Colorado paid $2.3M to fly helicopter that hasn’t been delivered


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One of Colorado’s most powerful tools to fight wildfires is sitting in a hangar, costing the state millions of dollars.

COLORADO, USA — For more than a year now, Colorado taxpayers have paid for a pilot and mechanic to come to the state and fly a helicopter that isn’t actually allowed to fly yet.

The Firehawk helicopter is a converted Black Hawk helicopter that’s supposed to be a powerful new tool to fight fires in Colorado. In 2021, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill authorizing the state to spend $24 million to buy one. 

“The new helicopter will join a fleet of emergency response aircraft to get our first responders off the ground sooner, quicker,” Polis said at a March 2021 bill signing event. 

Three years later, nothing has gotten off the ground.  

The first helicopter was supposed to be delivered by the end of 2022. That didn’t happen. In fact, Colorado will only finally take possession of the Firehawk this week. But that didn’t stop the state from signing a nearly $2.4 million contract with an aviation company to hire a pilot and mechanic to come fly the helicopter for all of last year. A helicopter that couldn’t fly.  

“The contract was not something that was easy to back out of, right. It was a one-year contract and we know that we have to have pilots and maintenance,” said Mike Morgan, Director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. “There’s not a pause button on a contract. It was a one-year contract that we were kind of obligated to fulfill.”

From August 2022: Black Hawk to Firehawk: Work continues on Colorado’s new firefighting helicopter

Morgan said delays in certifying the aircraft, recalls on the engine, and problems with the water tank have all set the project back almost a year and a half.

“It was very frustrating that there were a lot of delays in the process that were beyond our control,” Morgan said. “But to be clear, it’s not like these crews have been sitting in an office twiddling their thumbs. We’ve sent them to schools, simulators, all these different things.”

The contract with Coulson Aviation started in March 2023. The goal was to start a couple of months before the helicopter was delivered. The team at Coulson would help the state start the helicopter program. 

“They’re doing us no good sitting in a hangar in Centennial,” said Republican state representative and current congressional candidate Mike Lynch, who sponsored the bill to buy the helicopter.

“It’s frustrating because we anticipated that this asset would be put to work right away. That’s a lot of money to spend on an asset. We want it to do its job,” Lynch said. 

Republican Sen. Perry Will sponsored the bill in the state Senate. He hopes the helicopter will eventually pay for itself by stopping fires from being so destructive.

“What’s the cost of putting these fires out? We’ve got fires that we’ve got several hundred million dollars into for firefighting efforts,” Will said. “If we don’t have these helicopters, we’re contracting for those helicopters, and that’s expensive as well.”

The state spent $24 million to buy the first Firehawk helicopter three years ago. Lawmakers were so excited about how it could help firefighters fight wildfires here that in 2023 we spent another $26 million to buy a second Firehawk helicopter. Neither of those has flown a single second fighting fires here in Colorado. 

Years of waiting and millions of dollars later, the Firehawk will finally fly for the first time on Tuesday. It will be flying to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport and is expected to be used as a backdrop for an event with the governor on Wednesday. 

The first Firehawk will hopefully be operational for the 2024 summer firefighting season, while the second Firehawk will hopefully be delivered in 2025. 

“You don’t run down to the local Firehawk dealer and buy a Firehawk helicopter like you would a car and drive it off the parking lot,” Morgan said. “It’s very complex, very complicated.”

From August 2021: ‘We are saving lives’: Colorado facility converts Black Hawk helicopters into firefighting aircraft

SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Full Episodes of Next with Kyle Clark

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Colorado paid $2.3M to fly helicopter that hasn’t been delivered

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