AUSTIN -- A new weapon in the fight against Central Texas wildfires was unveiled Monday.
It's the latest addition to the STAR Flight family, a $2.2 million UH-1H (Huey) helicopter. The aircraft is outfitted with a 325 gallon water tank attached to its belly. A water pump sucks water into the tank and can fill it in just about 30 seconds.
"We saw the effects of the 2011 fires," said STAR Flight director Casey Ping. "Pretty devastating to our communities. Houses lost and those are always big impacts. I commend [county commissioners] for looking forward and seeing these could occur again, what could we do to make an impact, and this was really it."
Pilots made several demonstration water pick-ups and drops Monday. The chopper was flown in the Vietnam war and was later retrofitted for STAR Flight by Northwest Helicopters in Olympia, Washington. Crews can also attach a Bambi bucket in an instant if the water pump fails.
The helicopter will only be used at the request of fire officials. STAR Flight may also respond to wildfire calls in neighboring counties, a limited capacity. It costs about $700 a hour to operate the helicopter.