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Coulson to operate first US Type 1 HeliTanker programme
Coulson Aviation spearheaded the establishment of night fire suppression in Australia, where operations include hover filling from open water sources and night vision goggles. It is now bringing its expertise to the US.
The S-76B provides the eyes, whie the S-61N delivers the water.

Coulson Aviation USA has been contracted by Orange County Fire Authority in partnership with electricity supply company Southern California Edison (SCE) to bring its NVG aerial fire fighting programme to the USA.

“This night programme is an extension of the excellent work started in Australia by Emergency Management Victoria, National Ariel Firefighting Centre and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. We believe we have a safety-first night firefighting operation that will benefit the firefighters and communities we serve,” says CEO Wayne Coulson.

The Next Generation Aerial Operations Based Pilot Program is a 150-day night aerial firefighting programme that is structured along the lines of the highly successful programme in Victoria, Australia. It comprises use of a Type 1 helitanker, with a capacity of more than 1,000 gallons and capable of hover filling at night from the nearest available water source or portable tank, and a Type 2 intelligence-gathering helicopter. The Type 1 helitanker providing night fire suppression, working in coordination with an intelligence gathering helicopter for risk/benefit decision-making, will be the first of its kind in the US.

“Edison is making significant investments to assist firefighting capabilities across our service area to protect our customers and communities from the ongoing threat of wildfires,” explains SCE's vice president of local public affairs Chris Thompson. “This most recent project is an opportunity for Edison to accelerate the first US deployment of this innovative firefighting technology. Since more than a third of our service area is located in state‐designated high fire risk areas, it's essential for us to regularly partner with fire authorities on groundbreaking programmes like this.”

“This could be a game changer thanks to Southern California Edison,” says Orange County Fire Authority fire chief Brian Fennessy. “Fighting wildfires at night is optimal because weather conditions are more favourable; temperatures are down, humidity is up and winds are typically lighter. The ability to have an aerial resource that can precisely drop large volumes of water on a fire will make a significant difference. And the ability to measure its effectiveness will help us determine if the success outweighs the risk.”

The Type I helicopter that Coulson will operate for the night fire suppression operation is a Sikorsky S-61N, with a smaller Type 2 Sikorsky S-76B conducting reconnaissance and providing a supervision platform. The S-76B is night vision goggle equipped and is fitted with a HD thermal imaging camera to assist in the safe management of night fire suppression operations and hot spot detection.

This new capability is operating under an exclusive-use contract with OCFA and is available to respond on a 24/7 basis to fire agency requests within southern California.