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November 18th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 45
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Big Boys Slinging Water in 2003
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Photos courtesy of John Kinnear
Helifor's Chinook 234
It has been over 12 years now since the demon was let loose off its leash in the Crowsnest Forest up Lost Creek way and when all was said and done there were over 20,000 hectares of forest burned. During the 26 days that this fire raged, over 800 SRD personnel, 21 helicopters, 8 water bombers, 30 bulldozers, 20 water trucks and 104 local volunteer and rescue personnel waged a war the likes of which had never been seen around here before.

It was more than a little interesting to see some of the more exotic machinery that was brought to bear in trying to control and ultimately subdue the demon. For me it was all about the big sky cranes, air horses, whirlybirds or whatever you choose to call them that showed up here and spent three weeks buzzing around with buckets hanging off them. I, like a few others, was drawn to their temporary staging areas to get a closer look at their technology and design.

At the Sentinel site just off the highway on Tecumseh Road three of the main workhorses in this battle came, for a time, for repairs, servicing and refueling.

The biggest of the three was Helifor’s Boeing 234 Chinook, a monstrous tandem rotor helicopter that manoeuvres by changing the pitch in one rotor system more than the other. Helifor’s 234 types are used in the oil fields, mining or anywhere else that requires an exact placement of heavy objects up to 27,000 pounds.

The first time I saw a tandem rotor chopper was in the early 1970’s when a Boeing Vertol Ch-113A carrying Pierre Trudeau flew in through the notch between Bluff and Turtle Mountain and landed at the Isabel Sellon school grounds. It was his preferred way to travel all across Canada during his years as Prime Minister. He flew in Voyageur 10413, one of 12 Ch-113’s that saw service in the Canadian Army until 1975 when they were replaced by the mighty Boeing CH-147 Chinook. The 113’s were modified for search and rescue service and finally retired in 2004. 10413 unfortunately crashed at Namao, Alberta during night manoeuvres in 1974 killing its three-man Canadian Armed Forces crew.
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The second big boy tearing up the skies in 2003 was C-FHHR, a Hayes Forest Service’s Sikorsky S-61N. The history of this machine began in 1961 when it flew for Los Angeles Airways. In the mid 90’s some of them were shortened for use in logging which involved removing about four feet from in-behind the cockpit to give it a boost in lift capacity. There were about ten of them shortened this way and they are commonly referred to as “Shortsky’s”. Don’t expect to see C-FHHR around here any time soon as it was sent to South Korea in 2008 to fly for the Air Palace Hotel. S-61n’s are used also as civil transport to places like offshore rigs, civilian search and rescue and air medical evacuations. They have two 1,500 hp GE engines and can cruise at 222 kph. Speed and dependability are obviously huge issues when it comes to delivering water to control hot spots and in advance of a moving fire and this Shortsky really gave its all through that 26 day battle.

The last of the big three machines was the one that really intrigued me. What caught my eye was the fact that it had no tail rotor. It was in fact a Russian-made Kamov Ka-32A1 which has counter-rotating rotors (two main rotors stacked on top of each other, turning in opposite directions). The torque from the upper rotor offsets the torque from the lower rotor. It has, as you can see by the picture, vertical stabilizers with rudders to help maintain yaw control. Describing how it flies gets pretty complicated but suffice to say controlling roll, pitch and yaw is what it’s all about when trying to keep Igor Sikorsky’s invention in the air. Helicopter pilots amaze me. It takes both hands and both feet to fly one and they have to think in three dimensions.

The Kamov Ka-27 design was originally developed for the Soviet Navy for ferrying and anti-submarine warfare but a variant of it, designed for civilian use (Ka-32), is now used for drilling platforms, landing on small vessels, construction sites and accessing difficult terrain. The Ka-32A has forty different options for firefighting equipment including the 5,000 litre bambi-bucket and a really neat steerable water canon for horizontal firefighting. Kamov’s fly in dozens of countries around the world for both military and civilian purposes and can carry 16 troops or 4,000 kg. of payload. Now that’s a mean machine.
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I watched the Kamov dipping its bucket in Frank Lake on August 6th, 2003 and was amazed by its hovering ability and stability in what was turbulent conditions at the time. Once loaded its twin Isotov 1600 horsepower turboshaft engines and its 52 foot diameter rotor blades lifted this beast straight up and over the top of Turtle Mountain where it, along with the Shortsky and the Chinook, was busy painting the northwest ridge of the mountain with water and red retardant. They were trying to keep fire from spreading over the ridge towards the east side of Blairmore.

The red fire retardant staining that was visible for many years afterwards has now disappeared. Time and the elements have washed it away but the legacy of the battle fought that year will always remain in our minds as a dam close call. Out of sight from the worried public in this re-leashing of the demon were no less than six camps, one major command post, helibases, fuel bowsers, torch mix sites, sling and mud pits and heavy equipment staging areas. No less than fourteen different radio frequencies were used for communication between aircraft, ground crews, dozer operators and other tactical crew. The fire was so big and complex that it was eventually divided up into five divisions with someone in charge of each. The end cost for this fire effort was a staggering $40,394,180.

I have flown in choppers many times and have always found it a thrilling experience. As an aside I recall the first time my father ever flew in one, doing coal outcrop surveillance back in the late 1960’s. I asked him what he thought of the experience and he said sardonically: “Give me good old Terra Firma. The more firma the less terra.”
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November 18th ~ Vol. 85 No. 45
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