AH-1 Firewatch "Cobra"

AH-1 Firewatch "Cobra"

Air Tactical Aircraft

Specifications: Cruise Speed: 172 mph
Gallon Capacity: not applicable
Crew: Pilot and AirTactical Group Supervisor
Manufacturer: Bell Helicopters, Fort Worth, Texas

Acquired by USFS

In 2003, the U.S. Forest Service acquired 25 retired AH-1 Fs from the U.S. Army. These have been designated Bell 209s and are being converted into Firewatch Cobras with infrared and low light sensors and systems for real time fire monitoring. The Florida Department of Forestry has also acquired 3 AH-1Ps from the U.S. Army. These are called Bell 209"Firesnakes"and are equipped to carry a water/fire retardant system.


The Vietnam-era army attack helicopters have been striped of their weapons and lasers. Cameras and infrared sensors have been added to convert them to Cobra Firewatch Helicopters.

In 1996, the U.S. Army retired 25 of its Cobra helicopters, which are able to reach speeds of 160 mph. The U.S. Forest Service eagerly accepted the hand- me-downs and refitted them with an arsenal of high-tech gadgets. The new Cobras don't extinguish fires by themselves. Their main purpose is to relay information to ground crews about the direction and strength of a blaze and to help larger planes make more accurate water or fire-retardant drops.

The Firewatch's infrared thermal imager can detect the heat of a wildfire even through thick smoke. Its low-light and color cameras can pick up fine resolution images of the fire, and then its transmission equipment can send those images—in real time—to firefighting crews up to 30 miles away. Also, the Cobra can direct larger water haulers by providing precise GPS coordinates.

SBC Radio Channels

Command Channel Frequency

Tactical Channel Frequency

  • Command 1 (Dispatch) 153.770

  • Tactical 7 155.595

  • Command 2 153.905

  • Tactical 8 154.845

  • Command 3 153.980

  • Tactical 9 154. 650

  • Command 4 156.135

  • Tactical 10 155.640

  • Command 5 154.875

  • CDF/Tactical 11 151.445

  • Command 6 150.995

  • Tactical 12 153.830

  • Tactical 13 154.190

  • CDF/Tactical 14 151.190

  • Tactical 15 155.970

  • CALCORD 156.075

Incident Management Team (IMT)

Santa Barbara County is unique in that it has established a IMT-3 team. With cooperation from all of the fire agencies in the county along with the SB County Sheriff and California Highway Patrol. It is an “All-Risk” Type-3 Team and can respond and manage any incident such as a hazardous materials spill or vegetation fire

Santa Barbara County Operational Area

Type 3: State or Metropolitan Area Level

A standing team of trained personnel from different departments, organizations, agencies, and jurisdictions within a state or DHS Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) region, activated to support incident management at incidents that extend beyond one operational period. Type-3 IMTs will respond throughout the state or large portions of the state, depending upon State-specific laws, policies, and regulations.

Type 2: National and State Level

A federally or state-certified team; has less training, staffing and experience than Type-1 IMTs, and is typically used on smaller scale national or state incidents. There are thirty-five Type-2 IMTs currently in existence, and operate through interagency cooperation of federal, state and local land and emergency management agencies.

Type 1: National and State Level

A federally or state-certified team; is the most robust IMT with the most training and experience. Sixteen Type-1 IMTs are now in existence, and operate through interagency cooperation of federal, state and local land and emergency management agencies.

An incident management team consists of five subsystems as follows:

  • Incident command system (ICS) – an on-scene structure of management-level positions suitable for managing any incident;
  • Training – including needs identification, development, and delivery of training courses;
  • Qualifications and certification – the United States has national standards for qualifications and certification for ICS positions;
  • Publications management – the development, control, sourcing, and distribution of National Incident Management System (NIMS) publications provided by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG); and
  • Supporting technology and systems – technology and materials used to support an emergency response, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), orthophoto mapping, National Fire Danger Rating System, remote automatic weather stations, automatic lightning detection systems, infrared technology, and communications.