YOU can feel a little safer at home this fire season knowing the Northern Rivers has a mighty Bell Huey helicopter at its disposal.
The 205 UH-1H aircraft was recently acquired by AIR T&G Helicopters, based at Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport, for $750,000 from a Queensland-based company.
The machine will be used on the Far North Coast and in Southern Queensland to water-bomb fires, assist during other natural disasters and perform "aerial crane" procedures.
"It has a hook underneath and can get heavy things into places that cranes can't, like power poles," AIR T&G partner Tim Latimer said.
The Huey is the only medium-lift helicopter on the Far North Coast and Mr Latimer said it will come in handy during the fire season, which is the company's busiest time of year.
"It is predominantly a firefighting machine and can carry 1400L of water or equipment, plus it has massive storage capabilities for food," he said.
According to Mr Latimer, the Northern Rivers has all the ingredients for a busy 2012-2013 fire season.
"It has been wet here for about three years now, so there's a lot of fuel (vegetation) around," he said.
The helicopter was originally used by the US Air Force and there is only a handful of the same model in Australia.
The next closest is situated in Coffs Harbour and would take at least three times as long as the Ballina-based Huey to attend natural disasters on the Northern Rivers.
Along with a powerful new helicopter, the company also recently acquired a new pilot. Andy McClymont has just returned to Australia from fighting fires in Canada and will bring the company's number of pilots to six.
- Ballina's Bell Huey helicopter is the largest helicopter on the Far North Coast.
- It weighs more than four tonnes.
- It can carry 1400L of water.