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Ka-32A11BC saves Indonesian forests - Interview with helicopter pilot

16.12.2013 / Russian Helicopters Magazine

More than 1,200 Russian-made helicopters operate today in the Asia-Pacific region, one of the fastest-growing regions of the world. Demand for reliable and efficient helicopters is continuing to rise in line with the region’s economic growth.

In summer 2013 the Ka-32A11BC was actively involved in combatting severe forest fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The crew was headed by Alexander Tikhonov, a pilot for Avialift Vladivostok.

In an interview with Russian Helicopters magazine he talks about the benefits of this helicopter when performing such complex tasks.

Alexander, how many missions did you fly in the Ka-32A11BC when you were firefighting in Sumatra?

We spent a month fighting fires in Sumatra, and we kept the helicopters on standby on the island of Borneo. Total flight time was about 50 hours. We completed this work on 10 October.

Who manned the helicopter, and what did they do?

It was a five-person crew: helicopter commander and flight instructor Alexander Tikhonov, trainee helicopter commander Roman Yaroshenko, flight engineer Alexander Kamornikov, technical engineer Oleg Tretyakov, and aviation and radio equipment engineer Viktor Denisov.

During firefighting work there are three people on board. In addition to the crew, a representative of the customer is present on site during firefighting operations. When fighting fires in central Sumatra, the Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management took on a coordinating role.

We flew two flights a day, on average lasting 2 hours 25 minutes. The frequency and length of flights was also dictated by the timetable at the military aerodrome, since Singapore’s Air Force use it for flight training.

Approximately how large was the forest fire that you helped put out on Sumatra over that time?

During this period we localised five fires – four small ones and one large of around 400 hectares.

How does fire-fighting fr om a helicopter work? What equipment do you need for that?

Over the course of two flights we would discharge water 75 times or more, around 3.5 tons each time. There are many coconut plantations on the island, with irrigation channels running alongside. We would gather water from these channels using the bambi bucket. But at the same time we needed the water to be at least 2 metres deep. Water dumping happens at the same time. The helicopter can take a maximum of 5 tons of water on board.

What was the greatest challenge?

Smoke impairs visibility so you have to adapt to the situation and take into account wind direction. If it is a surface fire the firefighters approach from above so as not to fan the fire with the powerful airflow from the moving helicopter. Surface fires are dangerous because the water does not reach the lower tiers, in which case quenching becomes ineffective.

We started to put it out from the edge of the source of fire, so that the people on the land could come closer and deploy additional firefighting equipment to extinguish embers that could flare up again. One particular feature of the land on the island of Sumatra is that about 10m of the topsoil is made up of swampy peat, which burns well and supports combustion, so it must be put out thoroughly.

What can you say about the Ka-32A11BC helicopter? What are some of its main characteristics and advantages?

In my opinion, there’s no better helicopter. It is easy to control as can be turned sideways or with its tail to the wind; these manoeuvres come easily and it is very forgiving of minor mistakes in piloting. The coaxial rotors of the Ka-32A11BC allow it to work in difficult conditions. Its external sling is widely used to transport goods. There is good visibility thanks to the structure of the cabin. In my opinion there is no better helicopter, and I would know as I have flown on different types of Ka-32 helicopters since 1988.

Where did the helicopter go after putting out fires on Sumatra? What other missions has it been involved in?

Immediately after completing work on Sumatra, the helicopter landed in West Papua (the Indonesian province on Papua New Guinea), on 14 October. It is currently delivering heavy freight to hard-to-access regions for construction company Agung Mulia.

Where else have Avialift Vladistok’s Ka-32 helicopters seen action?

Avialift Vladivostok’s Ka-32 helicopters have also been involved in unloading supply vessels, such as the Vasily Golovnin icebreaker, and working on contract for Argentina in the polar latitudes of the Antarctic.

How many years have you been flying helicopters for? Wh ere did you study? What helicopters have you flown and in which areas?

Before the army, from 1974-5, I completed my pilot training at the Voluntary Association for Assistance to the Army, Air Force and Navy, and flew Mi-1 and Mi-4 helicopters. In 1978 I studied at the Kremenchuk Flight College at the National Aviation University and took part in ice reconnaissance from icebreakers with the Vladivostok company [since 1994 Vladivostok Avia]. I flew a Mi-2. In 1984 I had additional training to fly Mi-8 helicopters, and in 1988 I started flying Ka-32s. 

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