W.Va. Guard helicopter crews train for wildland fires and drought season


KINGWOOD, W.Va. – The West Virginia Army National Guard’s (WVARNG) Company C, 1st Battalion, 150th Aviation Regiment (1-150th Assault Battalion) completed a ‘bambi bucket’ training for three aircrews consisting of 12 soldiers at Camp Dawson on Thursday.

The training comes following the ongoing drought conditions throughout the state.

“One of the greatest benefits of the National Guard is that our men and women are constantly training to be able to respond to any incident that our State may face,” said Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard. “Just this week alone, we have readied a large group of Soldiers for wildland fire response, which is a skill we typically don’t have to train for in West Virginia. With our Wheeling unit leading the charge on this aerial firefighting training as well, we are better prepared as a state to respond to an incident, should it arise.”

The ‘bambi bucket’ training consisted of more than 20 iterations for the pilots and crew chiefs, who learned how to fill and refill water into the bucket from a natural water source while in the air and pilots honed their skills on the proper techniques for dispersing the water over a fire.

“This training allows us to conduct precise water drops in mountainous areas of the state that ground-based firefighters might otherwise not be able to access due to difficult or dangerous terrain,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sam Boggs, UH-60 helicopter pilot. “By working closely with Division of Forestry and volunteer fire departments, we can put massive amounts of water exactly where needed to quickly bring fires under control.”

The buckets in training are capable of holding 550 gallons of water per scoop, which equals out to roughly 4,400 pounds of water. Depending on the location of a fire and the proximity to a water source, crews could potentially execute multiple passes to extinguish a fire during one mission.

“Crew coordination during aerial firefighting operations is critical and involves constant communication between the entire flight crew,” Boggs said. “The pilots line up the drop zone and fly no more than 50 knots speed and no less than 50 feet off the ground in order to make the water release from the bambi bucket most effective. Once lined up and hovering above the fire and smoke in position for the drop, it is the crew chiefs who give a countdown to the pilots and actually release the water from the bucket. We then fly to a water source, hover no more than 20 feet above the water while the bambi bucket refills, then repeat the cycle until the fire is out or at least controlled.”

WVARNG aircrew members have accomplished similar training in 2011 in preparation for a peacekeeping mission deployment to Kosovo, but have never needed to utilize the skill in response to a State of West Virginia emergency. As such, this type of training has only been conducted on an as needed basis. Now, crews will be certified to respond to wildland fires throughout the state through coordination with civilian authorities.

The 1-150th Assault Battalion is located in Wheeling, West Virginia, and operates the UH-60 L and M model Blackhawks. Their mission is to provide general aviation support as necessary to the Governor and the citizens of West Virginia in times of emergency and they specialize in personnel movement, sling load, rappel, fast rope insertion/extraction, helocast, paradrop and hoist operations.

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