Erickson to refurbish MH-53E Sea Dragon

Erickson Incorporated has been selected as a subcontractor by Adams Communication & Engineering Technologies (ACET) for the refurbishment of two Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters in support of the United States Navy Heavy Lift Helicopter Program.

This is the first contract awarded by the U.S. Navy for depot-level maintenance of a MH-53E helicopter to a commercial contractor, according to Kerry Jarandson, Erickson’s Vice President of MRO and Manufacturing.

The MH-53E Sea Dragon is one of the largest helicopters in the United States military. It is a variant of the CH-53E and is used for mine countermeasures. That family of helicopters has a troubling accident history, according to Wikipedia:

Between 1969-1990, more than 200 servicemen had been killed in accidents involving the CH-53A, CH-53D and CH-53E. The MH-53E Sea Dragon is the U.S. Navy’s helicopter most prone to accidents, with 27 deaths from 1984 to 2008. During that timeframe its rate of Class A mishaps, meaning serious damage or loss of life, was 5.96 per 100,000 flight hours, more than twice the Navy helicopter average of 2.26. A 2005 lawsuit alleges that since 1993 there were at least 16 in-flight fires or thermal incidents involving the No. 2 engine on Super Stallion helicopters. The suit claims that proper changes were not made, nor were crews instructed on emergency techniques.

Erickson has been building and operating Sikorsky S-64 Aircranes, which can carry up to 2,650 gallons of water, since 1992.

Aircrane. Erickson photo.

Helicopter assisting firefighters on the Powerline Fire in Texas

The Powerline Fire in Big Bend National Park in south Texas has burned about 1,790 acres as of 5 p.m. CST on Thursday. A Type 3 helicopter and the park’s fixed wing aircraft are assisting firefighters. A downed powerline during gusty, hot winds ignited the fire on Monday, February 1.

More information is at Wildfire Today.

The photos above were supplied by the National Park Service.

Nominations being accepted for International Aerial Firefighting Award

The closing date for nominations is February 19, 2016

The Walt Darran International Aerial Firefighting Award is presented annually to recognize a significant contribution to aerial firefighting by an individual or organization. It was first awarded in 2014 at the Aerial Firefighting Conference in Sacramento, California, USA.

Walt Darran
Walt Darran

The award is named after the late Walt Darran who was a highly experienced airtanker pilot from California and a constant and passionate advocate for safety and improvement in aerial firefighting industry.

The award is administered by the Walt Darran Award Committee which is currently made up of a consortium of existing groups involved in aerial firefighting from International Fire Aviation Working Group (IFAWG), UN-ISDR Wildland Fire Advisory Group (WFAG) members, and Associated Aerial Firefighters.

Nominations are now being accepted for 2016.

Articles about the recipients of the awards in 2014 and 2015, George Petterson and Philippe Bodino, can be seen here.

The Award Charter states:

  • Any person who has made a significant contribution to furthering the safety and/or effectiveness and/or efficiency of aerial firefighting is eligible to be nominated. The Award may recognise contributions either over recent year(s) or over a sustained period.
  • An organization that has made an outstanding contribution to furthering the safety and/or effectiveness and/or efficiency of aerial firefighting is also eligible to be nominated.

The closing date for nominations is February 19, 2016.

To nominate someone for the award please download and complete this form.

The award will be presented at the Aerial Firefighting International 2016 conference in Sacramento, California, USA, March 22-23, 2016.

Walt Darran Award 2015
Philippe Bodino, center, received the award in 2015. Left to right: Jerome Laval, Cal Fire pilot and a Walt Darran very close friend; Richard Alder, General Manager, National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) in Australia; Philippe Bodino; Rear Admiral Terry Loughran (CB FRAes) Royal Navy, Tangent Link Chairman and conference speaker; and Jeff Cavarra, Program Manager at DynCorp International.

Neptune completes their part of the conversion process on two USFS Sherpas

Photo above: C-23Bs being worked on by Neptune Aviation. Neptune photo.

Neptune Aviation has finished their portion of the process of converting two of the U.S. Forest Service C-23B Sherpa aircraft to civilian SD3-60 certificates. The contract Neptune received last year could involve converting another 13 of the former U.S. Army Sherpas. The USFS expects to use them to haul smokejumpers, personnel, and cargo.

Neptune’s project began at the USFS facility in Ogden, Utah where the first two aircraft were done, but is in the final stages of being moved to the company’s facilities in Missoula, Montana for the remaining aircraft.

Field Aviation in Oklahoma City began the process in October, 2015 of converting the analog cockpits in the Sherpas to glass flight decks using the Garmin G950 system.

747 Supertanker conversion update

C check completed, painting begins

Above: artist’s concept for the paint design on Tanker 947 (N744ST). Image courtesy of Global Supertanker.

Work continues on the conversion of a 747-400BCF into a 20,000-gallon air tanker. Global Supertanker purchased all the physical assets and intellectual property related to Evergreen’s original SuperTanker except the 747-100 airframe itself, and is now refurbishing the retardant delivery system for what will be the third generation of the 747 Supertanker.

