OK National Guard Choppers To Help Squash Future Wildfires

Tuesday, April 15th 2014, 5:17 pm
By: News 9

The Oklahoma National Guard is showing off some new high-powered machines.

Pilots are ready to fly four helicopters that will be used for many things including fighting wildfires. The new UH-72 Lakotas are based at a National Guard facility next to Will Rogers World Airport. Officials say the light-weight birds are ready to go when needed.

"I love the helicopters because they're great to fly – brand new," Capt. Brandon Files said.

Even though the federal government purchased the choppers at a cost of about $5 million each, the Lakotas will stay under state control in Oklahoma to help with disaster relief and civil support.

National guard members say the choppers can only tug a few hundred gallons of water. However, the infrared technology and camera system is what can give ground crews the upper hand when fighting fires. The onboard equipment can locate hotspots and the core of large wildfires.

"We can see how extensive the fire has spread, and if we need to call in reinforcements, maybe a Blackhawk or a Chinook, they can handle much bigger fires," said Files.

Pilots say the Lakotas cost less to fly and will be more effective with technology and communication -- saving taxpayer dollars. When National Guard members are on base, they can be in the air within 10 to 15 minutes. During high-risk parts of the fire season, it's not uncommon to have crews on alert constantly for more than two weeks at a time, according to state officials.