The low-pitched droning of a speeding helicopter is a familiar sound to residents of the Anza Valley during the hot summer months during fire season. Instantly, they search the skies for smoke and check social media for emergency alerts.
For local blazes, the flames are often attacked by Cal Fire’s helitack crews and often by Fire Attack Helicopter 301, one of the agency’s UH-1H Super Hueys. The bright red and white colors are unmistakable as the helicopter dips water from nearby sources, such as Lake Riverside Estates’ 55-acre lake.
Manufactured by Bell Helicopters for the U.S. Army, the aircraft served from 1963 to 1975. It was used as a troop and cargo transport and also for specialized operations.
In 1981, Cal Fire originally acquired 12 of these helicopters from the Department of Defense. They were heavily modified by Cal Fire for firefighting use and went into service battling fires in 1989.
Cal Fire currently has nine of these helicopters operating throughout the state, along with two additional helicopters available from Cal Fire’s Aviation Management Unit in Sacramento to fill behind scheduled maintenance.
Cal Fire uses the Super Hueys as fast initial-attack craft during very remote wildland fires. These aircraft are able to deploy and arrive on scene very quickly, delivering a nine-person fire crew wherever needed, as well as battle fires with water or foam drops.
According to Cal Fire, these helicopters are also used for remote area rescues, backfiring operations, igniting prescribed burns using heli-torch or the Chemical Ignition Device System, cargo transport, reseeding operations, infrared mapping, air rescue operations and non-fire emergency missions
The crews are also trained for short haul rescues, in which a crew member is lowered from a hovering helicopter to an injured or trapped person in a normally inaccessible area. Once hooked to a harness or stokes basket, the victim and crew member are then lifted up and flown a short distance to a safe location.
The 301’s crew consists of one pilot, two fire captains and eight firefighters.
Additionally, the aircraft can carry a payload bucket of 324 gallons of water or foam. The fixed tank visible on the belly of the helicopter can hold 375 gallons of water or foam.
The Super Huey weighs 10,500 pounds. Powered by a Turbine Lycoming T-53-703 derated from 1800 horsepower, the 301 can cruise at 126 mph with a range of 250 miles and an endurance of two hours. The rotor is 48 feet in diameter.
Diane Sieker can be reached by email at email@example.com.