When You’re High in the Mountains Over an Inferno

November 6, 2017 | Author: Rob Richardson

Imagine flying a helicopter toward a raging wildfire high in the mountains. You’re carrying a 200-gallon bucket full of water. As you near the blaze, the air gets hotter and thinner, so you want a powerful, reliable engine lifting your helo. As the smoke gets thick, you want to know exactly where you are and where you’re going. You need to be able to talk to the firefighters on the ground. And you want to be able to drop your water right on target, get back to reload and make another run as fast as possible.

Firefighting is one of the most stressful peacetime missions a helicopter pilot can fly. These missions are usually in remote, rugged areas, far from a base. And they are frequently pushing the limits of how hot and high a conventional helicopter can fly. But it should come as no surprise that Honeywell has developed unique technology that is specific to these kinds of extreme missions.


Heavy Lift

First there are Honeywell’s powerful, fuel-efficient, turboshaft engines, like the HTS900 or the LTS101. Experience with the HTS900 on Eagle 407HP helicopters has been that they can out-lift the standard Rolls-Royce 250-C47 engine by 500 pounds. These engines have 20 percent more power and 17 percent better fuel efficiency. This means you can take more water to the drop, at a greater range, and spend more time on target. Or you can carry more firefighters and equipment. Either way, these ingeniously designed and rugged engines are ideal upgrades for helicopter companies contracted to fight fires.

Inhospitable Terrain

Then there is the problem of navigating safely over difficult terrain shrouded in smoke. Helicopters equipped with Honeywell’s unique Sky Connect Tracker III mission management system help fire command and control centers know exactly where each helicopter is attacking the fire. Using Tracker III’s satellite communications, commanders can coordinate airborne and ground firefighter activities. Tracker III also keeps track of where water drops are made to ensure accurate pay for services. All the while,Honeywell’s enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) keeps the helicopter safe above the trees and topography of the most rugged terrain.

In-Flight Connectivity

Then there’s high-speed data connectivity, another unique challenge in firefighting. Honeywell’s Aspire 200 satellite communication system, developed specifically for helicopters, lets pilots, for the first time, talk to base or firefighters on the ground while simultaneously receiving and sending data.

Aspire’s lightweight antenna is designed to send a signal upward to the satellite, right through the rotor blades, like a Star-Trek-style transporter beam. This had always been a problem before in helicopter satellite connectivity. The steady, high-speed connection means that real-time video can be streamed from the aircraft, documenting that the target was hit. This is a first for aerial firefighting operations.

The Pit Crew Advantage

Finally, but not least, Honeywell has developed a brilliant maintenance solution in its health and usage monitoring system (HUMS). This system, integrated with the SkyConnect Tracker III Flight Data Monitoring, can be configured to measure key parameters of a helicopter’s performance and send back real-time alerts to maintenance at base. All this while the aircraft is on its mission. So the maintenance crew back at base can see if anything’s wrong and get ready with parts before the helo returns. This will save valuable troubleshooting time so the mission can keep going. Think of the pit crew at a NASCAR race.

The beauty of the Tracker III is also that it’s platform agnostic. It can be configured to connect to any engine, any GPS or any of the other systems on any helicopter. It’s a supremely cost-effective way for helicopter operators to keep their equipment in optimum condition, without long and costly downtime.

There are obviously so many more helicopter missions these solutions are made for: medevac, pipeline inspection, mining operations, search and rescue, land management, remote supply, mapping, even heli-skiing. But what they’ve done for firefighting helicopters is, to me, the epitome of how Honeywell has taken helicopter capabilities to a whole new level.

Rob Richardson

Rob Richardson

Honeywell Customer Business Manager