NTSB report on Tanker 48′s collapsed nose gear

Tanker 48 at Fresno

Tanker 48 lands on collapsed nose gear at Fresno.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released preliminary information about the June 15 accident in which Minden’s Tanker 48, a P2V, experienced a hydraulic failure, resulting in the nose gear collapsing while it landed at Fresno, California.

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“NTSB Identification: WPR14TA248
14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Sunday, June 15, 2014 in Fresno, CA
Aircraft: LOCKHEED SP 2H, registration: N4692A
Injuries: 2 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this public aircraft accident report.

On June 15, 2014, about 2044 Pacific daylight time, a Lockheed SP-2H, N4692A, was substantially damaged when the nose wheel landing gear collapsed during landing roll at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), Fresno, California. The airplane was registered to Minden Air Corporation, Minden, Nevada, and operated as Tanker 48 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Forestry Service, as a public use flight. The airline transport pilot (ATP) rated captain and the ATP rated first officer were not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a company flight plan was filed for the local fire fighting flight. The flight originated from Porterville Municipal Airport (PTV), Porterville, California, at 1934.

The captain reported that following an uneventful aerial drop, the flight was returning to PTV. During the descent check, he noticed that the hydraulic pressure indicated 0 and that the first officer subsequently verified that the sight gauge for the main hydraulic fluid reservoir was empty. The first officer opened the jet engine doors successfully as the captain selected gear down with no response. The captain notified base personnel at PTV of the situation and informed them that they would be orbiting to the east of the airport to troubleshoot. The captain and first officer performed the emergency checklist, and extended the nose wheel landing gear successfully. The captain stated that the first officer then installed the pin to the nose wheel landing gear as part of the emergency checklist.

The flight diverted to FAT due to a longer runway and emergency resources as both pilots briefed the no-flap landing procedure, airspeeds, and approach profile. As the flight continued toward FAT, the flight crew informed Fresno Approach Control of the hydraulic system failure and continued to perform the emergency gear extension checklist. The first officer extended the main landing gear using the emergency gear release, which resulted in three down and locked landing gear indications in the cockpit. As the flight neared FAT, the first officer added two gallons of hydraulic fluid to the main hydraulic reservoir while the captain attempted to extend the flaps unsuccessfully. Subsequently, the flight landed on runway 26R. During the landing roll, the nose wheel landing gear collapsed and the airplane came to rest nose low.

Examination of the airplane by representatives from the Forest Service revealed that the forward portion of the fuselage was structurally damaged. The airplane was recovered to a secure location for further examination.”

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Below is photo of Tanker 48 after landing on all three wheels at Rapid City, July 21, 2012, while working the Myrtle Fire.

Tanker 48 at Rapid City. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Tanker 48 at Rapid City. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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Drone hinders aviation on Sand Fire

A privately operated drone (or unmanned aerial vehicle) caused concern on the Sand Fire south of Placerville, California on Sunday. The person that was controlling the aircraft and getting video footage of the blaze was told by authorities to stop because of the potential danger to helicopters, lead planes, and air tankers flying over the fire.

A video shot from the drone was uploaded to YouTube showing that the aircraft was directly over the fire, which could have been a serious hazard to helicopters and air tankers operating at 50 to 180 feet above the ground.

There are reports that Air Attack, when informed of the drone, came close to grounding all firefighting aircraft until the threat could be mitigated. However the operator was found and instead, the drone was grounded.

Last month the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior issued an Interagency Aviation Safety Alert about the hazards of unmanned aerial vehicles operating near wildfires.

A person would think that a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) which was probably in effect over the fire would prohibit all non-authorized aircraft including drones under 400 feet, from operating in the area. If so, then penalties could be applicable. A pilot of an airplane can lose their pilot’s license for 90 days or so if they bust a TFR. Of course a doofus who buys $1,000 worth of drone and does stupid things with it has no license to begin with.

This problem will get worse before it gets better. There will be more and more consumer-grade drones flying around and keeping them out of fire areas is going to be very difficult.

As we have said before, Air Attack needs to live up to its name and be armed with air to air missiles (kidding!). (EDIT: Or, as we said in a comment, some of the Air-Cranes have a front mounted water cannon that could be very effective, non-lethal [except to the drone], and would not start additional fires!)

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Video from a MAFFS cockpit as it drops on a fire in Utah

This video was shot from Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) 3 as Lt. Col. Todd Davis and his crew dropped retardant on the Rockport Fire near Park City, Utah, July 25, 2014. Lt. Col. Davis and the lead plane pilot can be heard discussing where the drop should go to most effectively assist the firefighters on the ground.

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Report: One MD-87 air tanker to resume service next week

MD-87 at Redmond, June 9, 2014

MD-87 at Redmond, June 9, 2014, showing what appears to be retardant on the fuselage on and above the wing in front of an engine. Photo by Jeff Ingelse.

