Read More: Mark Bathrick, Director, Office of Aviation Services, US Department of the Interior
November 15, 2020

DOI UAS have conducted nearly 1,800 flights supporting wildland fire operations this year.

As the incredibly intense and destructive 2020 wildfire season begins to wind down, HAI got the chance to ask Mark Bathrick, the director of the Office of Aviation Services for the US Department of the Interior (DOI), how the season went and what next year may hold.

ROTOR: This fire season was certainly one for the books. How were DOI helicopters and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) assets used and how did they make the most impact?

Bathrick: DOI is committed to deploying all resources and technology to protect human health and safety. The department continues using the drone fleet during wildfire response operations. So far this year and despite challenges associated with COVID-19, DOI has conducted fuel management treatments on nearly 1 million acres, putting us ahead of our 10-year average.

Commercially contracted helicopters continued to play a vital role in wildland firefighting in 2020. A critical part of the annual preparation for the fire year is the inspection of aircraft for proper equipment and conditions and the training and evaluation of pilots prior to the contract start.

Working closely with our industry and interagency partners, the Office of Aviation Services (OAS) developed COVID-19 sensitive travel and inspection risk assessments and protocols that enabled us to exceed fire-year readiness requirements while also mitigating the risk of COVID-19 to our employees, commercial vendors, interagency partners, and the communities we visited to perform the inspections.

Our UAS continue to be used across the country in support of wildland fire operations.

Read More: Working in Longline Operations
November 15, 2020

Longline work is a special niche of the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) industry, one that requires precision and intricate teamwork.

1 DON’T rely on the horizon for reference when flying longline.

In most helicopter flights, the pilot faces forward, looking out the windscreen at the nose of the aircraft to determine spatial positioning. But in external-load operations, which typically use lines of 100 to 250 feet that hang below the ship, it’s critical to look out the door of the helicopter and down—a practice even experienced pilots find challenging, says Cody Barton, chief pilot for Columbia Helicopters. “Using vertical reference is the toughest thing about longline to get used to,” he says. “It can frustrate a pilot who’s new to the sector. It really gives you humility.”

2 DO practice, practice, practice.

The key to becoming adept at longline work, say experts, isn’t so much the aircraft you train in but the amount of time you put into it. “It takes about 20 hours of flight time for a pilot with no longline experience to get to a point where you can safely fly a basic longline op,” says Andre Hutchings, director of operations at external-load training company Volo Mission (VM). In VM’s in-person classes, participants practice with various line lengths—50 feet versus 200 feet, for example—to solidify their skills. And in the ground portion of the course, they learn to appreciate the perspective of the ground crew, who must complete their work with helicopters hovering over their heads.

November 15, 2020

The Lazy T Ranch is several thousand acres of pasture, hayfields, rolling hills, and dramatic canyons 10 miles southeast of Ten Sleep, Wyoming, as the crow flies. Or, in this case, as the Airbus AS350 B3e flies. The ranch uses the helicopter to monitor fences and outbuildings, locate cattle, and haul equipment and supplies with a newly acquired hook that can also carry a Bambi Bucket, in case wildfire strikes.