Update on the USFS C-23B

C-23B Forest Service

C-23B. USFS photo.

It has been almost six months since we provided an update on the 15 Sherpa C-23B aircraft that were scheduled to be transferred from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Forest Service. The expectation was that they would be used by smokejumpers and for transporting cargo, paracargo, and possibly firefighters.

We asked Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, for the current status of the transfer and transition. Below is her response:


“As of 9/11/14, a total of 10 C-23B+/SD3-60s have been transferred from the DoD to the U.S. Forest Service and the remainder are scheduled to be transferred within the next few weeks.

Three of the aircraft are in Redmond, Oregon and one of the aircraft is in Ogden, Utah. The remainder of the aircraft are at, or are in transit to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), also known as the  “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona where they will be stored until the U.S. Forest Service fields them.

The U.S. Forest Service will locate one aircraft in Ogden, Utah to serve as the prototype aircraft for FAA Civil Certification as an SD3-60 Sherpa and will then conform the rest of the C-23B+ aircraft to that standard. One of the three aircraft located in Redmond, Oregon will be used to complete the Smokejumper Aircraft Screening and Evaluation Board (SASEB) approval process and to develop pilot familiarity and training. The other aircraft will be progressively certified, configured for wildfire suppression missions, and brought into service.

The U.S. Forest Service expects to begin bringing the aircraft into service incrementally (two to four aircraft per year) beginning in 2016 due to the time that it will take to complete aircraft modifications; to equip the aircraft for smokejumper, cargo, and other wildfire suppression missions (for example, by installing radios, Aircraft Flight Following [AFF], and other wildfire mission specific equipment); and to contract with private industry for operation, pilot, and maintenance services.

While final decisions have not been made yet, initial indications are ten of the C-23B+/SD3-60s will be used to replace U.S. Forest Service owned and contracted aircraft used for smokejumping. The U.S. Forest Service is pursuing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) civil certification of the non-certificated C-23B+ aircraft as Short Brothers SD3-60 Sherpa aircraft. This would enable the agency to [use] these aircraft to perform several aerial firefighting missions in addition to delivering smokejumpers and cargo. These missions include transporting fire crews, incident management teams, and other overhead and support personnel to airfields and airports that larger transport planes could not use; transporting cargo and communications equipment; and supporting all-hazards incidents.”


When will the last USFS DC-3 TP retire?

USFS DC-3 retires

J-42, a U.S. Forest Service DC-3 TP at its retirement ceremony at Ogden, Utah, October 24, 2012. USFS photo.

Since one of the two U.S. Forest Service DC-3 TPs retired in 2012 and was sold in 2013, there has been speculation about how many years the last USFS DC-3 TP would continue to haul smokejumpers.

It has been 23 years since the two aircraft had their radial piston engines replaced with turbines in 1991 by Basler.

The remaining DC-3 TP is 71 years old. USFS spokesperson Jennifer Jones said, “Economic, operational and risk analyses have shown that the DC-3 TP has fulfilled its useful life as a smokejumper platform.”

When we asked if the rumors are true that the last DC-3 TP will retire in 2015, Mrs. Jones said it will be replaced by one of the 15 C-23Bs that the USFS recently acquired from the Army, “but no precise date has been set for that yet.”

The C-23B, due to begin transitioning into the USFS fleet in 2016, has issues with high density altitude, and some pilots have questioned how useful it will be at high altitude smokejumper bases such as West Yellowstone and Silver City. We asked Mrs. Jones about this, and she said the USFS owns two De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters and contracts for two others. After the transition to the C-23B the agency will retain the two Twin Otters they own, “to ensure the capability to perform short field/backcountry airstrip and high density altitude missions.”


New multi-use aircraft touted as possible air tanker

KC-390 air tanker

Embraer has this photo on their website, showing the new KC-390 dropping on a wildfire.

No one is saying that Embraer’s new KC-390 jet-powered multi-use aircraft is purpose-built to serve as an air tanker, but the company’s website has a picture, an artist’s conception, of it dropping on a wildfire before it even takes its first flight. In the image, it appears to have a retardant system similar to the first generation Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) with the pressurized nozzles protruding out of the open rear loading ramp.