The Oregonian is reporting that one of Erickson Aero Tanker’s MD-87 air tankers will return to service the week of July 27 with a second to return the following week.

On June 27 the company recalled the three MD-87s they were operating, tanker numbers 101, 103, and 105, “due to intermittent engine surges when dropping [retardant at] high coverage levels”, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Oregonian reported today that Glen Newton, the air tanker operations manager for Erickson, said the aircraft were shut down because retardant was being ingested into the engines. Engineers are making modifications at the drop doors which they expect will solve the problem.

Erickson bought seven MD-87 airliners, planning to convert them into air tankers. The first two, Tankers 101 and 105, began working for the first time on contract to the U.S. Forest Service on June 4 and June 8, respectively. Soon thereafter, a third, Tanker 103, reported for duty.

We ran a story (with the photo at the top of this article) on June 9 which raised the possibility of retardant being ingested into the engines.

The way the U.S. Forest Service runs the air tanker program, most of the responsibility and costs for research and development for the airborne tools that ground-based firefighters need is left on the shoulders and at the discretion of private companies. It can cost millions of dollars to convert an airliner into a firefighting machine, and even more if the wheel has to be invented again for a new model of aircraft which requires a custom-engineered retardant system. It is inevitable that as these new designs are integrated into the fleet, bugs will be discovered. Engineers will have to go back to the drawing board and tweak certain systems. Neptune is on Version 3.0 of the retardant system in the five BAe-146 airliners they have converted.

Building an air tanker from an aircraft designed to carry a hundred passengers is a risky undertaking for a private company. They have to invest millions, and then hope that the U.S. Forest Service will give them contracts to operate it for 10 or 15 years so that they can recoup their investment. Some of the next-generation air tankers that have entered service for the first time over the last year are working on a five-year contract. When the companies have been allowed to bring on a second or third aircraft, in most cases those are on a one-year “additional equipment” contract, with no certainty that they will be used after that.

A banker evaluating a loan application for a company with a business model having such an uncertain future probably has some sleepless nights.

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Two air tankers avoid mid-air collision by 400 feet

As two air tankers were descending before landing at the uncontrolled Porterville Airport on July 12 in California, they narrowly avoided a mid-air collision by 400 feet. The aircraft were close to occupying the same space in the sky when the Traffic Collision Alert Device (TCAD) notified the lower tanker crew about the near collision threat from another tanker above. They took evasive action and lived to tell the story. The upper aircraft was a next-generation air tanker that could have been moving at almost twice the speed of the lower legacy aircraft; 330 to 340 knots versus 165 to 200 knots for legacy air tankers.

Next-gen air tankers would include the BAe-146, Avero RJ 85, C-130Q, MD-87, and DC-10. The legacy category has the P2v, S-2T, and Single Engine Air Tankers.

The entire Lesson Learned can be read here. Below is an excerpt:

As the two aircraft were returning to the AAB at the Porterville Airport (an uncontrolled airport) both flight crews made their calls over the CTAF to announce their positions. When the pilots of the Legacy AT heard the NextGen AT announce their position of “15 miles out” at that moment the Legacy AT crew knew they also just announced their position “15 miles out”. The TCAD (Traffic Collision Alert Device) simultaneously reported traffic on the display and over the intercom. The NextGen AT then descended directly over the top of the Legacy AT. The Legacy AT flight crew reported that the TCAD displayed 400 feet vertical separation and confirmed it visually. The Legacy AT Pilot-in-Command took action to obtain separation from the NextGen AT avoiding the possibility of encountering wake turbulence. The NextGen AT crew did not receive a resolution advisory (RA) on their TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) and proceeded to the airport, unaware that an incident had occurred. Both aircraft landed without further incident.

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Helicopter 205RH on the Bingham Complex

Bingham Complex

Helicopter 205RH on the Bingham Complex. Photo by Richard Parish.

The photo shows helicopter 205RH inserting firefighters on the Bingham Complex on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. The ship is operated by Hillsboro Aviation and is on contract for the Grants Pass Heli-rappellers. In the photo, pilot Joseph Berto is at the controls and the firefighters in the foreground are Mayfield, Johnson, Hastings, and England.

The Bingham Complex has burned 452 acres in and near the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. The incident management team is calling it 55 percent controlled.

 
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Joseph.

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MAFFS units fight fires in western Utah

Two C-130s carrying MAFFS units were deployed to fires in Utah on Monday. The units were officially called up on Saturday morning, to be based out of Boise.

Updates Tuesday from the planes (you can follow them on Twitter):

  • On Monday the planes did 12 drops of 18,000 gallons of retardant.
  • Drops were made three times over the Lincoln and Sheep Fires in Utah.
  • Six drops were made over the Tunnel Hollow fire in Utah as well.

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