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Fri, Nov 12, 2010

Washington State DNR Picks Up Vintage Helicopters For A Dollar

One Was Possibly The First Cobra Gunship To See Action In Vietnam

Recently, a DNR helicopter mechanic in Washington State had an experience which might have been right out of the TV show "American Pickers." In the department's inventory, he discovered a possible historic treasure ...  the Virginia Rose II, which may be the first Cobra (Bell AH-1) combat helicopter to be deployed and see action in the Vietnam War.

Washington State DNR Cobra DNR YouTube Frame Capture

So how does a state's natural resources agency end up with a 1966 vintage helicopter gunship? The state DNR gets these two-seat former gunships at the bargain price of $1 (that’s right, a buck – a can of soda in a vending machine these days!) through the Federal Excess Property Program. WA DNR maintains its own crew of mechanics and seasonal pilots lower than contracted services and flexible to respond to changes in wildfire potential.

In addition to the flyable Cobras, the Washington State DNR blog indicates that they always have several of the $1 beauties to pull parts from. When new parts are needed, the staff gets on the phone and often locates new or parts for merely their shipping cost. For example, this summer the agency obtained more than $1 million in new helicopter rotor blades from a U.S. Army base in Texas, just for the shipping cost of less than $8,000.

Why Cobras? The agency says their fire program defends almost 13 million acres of public, private and tribal lands in Washington State from wildfire. Helping them get the job done safely and efficiently are several aircraft, including four Cobra helicopters that DNR operates and maintains. The agency says their speed, which can exceed 149 knots, gives DNR the ability to rapidly reach remote fire starts and drop the contents of their 270-gallon water buckets. This rapid-response strategy has proven successful in keeping more than 96 percent of wildfire starts in DNR’s jurisdiction to less than 10 acres over the past two years.

Bell AH-1 Cobra DNR YouTube Frame Capture

Speaking of $1, the Cobras are an effective complement to the Bell UH-1H Army surplus copters also in DNR’s aviation program. Known as Hueys (and also obtained for $1 each) they are slower than the Cobra but can transport up to 6 crew member for backcountry fire operations, as well as carry 270-gallon water buckets on other runs.

A rapid response aviation program ultimately saves money and protects property by allowing DNR to douse and contain fires before they grow into larger problems. Much the land DNR defends from fire is at lower elevation and often near homes, farms and towns.

As for the Virginia Rose II, it served a few years in Vietnam and then spent several years with the Maryland National Guard. The copter is not currently airworthy, but it could be restored. A military history museum is negotiating with federal authorities to return it to the East Coast and house it permanently in a museum there.  DNR was able to supply missing parts, selecting worn out components from it’s inventory, to make the Virginia Rose a complete aircraft.

FMI: www.dnr.wa.gov


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