Public Service

More Californian Firefighting Units Want Sikorsky S-70is to Replace Aging Bells

By S.L. Fuller | December 15, 2017
Send Feedback


Public domain photo by Julian Herzog

UPDATE: (Dec. 18, 2017) — Sikorsky has received notice that San Diego intends to award a contract for one S-70i in a baseline configuration. The aircraft includes wide chord rotor blades, enhanced engine power, a stronger airframe, a digital cockpit with flight management system for enhanced situation awareness, a terrain and obstacle avoidance system and an integrated vehicle health management system, the manufacturer said. San Diego plans to have its aircraft modified by a specialist outfitter next year. The aircraft would then be equipped with a 1,000-gallon  water tank, extended landing gear, single pilot cockpit layout and a medically-equipped interior.


(Dec. 15, 2017) — The Los Angeles County Fire Department has formally taken delivery of two Sikorsky S-70is. Approved by the county’s board of supervisors in July, the deal is part of a replacement program that was proposed the July before after a Bell Helicopter 412 accident resulted in a loss of aircraft. City News Services reported Wednesday that San Diego’s City Council approved the acquisition of an S-70i. Both events follow the official California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection contract award to United Rotorcraft for S-70is to replace an obsolete fleet of Bell UH-1Hs.


Why are the S-70i’s so popular among firefighting agencies? According to Tom Ewald, assistant fire chief of L.A. County's Air and Wildland Division, the aircraft can simply do more than other aircraft. He said that since the 1970s, the department had been using Bell Helicopter platforms — the 205, then the 412. The 412 had trouble working in hot and high environments, to the point where it would sometimes only be able to drop 250 gallons of water of its 360-gallon capacity. L.A. County took delivery of its first Fire Hawks in late 2000/early 2001, Ewald said, and added a third in 2004.

“Since that time, we’ve had nothing but absolutely positive results with that aircraft,” Ewald said at a small media event. “Its capability to drop a tremendous amount of water; its ability to hover-snorkel and fill from accessible water locations; its ability to transport large crews of firefighters; its ability to fly on hot days at high altitudes and still be effective — you put all that together and you have just a world-class firefighting tool.”

R&WI Editorial Advisory Board member and Sikorsky Business Development Director for North America Jeanette Eaton said the Black Hawk has almost 10,000 pounds of payload. That equates to almost 1,000 gallons of water, plus a 30-gallon mixing unit for foam.

“That was a big reason why we went with the platform,” Eaton said, “and the fact that they could fly under public use.” Sikorsky does not have a full standard type certification for the aircraft, she explained, but a previous variant has a restricted category certificate. Eaton added that Sikorsky is seeing international interest in the Fire Hawk, as well.

Although the county took delivery of the aircraft, they aren’t anticipated to go into service until the end of 2018. The international Black Hawks are in what Eaton called a “green configuration,” meaning a standard S-70i. The next step is for the aircraft to fly to Denton, Texas, where they’ll be painted. Then in March, Ewald said, the aircraft would be fitted with mission equipment. The aircraft need to be multi-role capable, fit for EMS, search and rescue, and other missions. However, that vendor has yet to be determined. A request for proposal is expected to be issued for the mission equipment vendor in the first quarter of 2018.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department is currently flying aging Bell aircraft, according to the news report. The council separately approved using bond revenues to fund a $13.7 million hangar for the helicopters at Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport, the report said.

Receive the latest rotorcraft news right to your inbox