On Wednesday UH-60 Blackhawks flew above the West Branch River Reservoir in West Hartland as the Connecticut National Guard practiced aerial water bucket training. The training is bamidone to prepare aviation crews to assist local fire departments in controlling forest fires.
“We do this to stay current on our ability to fight any sort of fires for the state,” said Major Sean Cattanach of the Connecticut National Guard. “We get in a couple pilots, some iterations here practicing so we’re always ready.”
Pilots and the crew train to work together seamlessly. Pilots cannot see where the water bucket is located while they fly so they call on their crew in the back of the aircraft for assistance.
According to the U.S. Army National Guard, the weight of the bucket can often change the flying characteristics of the aircraft. The heavy bucket also oscillates as the helicopter flies, forcing the pilot to compensate.
“We rely heavily on the crew members in the back they are kind of our eyes,” said Cattanach. “They will call out and tell us how to maneuver over the water since we cant see it in front. We take a lot of direction from them on whether to climb or descend or to fill the bucket.”
The bucket used by the Connecticut National guard in training contains about 300-gallons of water. Buckets used during missions can hold over 2,000 gallons.
“We’re the ones in the back actually releasing the water, we have the button that releases the water so the pilots are going to kind of aim where they want it and we’re responsible for making the call of when to release the water,” said Sgt. Michael Justo, Connecticut Army National Guard.
In 2015, the Connecticut National Guard was called upon to help fight forest fires in the mountains in Southern Kosovo.
“Often times we get called upon by other states, out in the west primarily to go assist them,” Cattanach explained. “The aircrafts are almost identical and the equipment is almost identical so it really just enables us to go help out anywhere.”
The National Guard conducts this type of training once a year. Though have not been called out of the state or country to assist in four years, sessions like this mean they would be able to in a moment’s notice.