Sky Cranes Fighting Forest Fires in eastern Arizona



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.
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Expedition Leader
I was on a Helitack Rappel ship back in the mid 90's with the USFS,, I always loved working around the big ol' Skycranes and Vertals.. helicopters in general. I witnessed a crane go into a lake during a drafting operation, in Montana in 94', nobody got hurt but what a mess... Thanks for the great pics!


I had never seen these Skycranes up close, and there were two of them at Whiteriver. I talked with the pilot of the one in the picture. Getting a little bit of the back story made me understand better what it takes and how expensive it is to fight forest fires. Some of my Whiteriver Apache patients are firefighters, and when I hear their stories, I appreciate how dangerous it is to be on the ground fighting fires. One of my patients got cyanide poisoning from breathing in the dust from fighting a fire in an area of old gold mine tailings. Dangerous business.


In 2003, while rock climbing at the Goat Wall near Mazama Washington, we watched an aerial based forest fire fighting effort the entire weekend. I came to the conclusion that stuffing the fire out with dollar bills might be cheaper.

The helicopter were amazing, and ran the gamut of manufacture. There was a Huey or two, and a Ranger as air traffic control. The Skycrane and FireHawks were not present. Washington State did not respond with their Cobra's or Huey's (if those were even in the inventory at the time)

I remember seeing a helicopter which clearly was not turbine powered. I believe it was a H-34

This helicopter made a big impression, especially because it is very quite because it does not have a rear blade chopping up the air.

This web site has splendid photographs

And this one is interesting

And finally here is a photograph I took in September 2006 at the Penticton BC airport.

It is a Convair 240 converted to water tanker duties. This type of aircraft is best known as the type that crashed in 1977 with Lynyrd Skynyrd


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Expedition Leader
Living in fire country here in So Cal we've definitely come to appreciate the value of all the airborne fire fighting tools.

About a year ago there was a brush fire not too far from our house. These guys were doing laps around our house for a while. I snapped these from my driveway. There is a ridgeline to one side of our house, and as they came from making a drop they were flying low just on the other side of that ridge - that's the first pic. I think I got the second pic as they were headed out to refill, or perhaps they had the fire out by then.

We're thankful to have these guys around. :bowdown:




Whirly bird guy here. Glad to see some chopper interest. uploadfromtaptalk1308531642938.jpg

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The Erickson Sky Crane pilots did some fantastic work lifting and placing ski lift towers for a ski area I worked at in the 90s.

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