Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region Sunsets Aging Firewatch Cobra Helicopters, Transitions to Modern Technology and Platforms

Release Date: Oct 18, 2021

Contact(s): Jonathan Groveman

VALLEJO, Calif. — This past Saturday, the last remaining USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest (Region 5) Firewatch Cobra Program Viet Nam War-era helicopter took its final flight as we transition to a new era of aerial supervision utilizing modern helicopters and implement modern technologies like fixed-wing aircraft to service a larger landscape. . Additionally, Region 5 has stood up an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Program to reduce risk and hazards to firefighters both in the air and on the ground.

The roles previously served by the two Cobra helicopters will be performed by a combination of three modern platforms: new helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and UAS. There is no reduction in firefighting surveillance or operational capabilities with the transition, local communities and wildland firefighters will be better served by the advancements in modern technology.

The two Forest Service-owned AH109 helicopters were repurposed Vietnam War-era, U.S. Army attack helicopters for fire aviation, aerial supervision, and intelligence work. They served the Forest Service for nineteen years and reached their maximum lifespan after flying approximately 7,600 flight hours with the Cobra program.

“The Forest Service thanks all the pilots, mechanics, aerial supervisors, and program managers that made the Cobra program a success,” said Robert Baird, Director of Fire and Aviation Management for Region 5. “The next generation of equipment will continue this critical mission of public safety and protection.”

For a visual representation of the program’s mission, Vice News recently did a story on the helicopters, which can be viewed at

The Forest Service manages 18 National Forests in the Pacific Southwest Region, which encompasses over 20 million acres across California, and assists State and Private forest landowners in California, Hawaii and the U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands. National forests supply 50 percent of the water in California and form the watershed of most major aqueducts and more than 2,400 reservoirs throughout the state. For more information, visit


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Key Contacts

Email (send questions):

Adrienne Freeman (Fire Public Information Officer):