With the firefighting helicopters gathering at Snohomish to cover the local fire activity, I was able to chat to the crews a little while they waited to see what was to come. Northwest Helicopters had brought in a Black Hawk to support the fire if needed. It was a 1984 build airframe and had been painted in a blue scheme. The guys were complaining about the paint, though. It was a matte finish and the soot from the exhausts was discoloring the surface and was, apparently, impossible to clean up. The rest of the airframe looked fine for something that is nearly 40 years old.
They had a Bambi bucket with them for the firefighting side of things and were quite happy for me to check out the interior of the cockpit. Having shot their arrival, it was a shame that the visibility was so bad that they could not do what they had come to do and were stuck on the ground while I was there. A nice pair of guys to chat with, though, and I appreciate the time and access that they gave.
The British Army bought a bunch of Apaches which were locally assembled by Westland and were fitted with Rolls Royce Turbomeca engines to bolster the local content. Since that acquisition, the Apache has gone through a bunch of upgrades and the current AH-64E Apache Guardian is the latest and greatest. The British Army decided to acquire these and, this time, there is none of the local content to worry about. Their airframes have been rotated back to Boeing and AH-64E airframes get delivered. Some might have originally been British but others are not.
Middle Wallop is not the busy airfield it once was but there is still some Army flying underway and that includes operation of these new Apaches. While I was visiting, there were some airframes flying around the local countryside and also doing some pattern work. They pattern is a bit distant from the museum area but I was still able to catch some shots of them. Hopefully I will see them in more detail at some point but this was my first encounter with the updated fleet.
Airlift Northwest is a regular feature in the Seattle area providing aeromedical services across the region. I have seen their helicopters at both Arlington and Boeing Field numerous times. During the Olympic Air Show at Olympia, I was wandering up towards the hangar where the Huskie was stored when one of the Airlift Northwest EC-135s made its approach. I couldn’t have been better positioned for it so got a bunch of shots as it came in and landed. The UW colors look good on these helicopters.
The Bolt Creek fire brought a load of helicopters in to fight the fire and they were based at Harvey Field in Snohomish. A while after I got there that weekend, one of the UH-1s fired up. This was Rotor One, a county operated helicopter. It took off and turned over me before heading east. It turns out it was looking to see how the conditions were. Visibility looked awful and, judging by whatever Rotor One reported, that was the case everywhere. None of the other helicopters ever got moving. The conditions were just too bad.
I made a kit of an RAF Puma when I was a kid and have had a soft spot for the type ever since. The Super Puma is a capable airframe that has had a few problems over the years but is still very impressive. If I can see one anytime, I will try to do so. The good news is that one has shown up at Arlington. It was parked outside a hangar without rotors when I saw it and got some shots. It has since moved indoors and I assume it is being fitted out for operations. If so, I can’t wait to see it in action.
I went to see Seafair itself for the first time this year. I had been to Boeing Field to watch launches and recoveries before but this was my first time down by Lake Washington for the show. I was down close to Seward Park and, on one of the small bits of land jutting out in to the water was the location that the Coast Guard had parked their MH-65E Dolphin. It was part of the display but I suspect it was also on duty if there were any issues during the show.
I was looking forward to getting shots of it moving but, as a result of a re-planning of a presentation to a client which had been originally scheduled for the day before, I needed to take this call on my day off at the show. The call coincided with the Coast Guard demo. I was sitting on a Teams call on my phone as the Dolphin lifted off right next to me and did a dynamic low transition. Oh to have been able to photograph that!
I did get shots of it on the (sloping) ground and, at the end of the show, they took off to head back to wherever they were overnighting. At least this time, I was able to get shots of them starting up and taking off. Sadly, the departure was far less dynamic than the one for the show. However, there was nothing I could do about that. It was still cool to watch them from relatively close quarters.
I have never shot an airborne K-Max. I have seen them flying – indeed one flew over the house during the pandemic and I looked out of the window as it came low over me but no camera was handy. It is a bit of a problem for me that I have not yet shot one flying. I did manage to get close to one recently, though. The Bolt Creek Fire broke out up near Index and a number of fire fighting helicopters were drafted in. They were based at Harvey Field in Snohomish so just up the road from me. I went up to see what was afoot. Sadly from a photographic point of view (and from many others too), the fires had resulted in so much smoke in the area, the visibility was too poor for anything to fly.
Instead, I was able to chat to the crews and walk around the helicopter as it sat on the field waiting to see what would happen next. The orange paint scheme is pretty conspicuous as if the unusual configuration Kaman knows best was not conspicuous on its own. The airframe is minimal – space for a pilot, engine, fuel and transmission and not much more. From every angle, it is a strange looking beast. However, it is so interesting. A few weeks later it had moved to Arlington from which it eventually ferried home. Of course, that happened when I wasn’t there so I continue to wait for the chance to shoot one airborne.
After talking to someone that flew for the operator, I found myself checking through some older shots of the Olympic Air Show with the Hueys doing flight demonstrations. As I scrolled through the shots, I saw that, of the two crew, one was busy flying the helicopter and the other was playing with their phone. I imagine that they were filming the display but I preferred the idea that the whole thing was too boring and they were just checking out messages instead.
Let’s head back to the summer and the Olympic Air Show in Olympia. This is a show that often has a helicopter theme but this year it had an extra rotary element that was cool to watch. Earlier in the day, I had been looking across the field to where a selection of Hueys were parked up. These belong to the Department of Natural Resources for the State of Washington. What I hadn’t realized was that they were going to be part of the flying display.
Two of the Hueys took part. They undertook a demonstration of aerial firefighting techniques. While both helicopters were fitted with the underfuselage tank, one was configured to use the tank while the other was set up with a Bambi bucket. A large water container – looked like a giant paddling pool to me – had been set up at the far end of the field. Why they chose to put it so far away from the public I don’t know.
The helicopters took it in turns to fill up with water, either with a snorkel or by dunking the bucket. They then went to the opposite end of the field and demonstrated different techniques for dropping water on the fire. These would include a direct run overhead, a vertical drop, a toss maneuver and so on. Each Huey would use the technique with the only variation for each cycle being the difference between the integral tank and the bucket.
Everything was a bit distant from the crowd so it was stretching the capabilities of the lenses (and the dope holding them) but it was one of the times that you were grateful for it not being too sunny since the heat haze was barely an issue. It would have been fun to have it all a bit closer to the crowd but it was still a good demonstration of the capabilities the Department has for dealing with wildfires, something that was, no doubt, put to good use later in the year.
During our day out in Portsmouth, we had lunch at a very nice pub by the harbor. We sat outside enjoying the various boats coming and going. I popped inside before leaving and, when I came back outside, Nancy had to inform me that, as soon as I went inside, three helicopters had flown by. There had been on Chinook with two smaller, unidentified, types flying formation with it. Needless to say, I was rather disappointed but such is life.
A while later, as we were walking along the sea wall at Southsea, the sound of rotors returned. The nice thing about Chinooks is that they don’t really sneak up on you. I had ample time to switch to a longer lens and set up the camera for something more appropriate for a helicopter (although the Chinook rotor rpm is so low, it still is not ideal). Sure enough, it came right towards us and flew through the harbor entrance and right by. A nice surprise. It then flew out to sea and I wondered whether it was going to return. Instead, it appeared to be hovering over one of the forts out in the Solent. That would have looked great from closer up.