cranes operate with fire agencies or on contracts all around the world, and as a commercial operator Erickson uses its own aircraft in an endless summer. With fire seasons getting longer, it’s a juggling act to move the aircraft and crews from one continent to another.

An Air Crane is currently on duty supporting the Los Angeles Fire Department, who call it in when they need a heavy hitter to kill a fire. Greg Doyle Photo

Chief pilot Justin Rath returned to the U.S. from firefighting in Greece a few weeks ago and is now in Southern California, where Erickson has three Air Cranes deployed. It’s a cycle that Rath has become used to: “We’ve got the whole shipping thing down pretty good.”

Rath’s current deployment is in Los Angeles, where Erickson has one Air Crane on contract with the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD). A second is based in San Diego to support San Diego Gas and Electric while the third is in Lancaster with the United States Forest Service.

While the Air Crane is on standby to help the fire department as needed, it’s unlikely to be turning up to a house fire. Rath says they are primarily used to “suppress a vegetation fire situation, maybe a park or something on the outskirts of town. They’ll call us up as a heavy hitter to help because we carry so much water.”

The Erickson Air Crane contracted to Los Angeles City also conducts missions to support the County Fire Department, where it heads out into the heavily forested hills, using the Air Crane to its full advantage in those ferocious fires so often seen on the nightly news.

Read the full article from Vertical Mag.