Douglas County, just south of Denver (map), signed contracts three weeks ago with three fire aviation companies. The agreements are Call When Needed (CWN) and will only be activated when the aircraft are specifically needed.
The first of the seven HC-130Hs that are being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service will arrive at Forest Service Air Station McClellan (FSAS MCC) in mid-June, not mid-May as originally planned. And yes, that is what the Forest Service is calling their facility at McClellan Airport in Sacramento, California.
The aircraft will still be a work in progress when it lands at MCC. It will not have the paint job as seen above, but will be gray and white with U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System MAFFS markings, according to Jennifer Jones, a USFS spokesperson for the USFS. The gravity-based retardant tank will not have been installed, so it will be temporarily operating with a MAFFS pressurized 3,000-gallon tank. It will also need to depart at some point for scheduled Programmed Depot Maintenance, painting, and retardant tank installation.
The USFS expects that it will be available to fly firefighting missions by August. It will usually be be restricted to fires within 500 nautical miles (575 miles) of MCC so that it can return there each day where both the USFS contract maintenance and U.S. Coast Guard support crews will be located. Missions at a greater distance and staying away from the base will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
A second HC-130H is expected to arrive at MCC in August and will only be used for flight crew training. It will also be a work in progress but should be sporting the new USFS paint scheme. Its Programmed Depot Maintenance will have been completed but it will still need to have a gravity-based retardant tank installed.
We are now using the model name “HC-130H” for these aircraft originally purchased by the U.S. Coast Guard. The first “H” indicates that it is an extended-range, search and rescue variant of the C-130 Hercules. It cruises slightly faster than the C-130H and has twice the range, capable of flying from Missoula, Montana to London non-stop. According to Wikipedia, the HC-130H has the following performance characteristics:
Maximum speed: 330 knots (380 mph, 611 km/h)
Cruise speed: 290 knots (333 mph, 537 km/h)
Range: 4,500 nm (5,178 mi, 8,334 km)
Service ceiling: 33,000 ft (10,000 m)
The first two aircraft to arrive at MCC this summer are 27 and 31 years old. If, after various federal government agencies invest up to $130 million in the conversion of the aircraft, and if the USFS keeps them for 20 years, at that point they will be about the same age as the P2Vs that have been falling out of the sky at an alarming rate over the last 15 years.
We are not sure which HC-130H will arrive first (we are guessing T-118) but here are more details:
- Air Tanker 118
- Coast Guard #1721
- Lockheed Martin SN 5121
- Transferred from Lockheed to the USCG 6/16/1988
- Hours: 5,194
- The center wing box will not be replaced at the Programmed Depot Maintenance due to the low number of hours
- Air Tanker 116
- Coast Guard #1708
- Lockheed Martin SN 5002
- Transferred from Lockheed to the USCG 9/17/1984
- Hours: 22,807
- The center wing box will be replaced at the Programmed Depot Maintenance
Contract for air crew
A $6 million contract for air crews to fly the aircraft was awarded April 27, 2015 to CASS Professional Services Corp, headquartered in Temecula, California. The following jobs will be initially filled for a nine month period with options to extend the term of the contract for an additional two years.
- 1 C-130H Qualified Contractor Aircrew Project Manager
- 2 MAFFS II Qualified Instructor Pilots,
- 1 US Coast Guard Qualified Flight Engineer Instructor, or US Air Force Qualified FE Instructor
- 2 MAFFS II Qualified Load Master Instructors
The Air Force has issued a solicitation for gravity-based fire retardant tanks:
…design, manufacture, and installation of a 3,500 gallon Retardant Delivery System (RDS) for seven (7) HC-130H aircraft. There will be a basic contract with one (1) trial kit/install, one (1) verification kit/install, and three (3) production kits/install. There will be an option for two (2) additional production kits/installs. Effort includes but is not limited to: RDS development, manufacture and installation, structural modifications, and maintenance and inspection plans.
The upper portion of the tank above the floor will be removable and have the ability to disperse 3,500 gallons.
Contract for maintenance
A contract for maintenance of the aircraft is being advertised now with a response date of May 29, 2015. The contractor must provide a total of 17 mechanics and avionics/electrical technicians in the Primary, Secondary, and Back Shop crews. The contract will initially be for a nine month period (June 1 through January), with options to extend for an additional two full years. Services will be provided five days a week during the non-fire season, and seven days a week during the fire season.
