Forest fire management agencies around the world are making increased use of helicopter mounted tanks ‘helitank’ to rapidly attack wildfires before they can get out of control.
Ascent’s 360 U.S. gallon (1,360 litre) helitank was designed with extensive input from pilots and leading wildfire agencies and has a number of innovative features that set it apart from competing products.
The Ascent 50001C features a unique retractable snorkel for rapid uploading of water, completing a fill of 360 US gallons in about 18 seconds. This feature allows the helicopter to be ‘unrestricted’ in two categories: speed and utilization.
- The retractable snorkel removes limitations of forward airspeed, translating to faster response times; approximately 20% faster than helicopters outfitted with tanks that have non-retractable snorkels.
- Additionally, the retractable feature also allows the helicopter to carry passengers in addition to ‘essential crew’ resulting in an expanded mission capability.
To reduce pilot workload, all the controls and indicators for the helitank are contained in a redesigned cyclic. With only one thumb, the pilot can control all the tanks systems, including a master release.
The 50001C helitank is also certified with a water offload capability so water can be pumped from the hovering helicopter to firefighters on the ground using a standard 1 ½ inch fire hose.
The rugged yet lightweight carbon fibre design has been engineered to allow a 3,000 lbs. capacity external cargo hook.
A water drop tracking system (awaiting installation) has been designed to seamlessly integrate with satellite-based flight tracking systems to map the GPS coordinates for all water drops along with many other programmable data collection parameters. These features will provide the helicopter operator/end user with critical information regarding the effectiveness of each fire fighting mission.
Ascent Helicopters, sister company to Ascent Aerospace, provides specialized helicopter firefighting, external hoist, utility and special air services in Canada and the United States.
Development of the Ascent 50001C helitank commenced in 2006 shortly after Ascent Helicopters successfully bid on a long-term contract to provide services to the British Columbia Wildfire Management Branch (WMB) Rapattack program.
“British Columbia has been using helitanks for 30-years and the Rapattack program had a long “wish list” of features they wanted to see, to enhance their mission capability,” said Trent Lemke, president of Ascent.
“We decided to get into the helitank business when we discovered that existing helitanks fell short of BC’s challenging mission requirements and could not be easily modified.”
To meet the evolving nature of wildfire missions, the helitank was designed to deliver several ‘drop patterns’ optimized to the type of fire being attacked. Internally, the helitank has two water compartments accessible by two oversized drop doors. The doors can be opened independently or together, depending on the desired type of water drop.
With input from Australian wildfire agencies the tank was also designed with a door seal that eliminates water loss in flight. Pilots can initiate a controlled flow, causing the tank to produce a rain like drop pattern (restrictive drop) that is effective on grass fires.
The initial Ascent 50001has been in operational service with the B.C. WMB for seven years (under Limited STC), during which time the design was continually refined.
The Ascent 50001C helitank was developed as a clean sheet design and it is certified to the latest FAA FAR 27/29 STC requirements for helicopter safety and crash worthiness. It received Supplementary Type Certification (STC) from the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) on June 19, 2013 and from Transport Canada on November 1, 2013. FAA STC certification will be underway in the near future.