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Giant chopper hired for wild fire duty

The S-64 Skycrane helicopter, the largest lifting helicopter in the world, arrived in northeastern Minnesota on Friday. The U.S. Forest Service has an "exclusive use" agreement that will keep it in the region for the next 120 days.

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The S-64 Skycrane helicopter, the largest lifting helicopter in the world, arrived in northeastern Minnesota on Friday. The U.S. Forest Service has an "exclusive use" agreement that will keep it in the region for the next 120 days.
This is the first time the U.S. Forest Service in Minnesota has done an exclusive use contract to use this helicopter during fire season. It is something that Forest Service felt was important on the heels of the July 4th blowdown.
"It is the most awesome fire fighting machine," said Tim Norman, fire management officer for the Superior National Forest.
The bright orange helicopter, which includes two pilots and three mechanics, flew into the Grand Marais Airport on Friday and will be stationed in Ely throughout its stay.
The helicopter stands out for more reasons than just its color. The Skycrane can hold approximately 2,600 gallons of water, foam and retardants in its tanker below. It can also fill up with water in 45 seconds. The Skycrane uses a snorkel hanging below the helicopter to fill its tank, allowing it to hover over a small river, lake, pond or tank with depths as low as 18 inches.
From there, the pilot can release this fire-fighting weapon with eight different flow rates, depending on the kind of fire and whether the fire is on grasslands or in a deep forest. Water is released at 100-800 gallons per second, a rate that can be determined by fire fighters on the ground working in close cooperation with the helicopter.
Paul Mavrinac, chief pilot, said the Skycrane is much more accurate than other aircraft because it can determine the flow and also attack fires at an angle to release water into the base of trees. The helicopter can also fly low below heavy smoke and attack the leading edge of the fire. At peak, it can release 30,000 gallons of water per hour.
The helicopter also stands out for its size. It is 25 feet tall, 108 feet long with rotors 75 feet in diameter. This craft can lift 22,000 pounds with its twin 4800 hp engines and fly at 100 knots/hour.
Two semi trucks with repair parts and a fuel tanker for refueling support the helicopter.
Norman said the U.S. Forest Service entered into the contract with Erickson Air Crane because of the large threat in the BWCAW this summer.
Use of the S-64 is not cheap. During the four months it is based out of Ely, it will cost the U.S. Forest Service $1 million for exclusive use.

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