Firefighters around the globe have a good ally in a Noosa-based designer and manufacturer of a new firefighting tank for surplus military helicopters that has received backing from the Queensland Government.
Helitak Operations Manager, Paul Blundell explains.
How did you begin?
Chief designer and engineer, Jason Schellaars started Helitak over 12 years ago when he was working as a commercial firefighting pilot.
Having spent countless hours in Australian skies to drop water on bushfires, Jason decided there was a more effective way for aircraft to carry and release water.
Jason came up with an initial tank design and set up the company in 2006. We exported our first fire tank to the United States in 2007.
What did you set out to do?
Our goal was to design and manufacture the best and most effective aerial firefighting suppression tanks available for different models and types of helicopters.
From the beginning, we focused on an underbelly tank with the highest head pressure possible that could deliver the most water in the shortest time. We would use the mechanical force of the tank and falling water to penetrate the forest canopy and extinguish the fire — faster and better than any similar firefighting apparatus on the market.
What is your latest design?
Helitak has designed an underbelly-style water tank — the FT4500 — to suit Black Hawk helicopters, and we are ready to market it to firefighting authorities and private Black Hawk operators worldwide.
The market is in its infancy because the US military has just started to sell many of its early model Black Hawk helicopters that have finished service, for civilian use.
Black Hawks have mechanisms and functionality that are ideal for firefighting, including the ability to fly in most conditions and operate at night.
The FT4500 tank is superior to its competitors and cheaper because it does not require undercarriage modifications. It is the best water bombing apparatus available for Black Hawk helicopters.
Our underbelly expandable tank can fill in less than 50 seconds and drop in under five seconds. It is capable of dumping 4,500 litres of water in one drop or dialling back so that not all of the water or retardant drops at once, which is very useful for controlling spot fires.
By harnessing the release force of the Black Hawk water bomb doors, we can drop water quicker and penetrate deeper into the forest canopy.
With our huge expandable tank on a Black Hawk that can fly day and night and load, drop and reload quickly, we will vastly improve aerial firefighting capabilities.
Helitak sources over 85 per cent of the components of the retractable underbelly tank from southeast Queensland businesses. This means we keep most of our manufacturing spend in Queensland.
What is next for your business?
From October 2019, the FT4500 will be going through FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) testing and final certification in California, to allow US helicopters — and other countries that have reciprocal or bilateral arrangements — to fly with our fire tanks.
In January 2020, we will be on display at the HELI-EXPO in Anaheim, USA, which is the world’s biggest show for helicopters.
Companies from the USA, New Zealand and the Royal Brunei Airforce have already expressed interest in the FT4500.
In addition, Helitak has designs under way for some next generation helicopters, including the new Super Puma and a new Bell model soon to be released.
How has Advance Queensland funding helped?
With grant programs like Ignite Ideas it makes it a bit easier for small companies like ours to make real progress.
This grant will allow us to get US certification for our FT4500 fire tank, scale up production and create more jobs.
We will create five new jobs initially and, with our forecast expansion, we will need up to 50 staff within three years.
Helitak are one of more than 50 Queensland businesses to share in more than $6.5 million from Round 5 of the Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas Fund. Visit the website to find out how the Advance Queensland initiative can help grow your business.