I am a flying doctor for the Indian Health Service, and I fly out to different reservations to deliver eye care to Native Americans. When I landed this week at the Whiteriver Apache Reservation, I saw sky cranes from Helicopter Transport Services. There were two sky cranes on the ground ready to take off to fight massive forest fires in eastern Arizona.
The sky cranes are about the size of a semi-truck. They are humongous with two massive jet turbines providing the thrust to spin the giant rotors.
When the sky cranes come to fight forest fires, they don't come alone. Each sky crane has two fuel trucks to provide fuel for their missions in the smoky skies of eastern Arizona. They also have a large support trailer that has generators and all the supplies necessary to keep the sky cranes up and running.
The sky crane has a massive tank with room for several thousand gallons of water. A hydraulic pump can fill the tank in forty-five seconds using the large suction hose that dangles from the middle of the helicopter. When the helicopter gets to its destination, it opens the giant tank at the bottom and instantly dumps all of the water on the fire.
Each of the jet turbines on top of the sky crane provide more than a thousand horsepower. The jet turbines cost more than a million dollars each. The sky cranes are retained by the forest service to fight serious forest fires. The cost of bringing a sky crane helicopter to a fire is $15,000 per day paid by the forest service. In addition, it costs $7,700 per hour to run the firefighting helicopter.
The sky crane was grounded at Whiteriver the day that I saw them there because the wind was gusting to 20-30 knots making it unsafe for the sky cranes to operate in those challenging conditions.
Fighting forest fires is expensive work especially when you have to bring in sky cranes to fight the fires.