The aircraft was just rolled out for the first time October 21 at the company’s plant in Brazil and will not take its first flight for a few months, so it’s a little early to say it will join the fleet of next-generation air tankers. Embraer has said they have firm orders from the Brazilian Air Force for 28 of the aircraft, which will fit into the medium transport category dominated by Lockeed’s C-130 series.

The list of roles it could fill is long, including cargo and troop transport (80 troops or 64 paratroopers), medical evacuation, search and rescue, air to air refueling, and, the company says, firefighting air tanker.

According to Wikipedia, it will sell for $50 million and can carry a 52,029-pound payload. Business Insider reported it will have a cruising speed of 860 kilometers (550 miles) per hour. Wikipedia say the C-130J can carry a 44,000-pound payload and has a cruising speed of 348 knots (400 mph, 643 km/h).


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


1.5 million gallons of retardant loaded into air tankers at Medford, Oregon this year

Air tankers at Medford.

Air tankers at Medford, Oregon, September 1, 2014. Photo by Kristin Biechler.

The amount of retardant pumped at the Medford Air Tanker Bases this year was more than four times the 10-year average for the airport.

Below is a report provided by the Jackson County Airport Authority:


“Here is an update with some interesting statistics from the Medford Air Tanker Base for our recently-ended (and VERY busy) fire season:

The Medford Air Tanker Base mission is to support wildland fire suppression in the Pacific Northwest. We provide support mainly to Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Season Activity
2014 was very big fire season for our suppression area. The Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport was fortunate to have two Airtanker Bases. We managed both the Medford Air Tanker Base (MATB) and the portable Medford Very Large Airtanker Base (VLAT). Medford ATB pumped out 1,068,226 gallons of retardant on 440 Air Tanker loads this season. This is more than 4 times our ten year average. At the Medford VLAT we pumped 506,893 gallons with 104 Air Tanker loads. Together the two Air Tanker Bases pumped 1,575,119 gallons of retardant.

Our highest one day total for the MATB was on 8/29. We loaded 6 Large Air Tankers 28 times with 79,422 gallons of retardant. The highest one day total for the VLAT base was 84,894 gallons on 9/7/14. We loaded two VLAT’s 8 times.

Together the two Air tanker Bases had 5 days over 90,000 gallons and 2 days over 100,000 gallons and a one day total of 143,000 gallons. On 9/6 and 9/7 the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport had its busiest two days ever with the regular commercial operations, 3 Scoopers, 5 Air Attack Planes, 2 Lead Planes and with us pumping 209,000 gals of retardant on 7 SEATs, 7 LAT’s, and 2 VLAT’s.

Medford ATB hosted a total of 31 different Air Tankers. These air tankers made 562 landings at the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport.”


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


CAL FIRE’s aviation program at Hemet-Ryan

Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base

Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base. Google Earth.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise has an interesting article by Brian Rokos about CAL FIRE’s aviation program, and specifically the pilots and aircraft at the Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in southern California (map). Mr. Rokos goes into some depth, exploring how the aviation program is managed and the experience of the pilots at Hemet-Ryan.

Below are the first few paragraphs of the article:


“Cliff Walters has a photo on the wall of his home in the San Bernardino Mountains showing him making a spectacular water drop on a brush fire from the Super Huey helicopter he pilots for Cal Fire. Framed with the photo is a handwritten note from schoolchildren thanking Walters for saving their homes.

Mike Venable also pilots a firefighting aircraft that brings out the shutterbugs: a Cal Fire airplane that can drop up to 1,200 gallons of orange-red fire retardant as it swoops through canyons and skims over treetops.

But the veteran pilots based at Cal Fire’s Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base say daredevils need not apply. Their jobs are shaped by calculated decisions – often made on their own – that weigh risk vs. reward in the race to put out flames that threaten lives and property.

“Maybe you have to make it look like (you are) a daredevil, but everything is controlled,” said Walters, 50.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more conservative,” said Venable, 55. “Everybody wants to come home to their families at night. Taking an unacceptable risk is going to jeopardize that.”…  “


Memorial service for air tanker pilot planned

Firefighters will gather to pay their respects to airtanker Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt who paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life while fighting the Dog Rock Fire near El Portal, California. A celebration of Craig’s life, with full Line of Duty Death fire service honors, will take place Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 10 a.m.

On October 7, 2014, Dyncorp Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was involved in a fatal crash while flying a CAL FIRE S-2T Airtanker over the Dog Rock Fire burning near Yosemite’s Arch Rock.

