Portugal to purchase six fire fighting-capable Blackhawk helicopters
The Portuguese Air Force has signed an agreement to purchase six Blackhawk helicopters outfitted for fighting wildfires. The aircraft will be supplied by Arista Aviation Services, a US-based firm which specialises in modernising surplus US Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Delivery of the first two is scheduled for the first quarter of 2023. The contract includes the supply of material and tools, plus technical maintenance support until 2026 and training for six pilots and 21 mechanics.
The UH-60 Black Hawk will allow transport of 12 fire fighters and their equipment and has the capacity to carry up to 780 gallons of water.
The Expresso publication reported that the terms of the contract allow for the helicopters to be up to 35 years old. While age of the body of the ships may be measured in decades, it is possible that the helicopters have been modernized with recent technology.
In recent years a number of agencies in the United States have purchased new S-70i Blackhawks, which are given the “Firehawk” name after adding a 1 000-gallon (3 785-litre) water tank system, a raised landing gear (to accommodate the tank) and associated integrated avionics, a process that typically takes six months.
But some agencies go the UH-60 route, taking a former military helicopter and performing a similar conversion to a firefighting machine. Ventura County Fire Department in California is an example.
When I was in Portugal in 2012 working on a fire consulting project, the aerial fire fighting capabilities of the country were very, very limited. There was no significant air tanker fleet or a system for providing aerial platforms for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. A problem that confronted firefighters on a large fire was not knowing exactly where the fire was or how far it had spread, which made ordering evacuations a challenge.
In 2006 the government spent €348 million to buy six Kamov Ka-32A helicopters which could transport personnel and drop water, but over the last 10 years have had difficulty keeping them airworthy. In January none of the six were operational. The Helicopter Investor reported that in April the Portuguese government expelled a team of Russian mechanics working on three of the Kamovs and shut down the hangar in Ponte de Sor where the maintenance crew was working.
Portugal was Embraer’s first export customer for the C-390 fixed wing aircraft when it ordered five in 2019 for $930 million. Recently Embraer has successfully completed the flight test certification campaign for the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS II), which provides the C-390 with the ability to drop up to 3 000 gallons water or retardant on wildfires.
Source: Bill Gabbert, Fire Aviation