A new fire helicopter with three times the water-soaking ability of a Huey has joined the Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit, but it’ll be taking off again soon for more retrofitting. The Sikorsky Firehawk has been in Alabama for more than a year having upgraded avionics, a rescue hoist, and a new paint job added. It flew to its new home at the Santa Ynez Airport recently, County Fire and the Sheriff’s Office announced on October 8.
Designated ’Copter 964, the new aircraft carries state-of-the-art night-flight equipment and is more stable in high winds than the department’s Hueys. The Firehawk can carry 12 passengers and two patients on stretchers, while the Hueys carry five passengers and one injured patient. It is also faster than a Huey, flying 218 mph compared to the older helicopters’ 138 mph.
’Copter 964 will remain at Santa Ynez Airport for a month so the crew can train on the new aircraft, County Fire spokesperson Capt. Daniel Bertucelli said. It will then head to another outfitter for the installation of a 1,000-gallon belly tank and taller landing gear to accommodate the tank’s size. Those will enable the ’copter to agilely switch from transporting firefighters to putting out fires without the need to return to base to attach a bucket and fill it with water. The 1,000-gallon tank is triple the capacity of the Air Support Unit’s vintage Hueys, which carry 300 gallons.
The funding for the new aircraft was accomplished with the help of Direct Relief, which collected more than $1 million in donations for the Firehawk. The fundraising continues in order to complete the work on the Sikorsky at Direct Relief’s Fund the Firehawk.
The new chopper is slated to be in service for Santa Barbara County ahead of the 2021 high fire season.
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