Cherry Creek State Park, Aurora, CO, USA - ARNG Bambi Bucket Training, 18 May 2011

Over a period of one and a half days the Colorado Army National Guard (CO ARNG) performed currency training on water bucket training at a nearby reservoir.

The morning started off with a high overcast and very flat light, certainly not the best of conditions to try to shoot dark helicopters. An added challenge, as with all helicopters with an under slung bucket, is the fact that chopper often ends up being quite small if trying to encompass the whole scene.

The morning before the crews had received classroom training from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management covering topics such as fire tactics and working with the ground firefighter crews. The flying training allowed for pilots and Crew Chief's to re-familiarize with bucket operations and for newer pilots to be trained. It also gives a good opportunity to check the operation of the Bambi buckets for the upcoming fire season.

They staged at the south west corner of Cherry Creek State park with a pair if UH-60As and utilized a landing zone on the grass near to the road. There were more than a few surprised onlookers who stopped to snap photos with their mobile phones, as it's not everyday you'll encounter a military helicopter on the ground while running in a park.

After attaching the Bambi bucket they operated in the south west corner of the lake where there are few footpaths and no boats, with a small inlet being utilized for the actual drops, well away from where anybody could be. The buckets can carry 750 gallons of water but at this altitude they are configured to carry 450 gallons.

We found a good spot early on right on the shoreline on the west side and after a couple of circuits decided to hike around the lake to explore some different angles. We waked about a mile on footpaths and animal trails and managed to get to the south shore almost in front of the dipping area. We were to the east of the drop-zone but actually too close to get decent photos. During this time the weather was hot bit the sun was still hazy.

After getting rained on the temperature dropped somewhat so we decided to walk back to the original spot. One H-60 flew off returning to Buckley AFB while the second landed at the LZ as we walked past to unhook the bucket. It was now lunch time for me and back to Buckley for a break and to refuel for the crew and helicopters.

In the afternoon the wind had shifted necessitating a change in the pattern the H-60s would fly. This made for closer and better photo opportunities although the light still wasn't really playing ball. The best light was from the original spot with the 500mm lens and by the time I'd relocated to the north next to the dipping area, the sun had again disappeared and during this time the rain really did start to pour down with thunder being added to the mix.

After getting soaking wet the rain stopped and the sun broke though with that great combination of bright light and a dark background, which was the cue for the end of the exercise as they flew back to base. Typical.

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[photos from behind the scenes]