The other five HC-130H aircraft
Most of the work on the one or two aircraft that will initially be operated as MAFFS is being done at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and at the U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in North Carolina.
Jennifer Jones told us that the location of the work that will be done on the other five HC-130Hs will be determined once the U.S. Air Force has awarded a contract for it. Work that needs to be done on these aircraft includes demilitarization; performing wing and airframe modifications; designing, contracting for, manufacturing and installing retardant tanks; and equipping them with radios, Aircraft Flight Following, and other equipment. The U.S. Air Force will perform center and outer wing-box replacement modifications, programmed depot-level maintenance, and modifications necessary to procure and integrate a gravity fed aerial fire retardant delivery system (RDS) in each aircraft before they can be brought into U.S. Forest Service operation for firefighting missions.
If you want to know more about what is involved in replacing wing boxes, check out the article we wrote last year, Wing box replacements in the USFS C-130s.
ViaSat Inc. today announced it is part of the consortium awarded the DeSIRE II project, a program funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) Integrated Applications Promotion (IAP) program, the European Defense Agency (EDA) and industry to define regulations and civilian usage for satellite-controlled Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) also known as drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
As part of the consortium, ViaSat is taking the lead in developing the communication, navigation and sensing (CNS) technologies for real-time RPAS command and control across Ka- and L-band satellites. ViaSat will provide an advanced satellite communications (satcom) system that includes modems for both frequency bands and modems for system gateways to demonstrate how a satcom system can lead to the safe use of RPAS in “unsegregated” or civilian airspace.
ViaSat will also help identify civilian service applications for RPAS usage such as environmental monitoring, maritime surveillance and emergency response. One application proposed by ViaSat is the effectiveness of RPAS in early warning and response of a wildfire outbreak. ViaSat in collaboration with CEREN, the French public organization that represents 14 fire brigades, will demonstrate how the DeSIRE II project can aid in data collection and transmission; identification of risk and alarm trigger; real-time video information of wildfire outbreaks; and night flights with infra-red capabilities.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Barbara.
In the video, Trevor Hughes of USA Today goes for a ride in one of Colorado’s two new Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-Mission” aircraft. They will be used for detecting and mapping fires, sending images to the cell phones of personnel on the ground, and helping to enhance the situational awareness for firefighters.
The 2014 Quadrennial Fire Review was released this month. The QFR is a strategic assessment process conducted every four years to evaluate current wildland fire management community strategies and capabilities against best estimates of the future environment. This report is the third iteration of the QFR, which began in 2005. It is not a formal policy or decision document, but rather a strategic evaluation of the long-range direction of wildland fire management.
It was written by a contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, and occasionally you’ll see, if you’re bored and choose to read all 79 pages, that the contractor was not intimately familiar with some fire management practices in the federal government.
You can download the 4.5 MB document, but if you are mostly interested in fire aviation, we pasted below the passages covering the subject.
OPERATIONAL CAPABILITIES ASSESSMENT, Page 39
A key finding of the QFR is that the wildland fire management community’s ability to compare and articulate the relative value of each individual capability within its overall portfolio or describe the cost-benefit proposition for maintaining those capabilities is limited. Limitations in the ability to compare and articulate the relative value is due in part to the lack of data and well-substantiated key performance indicators (KPIs) for programs such as fuels management, fire support facilities, the fire workforce, and the community’s various forms of fire suppression capability. For example, the lack of KPIs for measuring the marginal benefit of fire program capabilities and investments is demonstrated by the lack of consistency between the FS and the DOI in measuring the effectiveness of different kinds of aviation assets.
This review examined progress toward several of the 2009 QFR’s aviation-related recommendations (see Appendix A) and found progress to be limited. Progress-limiting factors include a need for a more rigorous understanding of aircraft effectiveness and its relationship to fleet mix planning. The need for a better understanding of aircraft effectiveness and desired fleet mix is underscored by disagreement between the DOI and the FS on the appropriate types and mix of aircraft for wildland fire suppression and whether aviation capability is best obtained through a wholly owned or contracted fleet. In response to identified gaps in aviation capability and to significantly reduce safety hazards, the FS has embarked on a long-range initiative to acquire a significant number of air tankers and supporting aircraft. Consistent with the performance goals described in the USDA Forest Service Aviation Strategic Plan 2014–2018, the FS is preparing to acquire seven C-130Hs and as many as 15 C-23s and is considering acquiring C-130Js. While the FS expects a wholly owned fleet to improve operator safety and address the need for a more robust and reliable core capability, there is a lack of consensus within the community that this is the optimal approach.
