Helicopter Crews Describe Battle Against Oklahoma Grassfires

Thursday, March 24th 2011, 5:51 pm
By: News On 6

Dan Bewley, News on 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- It's a dramatic picture; a scene you'd expect from a Michael Bay movie. But its real life: members of the Army National Guard, on board a Black Hawk Helicopter, swooping from the sky to battle an Oklahoma wildfire.

"For flying here in the United States I don't think there's a better mission to fly," CW2 Tyson Phillips, a pilot, said.

Chief Warrant Officer Tyson Phillips is one of those pilots. He's flown in Iraq and the Middle East. This week he's been behind the stick as the Army National Guard helps Green Country firefighters get control of wildfire after wildfire.

3/23/2011 Related Story: Green Country Grassfires Wednesday Force Evacuations, Threaten Homes

The tool of choice is called a Bambi Bucket. It drops from the helicopter, scoops up the water, and then drops it where firefighters on the ground are having trouble reaching.

For each mission the crew puts about 600 gallons of water in the bucket and that adds about 4,300 pounds of weight to the aircraft. When they're airborne that can make it really challenging for the guys in the cockpit.

"You can feel the affect when it starts swaying a little bit and when they release the water you can feel the helicopter lifting itself up because of that massive weight loss," Phillips said.

Phillips says the most difficult part of the process is hovering over a body of water. The rippling water creates what's called relative motion; it's an illusion that makes the pilot think he's moving instead of staying still.

"So it's a different sensation hovering over water," Phillips said.

Each Black Hawk has four crew members. Firefighting is one of their many jobs and they say one of the most rewarding.

"At the end of the day you may stink from smoke or what have you but you've made an impact and, like I said, really help the guys on the ground," Phillips said.

There's a myth about those buckets scooping up scuba divers, but there are metal support rods at the top of the bucket that prevents anything but a small fish from getting inside.

3/22/2011 Related Story: Keystone Firefighter Injured In Grassfire Near Mannford