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Fighting Fire with Fire Power

Retrofitted Black Hawks are given critical upgrades in taking on a new life, and role, as a Firehawk.

2017 has been a brutal and costly year for California. So far, the state has dealt with 250 wildfires that have cost the state and property owners more than $180 billion dollars – making them the costliest group of wildfires on record. 

This includes the Thomas Fire, which is still only 60 percent contained and is expected to burn into January. Triggered by strong Santa Ana winds north of Los Angeles, this fire alone has claimed two lives and destroyed over 1,300 structures. 

And as bad as things have been, without weapons like the Firehawk, it could have actually been worse. 

According to GE Reports, the Firehawk is a modified Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter that can carry 1,000 gallons of water in combating the flames. The chopper performs this strenuous task in the harshest of environments up to 8 times per hour. 

To continually perform this task, engineers retrofitted the aircraft with a pair of T700 GE helicopter engines. Based on data obtained from Black Hawks used in Iraq and Afghanistan, engineers upgraded these engines with parts made of advanced nickel alloys to improve their ability to handle the heat. 

This helped the engine handle temperature swings without losing power. In fact, according to Firehawk Helicopters, the company that handles the retrofitting process, the new engines increased the chopper’s payload by 50 percent. 

This enhanced and more reliable power supply also allows the Firehawk to fill its water tank in about 60 seconds. 

And while these enhancements are providing a critical return, GE’s focus on engine efficiency could take another interesting step very soon. 

The company recently 3D-printed large sections of the CT7, a helicopter engine in the same family as the T700. They were able to reduce a list of 900 engine components to just 16, reducing the total number of engine parts by more than one-third.

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