Back home in Australia, especially in my home state of Victoria as summer looms so does the bush fire season. Anyone who has ever watched the news about Australia will generally see massive bush fires (forest fires) or massive floods (often the size of Europe!). Although a beautiful country, Australia can be a very harsh place. For many years as the summer bush fire season approaches, the Victorian Government employs the services of many fire bombing helicopters and aircraft to combat the devastating destruction of these fires. One of the most famous helicopters is called Elvis.
Elvis, literally the king of the firefighting assets is actually an Erickson S-64 Air-Crane Helitanker and each fire season this type of helicopter is brought across from the USA. This type of helicopter was originally a Sikorsky CH-64 Tarhe sky crane used for transporting vehicles, aircraft and cargo around for the US Army (Erickson purchased the rights to produce the helicopter in 1992). This heavy lift capability is also perfect for fitting a huge 10,000 litre / 2,650 gallon fixed tank for either water or fire-retardant (the retardant or water can be loaded at an airfield or water can be extracted whilst hovering above a body of water, including sea water) to be dropped from above on fire which may well be inaccessible to ground firefighters. The Air-Crane can fly at speeds of up to 200 kph / 124 mph to quickly dump a massive amount of liquid in one critical place can be a game changer when it comes to firefighting.
Although Elvis is the most well-known of the S-64 Helitankers, many others have operated in Australia including Georgia Peach, Incredible Hulk, Rocky and Gypsy Lady. Last summer one of the S-64’s, Camille was based with a number of other fire fighter aircraft and helicopters near Stawell in Victoria to combat many large fires that had broken out in the Grampians National Park and other areas within the region.
The Stawell airfield had been a hub of activity in combatting the fires but during a reprieve when the fires were under control, myself, my brother-in-law, niece and nephew visited their base and got to have a close up look at the helicopter. We could wander around it and even get inside the cockpit.
The water cannon fitted to the S-64 tank can shoot water or fire-retardant foam at 1,140 litres /300 gallons per minute! This spray can cover an area of 60 metres /200 feet to very effectively quell the flames below.
The guys from Erickson Air-Crane were fantastic showing us around the helicopter and answering all our questions. The service they provide is invaluable in saving property and lives. Once again the summer and fire season period is approaching in Australia and no doubt these guys will be ready and willing to go into the breach once again. It is money well spent!