Fighting Forest Fires In A Small Helicopter


This summer, a company called Universal Helicopters was called on to fight fires in Canada using the Bell 407, an aircraft often associated with executive or VIP transport, and AVweb spoke with one of the aircraft’s pilots about his experience. Geoff Goodyear said the aircraft was contracted to serve as a firefighter because clients found it offered load-carrying capabilities that made it an economically advantageous option when compared with older designs. The helicopter’s performance also offered some advantages not provided by fixed-wing aircraft, he said. Goodyear told AVweb about some of the challenges faced by firefighting pilots and gave a rundown of what a pilot could expect while flying a firefighting mission. The full conversation is this week’s podcast.

With water nearby, Goodyear said he could make 60-100 drops per hour of 200 gallons each, noting that the helicopter could deliver each drop with more precision and intensity than a fixed-wing aircraft. As for the challenges, Goodyear said that flying in a firefighting environment creates a mental and physical intensity that pilots must understand and contain. He said that the fire introduces new variables that a pilot needs to keep in mind. For example, while performing a drop and extinguishing a hot spot, a helicopter pilot needs to take care that his rotor wash does not upset embers and send them into nearby brush where they could easily ignite new fires. Goodyear stressed that one key to effectively flying in a firefighting environment is the ability to manage the multiple variables that are present and often changing in a very dynamic environment. Said Goodyear, the importance of “slowing down” one’s mental process was important in addressing each factor with proper care, while not neglecting the others.