San Diego Fire Rescue Debuts $20M Night-Flying Helicopter

Photo courtesy of San Diego Fire Rescue

The San Diego Fire-Rescue has added a nearly $20 million S-70i Firehawk helicopter, a firefighting apparatus capable of flying at night (key to keeping fires under control) and able to carry and drop 1,000 gallons of water in a single load. This new unit brings the helicopter fleet to three.

“The fire season is now year-round in California so we’re constantly looking for opportunities to be as prepared as possible for when the big one strikes here in San Diego,” Mayor Faulconer said. “Fire professionals will tell you that the best way to prevent major wildfires is to stop smaller fires before they get too big to handle. This new Firehawk bolsters our ability to quickly address any fire situation and ensures we have the most advanced equipment to keep San Diegans safe.”

The S-70i version of the Firehawk includes wide chord rotor blades for increased payload and maneuverability, enhanced engine power, a stronger airframe than previous models, a digital cockpit with flight management system for enhanced situation awareness, and an integrated vehicle health management system to monitor the aircraft’s operational health.

The Firehawk’s military design allows it to undergo enormous physical pressure stemming from its ability to drop 1,000 gallons of water multiple times a day on a fire line. Among the improved safety features, the aircraft includes a terrain and obstacle avoidance system that alerts the air crew to the proximity of potential hazards on the ground.

The helicoper operates with a crew of three and has space for 12 additional personnel, which is key in getting firefighters transported to difficult to reach brush fires, the department announced on Facebook. It has a 1,000-gallon external tank with a computer-controlled drop system that can vary the water drop pattern based upon the type of fire, (such as grass fire versus vegetation fire). The retractable snorkel can fill the tank in about a minute. Its external hoist can carry 600 lbs., and it has a cargo hook that can carry up to 9,000 lbs.

The city has also built a new $13.7 million hangar to house all three helicopters. The 30,000-square-foot facility will help protect the helicopters from rust and corrosion as well as allow for indoor maintenance work. Prior to the investment, the helicopters in service were stored outdoors.

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