ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The New York Army National Guard conducted helicopter water bucket training along the eastern shore of Lake Ontario at Hamlin Beach State Park May 5-6 to prepare to help fight wildfires.
The CH-47 Chinook helicopter and 24 crewmembers, based at the Patriot Way Flight Facility in Rochester, used a specially designed aircraft bucket to scoop water from the lake and practice dropping it on designated sites.
The training allows aircrews to practice the techniques used to extinguish wildfires.
The Chinook crew is from Detachment 1, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment. Members operate the CH-47F, the Army’s largest helicopter. It can lift more than 30 Soldiers, carry 24,000 pounds of cargo and climb to 20,000 feet.
Each summer, the crew members and maintenance personnel train how to attach the bucket and then pick up and dump water.
The training is necessary because a full bucket weighs 8 tons, and pilots need to practice flying with the additional weight hanging under the aircraft to fly safely in an emergency.
That kind of maneuvering requires precise communication with the crew.
“The Chinook is big enough where the pilots up front can’t see the back of the aircraft and we can’t see what’s going on underneath, either,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jarred Barnes, one of the CH-47 pilots.
At a vacant lot in the state park, the crew lifted off and flew out over deep water.
Three crew members looked out the sides and rear of the aircraft, while another laid facedown on the floor, watching the bucket through a hatch. The crew flew a linear flight path parallel to the shoreline and used small white buoys for target practice.
“We’ll operate the bucket, call them down to dunk it into the water, call them as they fill it up, let them know when it’s full, let them know they’re clear to come up,” said Sgt. Jesse Montayne, a CH-47 flight engineer. “If we’re fighting fires ... we would let them know when they’re at their release point and they let us know to open the bucket. We open the bucket and do it all over again.”
With its greater capability, the Chinook could help fight fires in places that prove challenging for smaller helicopters.
“We might use it up in the Adirondacks with their wildfires during the summer,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Scott, the unit’s CH-47 pilot instructor.
While most aerial firefighting is conducted by New York State Police helicopters, the New York Army National Guard employs helicopter firefighting equipment when requested by state officials.
“We’ve got a full unit up and ready to go,” Barnes said.