By Eamon Hamilton
A trans-Pacific mission by an Air Force C-17A Globemaster has delivered a Bell 412 helicopter for the NSW Rural Fire Service.
Loaded by a No. 36 Squadron C-17A crew at Vancouver International Airport, Canada, the Bell 412 was delivered to RAAF Base Richmond on September 15, where it was reconstructed and received additional servicing.
The Bell 412 will be ready to combat bushfires this summer.
Commander Air Mobility Group Air Commodore Carl Newman said the mission was well-suited to the C-17A’s capabilities.
“One of the reasons that Defence purchased the C-17A was the aircraft’s ability to transport large loads like this helicopter over great distances, where and when they were needed,” Air Commodore Newman said.
“Using a C-17A to carry a Bell 412 across the Pacific is an outstanding example of a Defence asset in support of another government agency and one that will yield positive results for the broader Australian community.
“Our air mobility fleet has a strong record of supporting state-based emergency services, including during Operation Bushfire Assist, and we will continue providing support.”
It was the first time an Australian crew had transported a three-tonne Bell 412.
A special cargo instruction on how to safely load, restrain, and unload the helicopter was provided by Air Mobility Training and Development Unit.
To prepare for the journey to Australia, its rotor blades were stored in wooden crates and its entire fuselage was covered in a protective plastic.
Wheels were attached to the Bell 412’s landing skids and the helicopter was winched into the C-17A along special wooden ramps that were laid down on the transport aircraft’s cargo ramp.
Our air mobility fleet has a strong record of supporting state-based emergency services, including during Operation Bushfire Assist, and we will continue providing support.
This process was repeated in reverse at RAAF Base Richmond with help from No. 22 Squadron Air Movements personnel.
The NSW Rural Fire Service will use the Bell 412 for rapid aerial response and remote area programs, as well as search-and-rescue missions.
Operations support manager of the fire service, Chief Superintendent Chris Ryder, is responsible for the service’s fleet of aircraft.
“We can use it to look for fires that are small and try to put those firefighters into the field on those fires to ensure that they stay small over the season,” Chief Superintendent Ryder said.
“We also chase lightning storms and storm bands.
“We move the helicopter around the state, looking at weather patterns and storm cycles and obviously high fire danger to put them in the best place for the day.”
The fire service intends to use two other Bell 412s in this role. One has been shipped from Japan via commercial means and a third is still being sourced.
Chief Superintendent Ryder said COVID-19 slowed the delivery.
“There’s long delays to get things onto those ships and flying it out commercially is problematic at the moment with COVID-19,” he said.
“Our priority was to try and get the helicopter out for this fire season and thankfully we were able to go to Defence and they brought it out on a C-17A.”
The successful delivery of the Bell 412 continued the close working relationship between the NSW Rural Fire Service and Defence and, in particular, RAAF Base Richmond.
Since 2015, the base has served as a home for the fire service fleet of large air tankers, providing them with parking space and hangar facilities.
“Having them on the RAAF base works really well for us. It provides good security for the fleet,” Chief Superintendent Ryder said.
“We don’t get tied into commercial airline routines as well as having to fit into general traffic. It allows us to get off the base quite quickly and get airborne quite quickly.
“It’s an absolutely fantastic relationship that we hope is ongoing.”
Australian Department of Defence