Differences of opinion exist across the community in part because neither the DOI nor the FS has a common set of metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of existing or planned aircraft in performing various operations—from monitoring to suppression—that are needed to demonstrate the costs and benefits of any given fleet mix.
But the need to develop data requirements, protocols, and KPIs to establish a common set of performance metrics is not limited to aviation and also includes, for example, fuels management, facilities, and workforce. During this review, both agencies noted that the wildland fire management community lacks a shared set of effectiveness measures for a variety of capabilities, which limits the ability of the agencies to engage in joint strategic and investment planning to ensure compatible and complementary approaches to the development of tactical capabilities and to provide for course correction when necessary. It is worth noting that the previously mentioned WFIPS, when launched, is expected to provide a robust planning capability for assessing operational requirements and the allocation of resources. Nonetheless, the WFIPS is not expected to be a substitute for a comprehensive operational capabilities assessment, including cost-benefit analyses of the relative value of various operational capabilities.
(Still part of the OPERATIONAL CAPABILITIES ASSESSMENT, Page 41)
Another specific area identified for exploration in this review is unmanned aerial systems (UASs). There is considerable and lively divergence within the FS and the DOI about the utility of UASs, the desirability of integrating them within its asset mix, and the prospect of UASs replacing manned aircraft. Some senior leaders interviewed for this report expressed skepticism about the cost and utility of UASs, asserting that any aviation function that can be accomplished with UASs can be accomplished more economically with the traditional aircraft already in use.
To the contrary, emerging evidence indicates that over the next 5 to 10 years, UASs may provide greater operational capacity and flexibility and reduce risk to personnel, at lower cost than traditional manned aircraft. One key role envisioned for UASs is to support persistent nighttime monitoring of fires, or even suppression operations, a capability that is currently lacking. Such a capability would empower fire planners with data to inform allocation of ground-based firefighting resources to attack fires in ideal conditions in the early morning, rather than having to wait until manned aviation resources arrive in the daylight hours. A November 2014 test at the New York State UAS test site explored the use of an optionally manned K-Max helicopter to conduct precise water and retardant drops. Such a capability, once operational, could potentially triple the amount of active aerial firefighting time over traditional methods and enable aerial suppression in ideal conditions (i.e., at night) or at times when other resources are grounded (i.e., periods of limited visibility resulting from weather or smoke).
Another high-potential application for UASs is their use singly or in groups as an integrated mobile system charged with collecting, analyzing, and transmitting data on fire conditions to personnel in hazardous situations. Such a system could consist of multiple types and sizes of UASs, deployed together to support IMTs by:
- Collecting current data on fire conditions (e.g., wind speed, wind direction)
- Transmitting fire condition data to national fire modeling systems that integrate a wide array of available inputs for real-time processing
- Distributing actionable information to firefighters via mobile devices
- Enabling real-time communications relay between disparate fire resources.
Wildland fire aviation personnel note a strong relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) unmanned aircraft office as a key enabler of progress toward the use of small, runway-independent UASs to collect data within temporary flight restricted (TFR) areas around fires. Nonetheless, obstacles remain in terms of the use of larger UASs (or optionally manned aircraft) to support suppression operations. These obstacles include FAA policy, which curtails the use of larger UASs that must transit to TFRs from distant runways, cultural barriers in a community that has relied on manned aircraft—and the pilots that fly them—for decades, and potential data bandwidth challenges133 resulting from the simultaneous use of many UASs. Despite these challenges, when combined with advanced sensors, data analytics, and mobile applications, UASs can offer a broad array of potential benefits over the next 10 to 20 years.
Fire Workforce and Technology, Page 49
(Note from Bill: very little in the following paragraph is correct, except for the “budgets stretched” part, and there have been reductions in the numbers of large air tankers and helicopters on exclusive use contracts. Booz Allen Hamilton got this very wrong. There are about 60 Type 1 and Type 2 helicopters on contract, and after the Next Generation Version 2.0 large air tanker contracts are awarded, possibly later this year, there will likely be between 20 and 30 large air tankers on exclusive use contract, but still less than the 44 we had in 2002. The Air National Guard and Air Force reserve can activate up to eight Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems [MAFFS] C-130 air tankers if the existing contracted fleet is stressed or committed on initial attack or going fires. In an average year four to six will be activated for several weeks. In some years they are used very little or not at all. Rarely are all eight mobilized at the same time. There is an ongoing debate about how many aviation resources are needed vs. how many are on contract, but the statement below that “the Air National Guard provides the majority of large air tanker support across the country” is not accurate.)
