Firefighters across southern Europe are currently battling wildfires which are now being considered as evidence of climate change caused by human activity.
Hundreds of firefighters from across Europe and the Middle East have worked alongside Greek colleagues to contain flare-ups of the huge wildfires which have ravaged the country’s forests over the past week, destroying homes and forcing evacuations. Huge fires have killed 42 people in Algeria which have killed 42 people and the tinderbox conditions have led to fires in Turkey and Cyprus
With destruction caused by wildfires set to become more common as the planet heats up, we look back at South Africa-based Leading Edge Aviation’s operations which tackle fires using adapted ex-military surplus aircraft. The company operates a UH-60 Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter from Stellenbosch aerodrome, which is used to battle against bushfires in the hills of the Western Cape during the summer season.
The aircraft, stripped of its military identity, is now registered in South Africa as a restricted utility helicopter. The Black Hawk adds to the fleet of Bell 205 helicopters operated by the family owned company. Leading Edge Aviation is contracted to assist Working on Fire, the South African aerial firefighting organisation charged with a contract to help control seasonal bushfires in the eastern low veldt and western cape regions.
Black Hawk is safer option for firefighting applications
Mark Jackson, Operations Manager, explained how the lifecycle of a 1981 Black Hawk, sold as military surplus, was incorporated into the fleet: “Basically, we started off with the Hueys, and then in 2016, we heard that they were going to be auctioning off Black Hawks and the company that we dealt with when we bought the first two Hueys suggested that we should look at going into the Black Hawk market.”
“Again, surplus ex-military aircraft that were going to be auctioned, because they felt that it would be a safer option than operating with the Hueys. And that’s kind of what started the ball rolling is to look at a safer and more efficient means of doing firefighting.”
Leading Edge uses helicopters to rapidly deploy water onto bushfires. The Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter, weighing in at 22,000 pounds, can spread loads of two and a half tonnes of water over fires burning across mountain slopes, threatening livestock, agricultural properties or residential properties.
Operating in the challenging conditions, the ex-military capabilities of the Black Hawk make it a safer option for firefighting, as Jackson explained: “Given the parameters that we work in: in and around fires, mountains, high winds, the safety factor comes in the form of mostly three things. You have two engines operating on the Hawk, it can operate on one engine, and you’ve got a four bladed main rotor and tail rotor system. The main rotor system is fully articulated head which means in turbulence, as we have in the Cape here, each bite can move independently up and down and forward and backward. So it dampens out most of the turbulence that you don’t easily get rid of in the Huey.”