According to Bob Soelberg, the Program Manager for Global Supertanker, the C check is complete on the jumbo jet, including compliance with numerous Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins. All major modifications to the airframe are now finished. After the engines were ground checked at maximum power and the aircraft weighed, it was taken for a test flight in the Victorville, California area before departing to be painted in Marana, Arizona.

Fluid tanks 747 supertanker
The eight fluid tanks have been inspected, tested, painted, and mounted on cargo pallets. Global Supertanker photo.

The eight fluid tanks, which will hold water or retardant, have been inspected, tested, painted, and mounted on cargo pallets. The air pressure tanks have also been painted and are ready to go. The complete system will be shipped to Marana and installed late in February.

747 Supertanker gear swing
After a landing gear swing test the 747 Supertanker was weighed. Photo by Global Supertanker.

The video below shows a landing gear swing test on a 747. (It is not the Supertanker 747.) In the video they tested just one or two at a time because the hydraulic unit on the ground did not have enough power to do them all at the same time.

Indonesia to buy four Be-200 amphibious air tankers

Be-200 Indonesia
According to @RusEmbPeru, the Russian-made Be- 200 airtankers saved an eighteenth century mosque on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in October, 2015.

During their 10-week wildfire siege in September and October of 2015 the government of Indonesia leased two Russian-made Be-200 amphibious air tankers. Apparently they were pleased with how the aircraft performed because the government expects to purchase four of the air tankers.

The Defence Blog reports that officials plan to use the 3,000-gallon Be-200s not only for slowing the spread of wildfires, but also for cloud seeding.

New South Wales may be using DC-10 air tanker in a somewhat uncommon manner

Photo: DC-10 practice drop October 1, 2015.  NSW RFS.

There is a report that New South Wales, which has a DC-10 under contract during their down under summer, is using the aircraft in a manner that is not typically seen. Neil Bibby writes in Asia Pacific Fire Magazine that fire managers are splitting loads more often and into smaller increments — fewer gallons per drop. The aircraft almost always carries 11,600 gallons, three to four times more than a conventional “next generation” air tanker in the United States. It can be dropped all at once or it can make multiple passes dispensing a fraction of it’s capacity each time.

Below is an excerpt from the AFP magazine:

…Todays Next Generation Airtankers carry between 3000 and 11,600 US gallons, but curiously the number of splits on the average mission has remained relatively static. In fact it is safe to say that the majority of airtanker runs made today are either single drop or two drop loads. To be sure it is not uncommon to see a load split into three drops, but anything more is relatively rare.

Now enter a week-long period in late 2015 when 18 DC-10 loads of retardant were dropped on fires in NSW, and those 18 loads were split into more than 60 separate drops. While that average is only 3.3 drops per load, the reality is that many of those loads were split into six, or even seven, drops. Since then, reports indicate the practice continued as the NSW season progressed.

So why the difference, and what does it matter? The difference, I believe, is both cultural and tactical. Culturally, firefighters in Australia have developed tactics that work well with repeated Sky Crane drops of 2000 gallons, and obviously six drops from a DC-10 fits into those tactics quite well. Tactically, Australian firefighters “build” less indirect line with retardant, and rely instead on tactical application of the suppressant directly on, or close to, the fire line. This tactic usually means shorter runs to follow an uneven line.

The reason this matters comes back to the basic questions of cost efficiency and operational effectiveness. The DC-10, and the amount of retardant it carries, has become regarded as a good example of the benefits of economy of scale. The more suppressant you can carry to the fire line in a single load, the cheaper it becomes…

Interesting aircraft at Burns Air Tanker Base

A Blackhawk and a Homeland Security surveillance aircraft are staged at Burns.

Above: file photo of Department of Homeland Security’s Beechcraft Super King Air 350 (N50056). FlightAware photo.

As we reported on January 10, the FBI has been staging equipment at the Single Engine Air Tanker Base at Burns Municipal Airport four miles east of Burns, Oregon. Initially a large truck with numerous antennas showed up that is probably used as an incident command post.

The airport is 21 air miles north of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge where armed domestic terrorists broke into and seized the facilities at the site.

In the last few days additional equipment arriving at the tanker base included about half a dozen armored vehicles, a Blackhawk helicopter, and a Beechcraft Super King Air 350 surveillance aircraft (N50056) with very obvious external accoutrements, sensors, and communications gear.

The King Air, registered to the Department of Homeland Security, has a logo that appears to be “U.S. Customs and Border Protection”. According to FlightAware records it flew in from Boise on January 27 after having been at St. Augustine, Florida on January 25. 

The Bureau of Land Management operates the SEAT base independently of the city-owned airport which remains open. The base, which cannot handle air tankers larger than a SEAT, has one pit for loading aircraft and parking for three.

The FBI’s Blackhawks are rarely seen. Below is an excerpt from Wikipedia about aircraft operated by the agency’s Hostage Rescue Team:

The HRT’s Tactical Aviation Unit is staffed by FBI special agents. The Tactical Helicopter Unit, a sub-unit of the Tactical Aviation Unit, contains a variety of specially modified helicopters. These helicopters include military converted Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk tactical transport helicopters and tactically enhanced Bell 412 and Bell 407 helicopters. The HRT’s tactical aviators are required to fly daily.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matt.