What excitement! A Sikorsky S-64 Sky-Crane stopped at Wickenburg for fuel today on its way to Tucson.
The helicopter, painted bright orange and carrying a crew of three and firefighting equipment, landed at Wickenburg Municipal Airport just after 10 AM on Sunday morning. It had flown directly to Wickenburg from its last refueling stop at Bullhead City on the Colorado River near Laughlin, NV.
The crew took some time to chat with onlookers and provide information about the rare helicopter. Three of Wickenburg’s four resident helicopter owners were on hand, attracted to the helicopter like bees to honey. Tanker 733, as this helicopter was designated for firefighting, is one of only three Sky-Cranes currently in the United States. All other Sky-Cranes are currently abroad.
The Sky-Crane, which weighs over 20,000 pounds, can lift over 25,000 pounds. Its firefighting equipment enables it to suck several thousand gallons of water from a water source at least 18 inches deep in less than a minute. The water is then mixed on board with fire retardant chemicals and sprayed with precision over fires. The helicopter burns approximately 500 gallons of fuel per hour — and you thought your SUV was a gas hog!
The arrival of the helicopter really made the day for Trade Mark, the company now operating the airport’s fuel concession. Since the airport’s runway was partially closed at the beginning of the month, the airport can no longer accept jet traffic. This has been a severe blow to Trade Mark’s revenue. The 500-gallon JetA fuel sale helped balance the books for the month.
Oddly enough, Wickenburg’s Airport Manager and the Chairman of the Airport Advisory Commission have proposed a full closure of the airport for mid-August to mid-September of this year as construction is completed. For reasons no one can quite understand, the closure will also apply to helicopter traffic.
This is unfortunate on several levels. Trade Mark — and the Town of Wickenburg, for that matter — will have zero fuel sales revenue for the period while still incurring costs on the facility it rents from the Town of Wickenburg. Helicopters — including helicopters operated by the Sheriff and DPS, firefighting units, medical evacuation providers, and other operators — will not be able to land at Wickenburg for fuel when needed. Further, airport based businesses such as Flying M Air (a helicopter charter company), Master Aircraft (an aircraft paint shop with a contract to paint helicopters for a major tour operator), and Wickenburg Aero Service (which can provide repair services for Robinson Helicopters), will have their operations severely curtailed. While these businesses suffer reduced revenues during the closure, the Town also loses out on sales tax revenues generated by these businesses.
The Airport Manager — who has absolutely no aviation experience — does not seem to understand that the airport is large, construction will be going on at only part of the facility, and helicopters can safely land in very small spaces. Instead, the decision to close down the airport seems to have been made without any thought or consideration for the needs of aviators — including those flying for emergency and official business — and businesses based at the airport.
This is yet another symptom of the problems facing Wickenburg today — poor Town management and elected officials who are failing to look out for their consituents.