The 560-gallon buckets are hung underneath the helicopter, filled with water by dipping them in a lake or stream, and then discharged over a forest or wild fire.
Water bucket training is done to prepare aviators to assist local fire departments in controlling forest fires and wildfires. Each summer selected crews train on the system to prepare for an emergency call.
Flying with almost two tons of water hanging underneath the helicopter requires practice because it changes the flying characteristics of the aircraft, explained, 1st Lt. Forrest Thrush, and instructor pilot and the battalion's assistant operations office.
"With such a heavy load underneath the aircraft, if we lose an engine, we don't have the same lunging capability," Thrush said.
The load also oscillates as the helicopter flies and the pilot has to compensate, he explained.
Each crew consists of four people. Two pilots and two crew chiefs. One crew chief controls the water bucket, and the other assists.
The training consisted of initial qualifications for one of the pilots, and refresher training for the rest of the crew.
The first step in the training was for the crew to hover over their water source and allow the water bucket to fill up. They then lift it out of the water and fly to an area where it was safe to dump the bucket. This was repeated six times at multiple speeds.
The training required the pilot and his crews to conduct different types of pick-ups and emergency procedure training, such as changing the speed of a pick-up and reacting to a bucket not opening properly.
The New York Army National Guard uses Bambi Buckets, a specialized bucket made by SEI Industries which allows the crew to deliver a column of water on a fire.
"We met the objective, at least for our aircraft and our crew. We got everyone trained, we got our initial qualification done so I'd call that a success." Said 1st Lt. Forrest Thrush.