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Taken in Tehachapi California during the Blackburn Fire (Sept 4, 2011). LA County Fire sent two helicopters, a Sikorsky Firehawk and Bell 412 north into Kern County to provide mutual aid in what was a very large air operation trying to save homes. LA County Fire were the only air crews doing water drops at night using NVG’s.

would reduce the severe wildfire threat that existed nationwide. A project was initiated called ‘Helicopter Night Operations’ and assigned to the San Dimas Equipment Development Center. At

the same time, Los Angeles

County Fire Department began experi- menting with NVG. On June 16, 1974, the first night water drops were made on a wildfire on the Angeles National Forest with


equipped with a suppressant tank. In 1976, the USFS had its first NVG heli- copter, a Bell 212 stationed at Rose Valley Helibase on the Los Padres National Forest, and in 1977, a second Bell 212 NVG aircraft was stationed at Tanbark Heliport on the Angeles National Forest. These NVG units, however, were

less than optimal. Generation 2 NVGs were in use and they had limited func- tionality; narrow 40° field of view, visual acuity equal to 20-50 vision, ‘full face’ design that prevented looking at flight

APRIL 2012

instruments, susceptibility to ‘blooming’ (loss of visual image) when confronted with sudden bright lighting or reflected glare on the windscreens. After a promising beginning, how-

Los Angeles County Fire Bell 204B helicopter,

ever, things went bad in a hurry. In 1977, an LA County Fire helicopter and the USFS Rose Valley helicopter collided while inbound to a heliport in the Angeles National Forest. Both helicop- ters were operating with NVGs, and one pilot perished while others were critical- ly injured. Even though

LA County Fire

Department suspended their program immediately, USFS did not at first. From 1978 through 1983, USFS operated the two NVG helicopters. However, due to costs and limited use they discontinued the NVG program in 2005.

ROUND TWO At the dawn of the 21st century, Los

Angeles County Fire Department slowly 18

restarted their NVG program. They started back up in 2001 with limited use and returned to a working NVG pro- gram in 2005. However, USFS did not, and still

restricts night-flying helicopter activity over federal land. Despite the uproar over the lack of nighttime aerial fire- fighting during 2009’s deadly Station Fire, in which two Los Angeles County Fire Department

firefighters died, US

Forest Service continues to limit federal involvement with NVG to paper studies and shows little inclination to employ NVG in aerial firefighting in the foresee- able future. In

2008, California’s governor

announced funding for 11 Blackhawk helicopters for CAL FIRE, the state fire- fighting agency. These aircraft were intended to be equipped with NVG, however with current funding cutbacks, the chances of retrofitting any state air- craft with NVG-friendly lighting is fairly unlikely.

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