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Talon Helicopters of Richmond, B.C., is ready to take on nighttime fire attack missions with its night vision goggle (NVG) approved Airbus AS365 N2 Dauphin — the only Transport Canada approved NVG night fire attack medium helicopter in Canada.
The nine-passenger aircraft, configured with a night vision cockpit and cabin, has been approved for day and night fire attack operations with the Simplex Model 301 belly tank, which can hold up to 901 litres (238 gallons) of water.
Peter Murray, president of Talon Helicopters, said the company is taking advantage of the benefits and safety factors of NVGs, and “the ability to not have a grounding time.”
He added: “With doing initial attack at night… if a fire starts at 11 p.m. and you’re on it at 11:30 p.m., of course you’re going to reduce the impact the fire makes if you’re on it six or eight hours earlier than if you got on it in the daylight. . . . So we’re right on the leading edge of all this.”
The NVG certification for the Dauphin has been a multi-year project for Talon. Murray said the company has had the capabilities to fight fires at night for just under a year now, but recently received approval from Transport Canada for all part 702/703 operations with NVGs, which includes flying passengers at night.
All of the company’s pilots have completed basic NVG training, and “the AS365 pilots have done advanced NVG [training],” said Murray, “so they can go into remote areas and land at night with NVGs.”
Murray said the Dauphin outfitted with the Simplex tank is 30 per cent faster than other belly tank-equipped mediums. “It’s a fast tank for this machine. With the snorkel stowed, it’s 140 knots VNE. . . . With the snorkel on its 120 [knots]. If you’re going out to do initial attack and go a distance, you’re going to go there at 140 knots and you’re going to get there faster,” he said.
The Simplex tank has an easy install process with four hard points on the aircraft, and can be removed just as easily for a different mission configuration. “You can probably do the whole hook change and remove the tank within 20 minutes or a half-hour,” said Murray. In place of the belly tank, the Dauphin can be equipped with a 350-gallon FAST Bucket for daytime wildfire operations.
A multi-mission helicopter, Talon’s Dauphin is also used for medevac, search and rescue, aerial lift work and passenger transport operations. “We call it the Swiss Army knife of helicopters because we have a full approved stretcher kit (we got that approved in Canada), and then we have the hoist as well; we’re approved for day and night hoisting” using Transport Canada approved crew harnesses and evacuation equipment, and a 300-foot hoist cable with a 600-pound load limit.
Along with its night fire attack and nighttime hoist certifications, Talon is approved for night hover entry/exit.
The aircraft has a number of STC’d avionics upgrades including the Garmin GTN 750 touchscreen navigator, helicopter terrain awareness warning system, traffic collision avoidance systems, and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast.
Building on the company’s NVG firefighting capabilities, Murray said Talon is looking into collecting data on daytime and nighttime fire attack operations to evaluate the difference in the cost of fighting the fires and the cost of losing resources like trees, as well as structures.
For example, “what would happen if we put 20,000 litres of water around one burning tree at nighttime… what would we have in the morning? Would it be a mop up for a couple of days, instead of a two-month production?” he said.
While the current Covid-19 crisis has delayed these data-gathering initiatives, Murray said the company is still working to pursue them in the near future.