Earlier this year, a friend offered the donation of a large photo collection to the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum. My son Jack and I decided to make it into a vacation trip, and fellow The Aero Experience scribe Fred Harl decided to join us on the adventure. To make the most of the time we had, a flight out to Sacramento and a drive home with plenty of visits worked out the best.
Working our way east towards home, we stopped in Santa Fe, New Mexico to check out the F-111 on display at the airport. As we drove onto the airport, we noticed over on the ramp what looked to be a CH-47 Chinook. So we made a quick turn and drive up to the perimeter fence and sure enough, there was the Chinook, yet another Chinook and a Kaman K-Max, all on call for fire fighting duties. We found a U.S. Forest Service ranger managing the group who took us onto the ramp and introduced us to the crews manning the helicopters.
The two Chinooks are owned and operated by Billings Flying Services out of Billings, Montana. The Chinooks are capable of carrying nearly 23,000 pounds of water in a Bambi Bucket or Water Hog. The Kaman K-Max is owned and operated by Swanson Group Aviation out of Oregon. Normally used for logging operations, the K-Max is a heavy lift helicopter that has a load capacity of up to 6,000 pounds.