“We continue to mourn the tragic loss of Craig.” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE Director.

“We know wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, but Craig made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot’s family during this difficult time,” said Jeff Cavarra, program director for DynCorp International.

Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was born October 14, 1951 in Richmond, IN. He is survived by his wife, Sally, who he married in September of 1975, and his two daughters, Nancy Hunt and Sarah Hunt Lauterbach. Hunt served as a US Navy P3 pilot from 1975-1984 and was in the reserves for 20 years. Hunt earned a Master’s in Business as well as in Biochemistry and was a chemistry teacher in the off season at the University of Santa Cruz. He had a love for flying, golfing, fishing, hiking, bird watching, scuba diving, math/sciences, teaching and dogs.

“My dad died a hero. There was not a day that went by that I didn’t talk to my dad. He was my best friend”, said Sarah Hunt Lauterbach.

Memorial Service
Location: Church on the Hill, 500 Sands Dr., San Jose, CA 95125
Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 10 a.m.
Attire for uniformed personnel is to be either Department Class A Uniform or Work Uniform with tie.
Public Safety Departments or Agencies that wish to attend or send apparatus for the memorial static display, please click here. Please arrive at the church by 9:00 a.m. for set up.

Cards can be sent to the family in care of:
The Hunt Family
c/o CAL FIRE Firefighters Local 2881
1731 J Street, Ste. 100
Sacramento, CA 95811

In lieu of flowers donations can be made to:
G. Craig Hunt Memorial Fund
Ashville School
360 Ashville School Road
Ashville, NC 28806
This fund will be designated for scholarship and athletics at the Ashville School.
Contact: Tom Marberger at (828) 254-6345 ext. 4081

Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt

Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. Courtesy of Mr. Hunt’s family.


More details about the fire aviation assets in Victoria, Australia this summer

RJ-85, tanker 161

One of two RJ-85s converted by Conair and operated by Aero Flite. There is a report that Conair produced three of these, keeping one for themselves. Calls to Conair to confirm the report and that one will be used in Victoria were not returned. Photo provided by NIFC.

On October 10 we wrote about the plans for the fire aviation program for the coming 2014/2015 summer fire season in Victoria, Australia. Now, thanks to Bryan Rees, who is in charge of fire aviation capability for the Department of Environment and Primary Industries in the state, we have more details.

As we reported before, the aircraft fleet will include:

  • 2 large fixed wing airtankers;
  • 1 firebombing helicopter to be based in the Latrobe Valley;
  • 2 Erickson Aircranes capable of dropping 7,500 litres (1,980 gallons) of water;
  • 2 large Sikorsky helicopters capable of dropping 3,500 litres (924 gallons) of water or transporting up to 17 firefighters;
  • 5 medium sized firebombing helicopters;
  • 15 light helicopters;
  • 12 single engine airtankers;
  • 2 infrared line-scanning fixed wing aircraft;
  • 4 fixed wing firespotting aircraft; and
  • 1 fixed wing aircraft to support the large air tankers.

Mr. Rees said the two large air tankers will be Coulson’s C-130Q and an RJ-85 from Conair. They can carry 4,000 and 3,000 gallons, respectively, and will work out of the Avalon airport beginning around December 10.

We asked Mr. Rees by email about the helicopters that would be on contract this summer:

Victoria has operated Erickson Aircranes since 1997. This season we will have 2 x S64 E models based in Melbourne and at Ballarat. In addition we have contracts for 2 x S61 from Coulson for firebombing, fire crew transport and rappel operations based at Mansfield and Ballarat. A number of companies provide Type 2 helicopters for firebombing and rappel operations in Victoria. Kestrel aviation operates 2 x B212’s and a B412, McDermott aviation a B214B, and Jayrow helicopters a B212 — we are currently tendering for an additional T2 for the Latrobe Valley area.

And, we asked about Victoria’s past use of large air tankers:

Victoria has operated large air tankers on a number of occasions over the years. We operated a RAAF Hercules fitted with a USFS MAFFS unit for the 1981/82 and 1982/83 fire season – this included operations during the disastrous Ash Wednesday fires. Victoria hosted the trial by CSIRO called Project Aquarios in 1983/84 using a Conair DC6. The DC10 was operated from Avalon here in Victoria during the 2009/10 fire season and 2 x Conair Convairs operated here in 2010/11.