Virginia aviators train to prepare for the wildfire season

An air crew from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command maneuvers their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with a full water bucket April 13, 2013, at Fort Pickett. (Photo by Lt. Col. Tim Donnellan, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

An air crew from the Sandston-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135 Aviation Regiment maneuvers their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with a full water bucket April 13, 2013, at Fort Pickett. (Photo by Lt. Col. Tim Donnellan, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Members of the Sandston-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135 Aviation Regiment conducted wildfire suppression training and certification in preparation for the upcoming wildfire season during their drill weekend April 12-14, 2013, at Fort Pickett.

“From an aviation standpoint, this type of DSCA (Defense Support to Civil Authorities) training is the most rewarding experience mission we have,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Shane Leipertz, standardization and unit instructor pilot. “It is a true example of the National Guard’s role. We work closely with the Department of Forestry to be a part of the firefighting mission. It’s great when we get to use our equipment to help the citizens of Virginia.”

During this training, two pilots and two crew chiefs completed currency flight and five pilots and one crew chief completed initial qualification flights. Firefighting is not a regular Army mission but the Virginia National Guard trains for this mission in support of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“Aerial suppression is a good way to fight fires because there is less risk of smoke and toxic fumes to firefighters,” said Leipertz.

The spring fire season in Virginia runs from Feb. 15 through April 30.

Soldiers of Detachment 2 operate UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in support of the fire suppression mission with one additional piece of equipment: a flexible water bucket that hangs underneath the helicopter. The pilot maneuvers the bucket into a water source and once filled, the water is flown to the fire and released. The bucket, referred to as the “Bambi Bucket,” which is the name of the manufacturer, can hold over 660 gallons of water and weighs more than 5,500 pounds when full.

The added weight of the water bucket changes the flight characteristics of the aircraft, making it more difficult to fly.

“Fire suppression is one of the hardest tasks we have as pilots because we have to be aware of the weight, airspeed, altitude and direction of the wind,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Anderson, 29th Infantry Division Tactical Aviation Officer. “Some fires require that you dump the water quickly over one area, while other times you may need to release smaller amounts over a larger area. We have to combine all aspects of flying and firefighting. It is a team effort and is the best example of the importance of air crew coordination.”

“Finding a water source can be a challenge in certain parts of the world. Fires don’t always take place near lakes or rivers,” said Master Sgt. Albert P. Kagi, flight facility standardization instructor who oversees all of the crew chief flight instructors. “You also have to take into account the fuel you burn travelling back and forth from the water source to the fire so you can maximize time spent fighting the fire.

“It is satisfying to be part of the firefighting effort,” said Kagi.

An air crew from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 91st Troop Command releases water from their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with a full water bucket April 13, 2013, at Fort Pickett. (Photo by 1st Lt. J. Erin Jones, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment)

An air crew from the Sandston-based Detachment 2, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135 Aviation Regiment releases water from their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with a full water bucket April 13, 2013, at Fort Pickett. (Photo by 1st Lt. J. Erin Jones, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment)

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