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.
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.
My day off work to go plane hunting continued to provide interesting things for me. I had noticed a UH-1 Huey on FlightRadar24 while looking for something else. It was off to the east and had been circling various locations. I assumed it was a firefighting mission and thought no more about it. Actually it was the King County Sheriff’s airframe and, while I was at Boeing Field, it made an approach and landed at Modern Aviation’s ramp. It was a bit distant but I got some shots of it and thought no more.
A while later, I was at Renton awaiting the arrival of the A-26 when I heard the distinctive sound of the Huey again. This time it was close over the top of me and just to the sunny side so rather backlit. I figured I would shoot it again anyway at which point it commenced a tight descending turn to land on the field. It came right around me so I got shots all the way – particularly as it got to the right side for the light. To be honest, it was a little close to me for a good angle but this day was throwing me tons of opportunities and I was not going to complain.
Preserving military aircraft in an airworthy condition is no small undertaking. They were never designed to be easy to keep. They were designed to perform and, when there isn’t a long supply chain backing things up with big budgets, things can be a bit more tricky. One group that is keeping an old airframe alive to share its history is the Huey Vets group in Hayward. I first came across the helo when I was in Hayward and I saw it flying in he distance. It showed up in a post here when I got some shots of it.
I have since made a couple of visits to the group to see what they do. Their mission is to share the history of the EMU unit that was unique in providing emergency medical cover jointly between the US Army and the Australian Army. Not only do they keep the Huey flying but they have members with a history in the unit including one from Australia who makes frequent visits. They have many members of the organization and members are able to take flights in the aircraft. I went along to see one of the open house days. It was a hot day in Hayward and they had a number of flights lined up which gave me a chance to watch them in action from a variety of positions.
The Huey is an iconic airframe. The big two blade rotor beats the air into submission and you can hear it from a long way off as a result. Having the doors slid back to give access to the cabin and the gunner positions means you can see straight through the fuselage. It also means the occupants of the cabin get a good view of things outside. They transitioned from the hover outside the hangar along the taxiway before heading off for some local flying. Then they would return for a change or a break for lunch. Great fun to see them in action. Check the group out at their website, http://www.hueyvets.com.
Given the number of times that I have been specifically trying to catch something out in the wild, it is a little funny when I get completely lucky and come across something cool without ever trying. I was out walking along the shore in Hayward through the parkland that includes the marshes out there. The weather was not particularly nice but I was checking out the area as a place to walk on another occasion. While I was walking along, I heard the unmistakable sound of a Huey in the distance. I scanned the horizon for a sign of the helicopter and picked it up low and coming towards me. Could I be so lucky as to get it coming right by me?
No, as it got closer, it turned away. I was a bit disappointed but not too surprised. It dropped out of sight and I figured it had landed at Hayward airport. I went on with my walk and didn’t think much more about it. Before too long, it popped up again and a similar situation occurred. As I headed back to the car, the same thing happened again. I was a bit closer at this point and got some shots but it was still some way off and the sky was a bit grey so still nothing worthwhile.
As I got to the car, some rain started to fall so I figured I was heading home. As I drove away, the rain stopped again and I figured I was going to be coming right by the airport so I might look and see if I could see the Huey or not. When I got to the fence, the sound returned and right behind me was the ubiquitous shape on its downwind leg. It turned in to the field and ended up hovering a short distance from me. Not only that, but the sun came out! A dark background with sun on the foreground is always a great combination. They were flying a bunch off circuits so I stayed around for a while to catch a couple of them before the light went away and my desire for lunch started to take over.
The aircraft is a restored airframe run by a volunteer group to commemorate the emergency medical service provided in Vietnam. They are called EMU Inc. and are based around here. I hope to spend more time finding out about what they do so watch out for more in the future.
When someone in Chicago needed to lift something that was too heavy for the S-58T fleet of Midwest, there was a good chance that CHI Aviation would get the job. When I first worked with them, they were known as Construction Helicopters but their scope has grown a lot and so the name has been changed. Whether it was the S-61 or the Super Puma, some big payloads could be taken up. I thought I wouldn’t see much of them once I moved to California. I was wrong.
They have acquired some surplus CH-47 Chinooks from the US Army and a number of them are currently based in California working on firefighting contracts. Some of them were deployed to help fight the Wragg Fire and I had a chance to go hunting for them while I had some free time up there recently. I had no idea where they were going to be operating. A look on Flightradar24 showed that there was a lot of activity in the vicinity of the fires including fixed and rotary wing assets but I was heading off with little real idea what I was looking for.
I took Route 128 that goes up through the hills and past Lake Berryessa. This road had been shut at one point when the fire first got established but had since been reopened. Even so, as I drove across, there were fire appliances from all over the state in any turn off I passed. There was also an orange streak on the road which, I assume, came from a fire retardant drop of some sort. As I came by the lake, I didn’t see any aerial activity. There were plenty of boats on the lake so I figured that they weren’t picking up water from there. It later turned out that was a false assumption.
I dropped down from the hills and came around a bend in the road to find myself facing a Chinook coming in to pick up water from the river beside me. Fortunately, I was able to pull off right there. For once, I was well prepared. I had figured that I might see something and need to have the camera ready so I had fitted the lens and set everything up before starting the hunt so I grabbed the camera and started shooting.
There was a pair of the Chinooks coming in for water along with a Sikorsky Black Hawk. All of them were using Bambi Buckets to get water from the river before heading back to the fight. I got a bunch of shots from the road before things quietened down. Other than an Army Chinook without a bucket that seemed to be coordinating things (and marked with purple markings over its normal camo), nothing was moving. A guy came up from the river with his fishing gear in hand and suggested I go down to where he was to get a good shot.
I did as suggested but, of course, nothing was happening now. A couple of times I wandered back to the car only to hear something coming over and rushed back. Sadly, these were flights to the lake rather than the river. Finally I did get lucky and got a few shots from river level of someone picking up a load. Then it went quiet again so I headed off for a while on an idea that proved fruitless.
My return brought me back past the same spot and things were happening again. This time there was a Huey involved and he was running a lot of lifts. He also was loading from a slightly different part of the river. One of the Chinooks still showed up but at the original spot so I had to make my choices. Eventually, I needed to head back so started off. However, the Chinook and another Huey put in another quick appearance so I stopped for them and then finally headed back.
This was a totally impromptu trip and I ended up getting a lot of time with the CHI Chinooks as well as some other types too. Obviously, it is not great that they are needed with these fires raging but it was impressive to see the crews at work providing such a valuable service. Now I want to see them again, hopefully in a slightly more controlled environment! I wrote a piece for GAR which you can see here.