With budgets stretched, the FS and the DOI can no longer afford to operate large air tankers, and these agencies have largely moved away from aviation because of funding limitations. With the exception of tankers contracted by the few states that can afford them, the Air National Guard provides the majority of large air tanker support across the country. These aircraft are only available for deployment on fires that pose great risk to lives and critical infrastructure.
(UPDATE at 9 p.m. MDT, May 15, 2015: After “Phil” left a comment below saying “Director Cooke selected Ms.[Melissa] Lineberger as the Center’s Director on Wednesday”, we checked with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control to confirm, and it is true. She is a licensed attorney who joined the state Division of Fire Prevention and Control in 2013 as a policy analyst before taking her interim position last August.)
(Originally published at 2:11 p.m. MDT, May 15, 2015:)
This week in Rifle, Colorado there was a ribbon cutting for the ceremonial opening of Colorado’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting. Later this summer the Center will be working out of a facility at the Garfield County Rifle Airport.
Radio station KRCC conducted an interview with the interim Director, Melissa Lineberger. Below is an excerpt:
AHM: Exactly what will your duties be?
LINEBERGER: As the director, I’ll be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the center, ensuring that we are meeting our goals as far as completing projects on time, communicating with the legislature to ensure that they understand what we’re doing, and then also being involved as a spokesperson to the Colorado firefighting community, make sure that they understand when we have a new tactic, technique or procedure, understand how that can be implemented and how that can help them, and then provide whatever training is necessary. [Are] demonstrations the best way to go? Or is it sitting down in a classroom and having them see the process that we went through to get to a solution? I’ll be in charge of overseeing all that and making sure the staff is as excited as I am for this opportunity and is moving forward in the right direction.
AHM: What projects are you looking at right now?
LINEBERGER: Some of the initial projects that I’ve already started doing research on [are] night operations. Right now we’re not doing bucket drops from the air at night on fires because 30-40 years ago there were some high profile helicopter crashes when they were trying to fly at night. But night-vision goggle technology has come a long way. People have been scared to re-implement [night-time aerial bucket drops] because of the safety issue. So what we want to do is look into the safety, talk to the folks who are doing night flying currently with the National Guard and with some other organizations, and try to figure our how we can get night operations on our fires here in Colorado. There’s a lot of benefits to fighting fire at night, the smoke lays down, and there’s just opportunities for us to attack those fires 24 hours a day from the air.
According to the Post Independent, ”
… the state Division of Fire Prevention and Control expect to complete a job description for the director soon, followed by a “rigorous” selection process that could take two or three months. After that, they can began hiring the remaining eight full-time staff members, who will occupy an existing building that is being vacated by Garfield County.
— Camille MacDonald (@camillereports) May 15, 2015
Click the picture to see a larger version.
It’s not the best composed photograph I’ve ever seen, but interesting nonetheless — six Air Tractor 802F Fire Bosses ready to attack the Little Bobtail Lake Fire 25 miles southwest of Prince George, British Columbia. That might be an Electra on the right, one of two working the fire..
More about the Little Bobtail Lake Fire at Wildfire Today.
We have written several times about the tilt rotor MV-22 Osprey, and how it may or may not be suitable to fight wildfires by dropping water or transporting firefighters. While it can carry up to 15,000 pounds of external cargo, which might translate to about 1,500 gallons of water, the extreme rotor downwash and the heat from the exhaust which has started fires are two serious limiting factors.
Four MV-22s are being used in Nepal as part of the U.S. response to the earthquake. An article in Calcutta’s The Telegraph points out two issues that are limiting factors for assisting with the earthquake response.
The Ospreys, the Nepalese have seen, flatten or blow off the roofs of the weak houses of villagers while landing and taking off. “They also raise dust storms,” one pilot said.
The MV-22 can carry up to 20,000 pounds of internal cargo or 32 troops, but apparently are having trouble with the density altitude at the high elevations in Nepal.
In one high-altitude village ravaged by tremors, the sight of an Osprey gave much hope to residents who wanted to be evacuated. But the Osprey’s payload limitations meant that the aircraft could evacuate only three persons. Elsewhere, villagers have asked the Nepal Army not to send the Ospreys “because they take away the little that remains with us”.