Expected delivery Fall of 2023
On October 27, 2022 after nearly three years of planning and assessment, the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) Board of Directors approved the purchase of two new Sikorsky S70 Firehawk helicopters. The new aircraft will replace the two OCFA 1966 UH-1H “Super Hueys” that were grounded in 2020 due to significantly increased cost of operating these legacy aircraft.
Firehawks have become the industry standard across the Southern California fire service, and with this approval, the OCFA joins its surrounding peer agencies — Santa Barbara Fire, Ventura County Fire, LA County Fire, San Diego Fire, and CAL FIRE — that already have Firehawk helicopters in their respective fleets.
Brian Fennessy, Chief of the OCFA since 2018, told Fire Aviation in March 2020,“All four of our aircraft need to be replaced.” The Chief has served as Air Operations Branch Director on Incident Management Teams.
Previously when he was Chief of the San Diego Fire Department he commissioned an independent study to evaluate and recommend which type of helicopters the organization should be flying into the future. A Fleet Replacement Analysis by Conklin & de Decker Associates was conducted. After that study and one for Los Angeles County Fire Department in 2000 both departments purchased Sikorsky S-70i Firehawks.
Chief Fennessy contracted for the same consultant to do a similar study at OCFA. They evaluated and compared five helicopters; Bell 212HP, Bell 412EP, Sikorsky S-70i, Airbus H215 Long, Airbus H215 short. The study was underway in 2020 and apparently came up with similar results.
The new OCFA aircraft will join OCFA’s two Bell 412EP helicopters, providing the agency with four operational helicopters for the first time since 2020 and empowering OCFA Air Operations to perform day/night aerial fire suppression, remote rescues, and other all-hazard missions at a far safer and capable level. True force multipliers in battling wildfire, the Firehawk’s water-dropping capabilities eclipse that of the Bell412s by 256% per tank-load (350 gallons vs. 1,000 gallons).
Before the new aircraft are delivered to the OCFA in fall of 2023, they must first be transformed from Blackhawk to Firehawk by United Rotorcraft, an industry leader in the design and manufacture of mission critical equipment. This transformation will include digital cockpit upgrades for ease of navigation while fighting fire and a reconfigurable cabin that accommodates up to 12 firefighting crew members and their equipment during emergency operations.
When the photos of the one of the new helicopters was taken a few days ago it was at the United Rotorcraft facility in Texas, where typically the company applies new livery. Then they will flown to another UA facility near Denver for rest of the lengthy conversion process.