The Ventura County (California) Aviation Unit, a joint operation of the Sheriff’s Office and the Fire Department, announced the arrival of its two new “Firehawk” helicopters just in time for fire season.

The helicopters are former military Blackhawk helicopters that were converted for public safety use. They are equipped with a 1,000-gallon belly tank to drop water on fires, a rescue hoist, and night vision technology.

The current fleet of helicopters is typically staffed by a pilot, two crew chiefs, a Search & Rescue paramedic, and a Search & Rescue physician or a nurse. In addition to aerial firefighting, Aviation Unit crews are trained in such specialties as night vision goggle operations, scuba diving, hoist rescue, swift water rescue, and emergency medical procedures.

These aircraft were formerly Blackhawk helicopters used by the Army National Guard prior to their purchase and conversion to Firehawks. They are twin-engine, four-blade, heavy-lift helicopters, and typically have a flight crew of three. Enhancing Ventura County’s aerial firefighting’s abilities, the Firehawks can deliver almost three times the amount of water in a single drop compared to the unit’s legacy rotorcraft. They are also outfitted with the latest technology in avionics, mapping systems, high-definition camera systems, and forward looking infrared (FLIR) systems.

The helicopters’ primary mission will be assisting firefighters on the ground during a fire. The helicopters’ larger cabin space can carry up to 11 wildland firefighters and their gear, enabling more personnel and equipment to be flown to a fire in less time.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Aviation Unit began in 1971.The Ventura County Fire Department entered into a cooperative agreement with the Sheriff’s Office in 2009, making the Aviation Unit a joint operation.


  • Crew: one pilot and two crew chiefs / fire manager
  • Overall Capacity: 6000 lbs. of cargo internally, including 10 firefighters or 2 litter patients, or 9000 lbs. of external cargo
  • Equipped Weight: 14,402 lbs.
  • Max Takeoff Weight: 22,000 lbs.
  • Powerplant: 2 General Electric T700-GE-701C/D turboshaft engines, 1890 Shaft Horse Power (1410 kW) each
  • Main Rotor Diameter: 53 feet, 8 inches
  • Maximum speed: 159 knots (183 mph)
  • Cruise speed: 120 knots (140 mph)
  • Fuel Capacity: 360 gallons
  • Water Capacity: 1000 gallons (ability to drop in ¼, ½, and full loads)
  • Hoist Capacity: 600 lbs.
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