“Following a dispatch from the Plumas County Sheriff, the Plumas National Forest Hotshots and Plumas County Search & Rescue responded to a single engine plane incident in Indian Creek near Indian Falls, early this [Friday] morning [May 18]. Thankfully, the plane’s occupants suffered only minor injuries. The skilled firefighters, ensuring there was no wildland fire threat, provided initial patient care, directed the ambulance to the scene and then transferred care to the ambulance staff. The California Highway Patrol provided traffic control on CA Hwy 89. We’re grateful to have our first responders when we need them! A big thanks to all of you!”
The Department of the Interior is continuing their very aggressive movement into the world of drones. They have held training sessions to get scores of employees certified to operate the devices and are advertising and awarding contracts for call when needed (CWN) drone vendors. The Department has recently published at least four solicitations, awards, or special notices about drones and unmanned aerial systems.
One of them was a justification to skip the process of accepting bids from multiple vendors and so they could
issue a sole source contract to buy 56 of the 3DR Solo drones (Quadcopters) and associated equipment. We have seen a version of the aircraft with a gimbal but without a camera listed for around $2,000.
Below is information from the Department of the Interior dated May 15, 2018:
BOISE, Idaho – As part of a broader strategy to aggressively combat wildfires, the U.S. Department of the Interior has awarded a Call When Needed contract to four U.S. companies for small-unmanned aircraft systems services. The contract, which is Interior’s first of its kind, will allow the agency to obtain fully contractor-operated and maintained small drones that are ready when needed to support wildland fire operations, search and rescue, emergency management and other resource missions in the Contiguous 48 States and Alaska.
“This contract reinforces our commitment to partnering with industry to provide our employees with the latest technology in carrying out their responsibilities as stewards of our nation’s public lands while also ensuring their safety is paramount,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “This capability is key to implementing our new and aggressive approach to combatting the threat of large wildfires that I outlined in my Wildland Fire Directive last September.”
The award follows a lengthy process to develop mission performance requirements and select a range of experienced commercial providers to meet this need. Companies receiving awards included, Bridger Aerospace of Boseman, Montana, Insitu of Bingen, Washington, Pathways2Solutions of Nashville, Tennessee and Precision Integrated of Newberg, Oregon.
“As the recognized leader in the application of unmanned aircraft technology in natural resources, wildland fire, and land management applications, we look forward to supporting our Interior bureaus’ needs and those of our interagency partners with this first-ever contracted small-unmanned aircraft systems resource,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Safety, Resource Protection, and Emergency Services Harry Humbert. “This strategic contract capability compliments the division and tactical level capabilities of our fleet vertical take-off and landing fixed wing and quadcopter small-unmanned aircraft systems, providing critical enhancements to firefighter safety and effectiveness.”
The contract consists of one base year with four option years. The total potential contract value is $17 million. Aircraft selected under the contract will be able to operate day or night, without a runway in sustained winds up to 25 knots and at altitudes consistent with typical western wildfire environments.
“These contracted small-unmanned aircraft systems will supplement the manned firefighting fleet by providing the capability to operate during dense smoke/inversion situations which often occur and have heretofore hampered the aggressive prosecution of destructive wildfires,” said Jeff Rupert, Director of the Office of Wildland Fire. “Infrared/thermal camera technology onboard these small-unmanned aircraft systems can penetrate smoke and gather/disseminate information to deliver critical situational awareness for incident commander. These sensors also provide us with the first real opportunity to collect, analyze, and archive relevant wildfire suppression and retardant outcome data since aerial suppression began in 1930.”
“Interior has a long history of collaborating and partnering with industry to provide our field and fire personnel with safe, effective, and cost-efficient commercial air services to meet unique mission needs,” said Interior’s Office of Aviation Services Director, Mark Bathrick. “Historically, nearly 70 percent of our manned aircraft missions are supported through commercial air services contracts. The capabilities of these contractor operated small-unmanned aircraft systems will provide our scientists, land managers, emergency managers, and firefighters with additional capacity to obtain enhanced sensing, increase employee and public safety, realize cost savings, and service Interior’s diverse and dynamic mission requirements more responsively. This new capability fulfills another important element in Interior’s Unmanned Aerial Services Integration Strategy.”
Like their Interior small-unmanned aircraft systems fleet counterparts, these aircraft will operate from within the Temporary Flight Restrictions established over most large wildfires. This will enable them to take advantage of Interior’s unique authorities from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate beyond visual line of sight—a critical capability in the smoky wildfire environment. Their longer endurance will provide incident commanders with near real-time access to critical fire boundary, behavior, and hotspot location, enabling them to make faster, more informed decisions than in the past. In conjunction with the tactical and division level fleet small-unmanned aircraft systems Interior has already integrated into the wildland fire environment, these aircraft will enhance firefighter safety through the identification of emerging changes in fire behavior and escape routes.
Interior is currently working to bring small unmanned aerial systems to the hazardous aerial ignition mission, which over the last 13 years has resulted in the loss of two contracted helicopters and five lives. Future initiatives include the continued development of optionally-piloted helicopter technology developed by the Department of Defense to enable safe and effective use suppression of fires during the approximately 16 hours each day when night and reduced visibility currently prevent aerial support. Historically, 20 percent of all wildfires are discovered outside periods of traditional aviation support. Interior believes tripling the amount of active aviation support time on wildfires will have game changing benefits in reducing the time, area, and cost to contain wildfires.
Tom Brown found five Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87’s at Madras, Oregon on May 5 and was able to grab this photo of all of them.
In June, 2016 I also saw five of Erickson’s MD-87’s at Madras. They were parked in single file and my 24mm lens was not wide enough to get them all. The one missing in the photo below also had “Spanair” on the side.
(About half of Air Spray’s fleet of air tankers do not have conventional landing gear — they are on floats.)
Above: An Air Spray AT-802F Fire Boss at Omak, Washington in 2016. Photo by Air Spray.
Air Spray has exclusive use (EU) contracts for seven of their air tankers this year. The company has eight Air Tractor Single Engine Air Tankers. Five are on floats, AT-802F Fire Bosses, and three AT-802F’s have conventional wheeled landing gear.
Around the middle of May two of the Fire Bosses will start their contracts in Alaska. In the first part of June three more will begin working with the Washington DNR. And in early July two of the “wheelies”, AT-802F’s, will be on duty in Oregon, one with the state DNR and the other with the U.S. Forest Service.
That accounts for all of the SEATs except one. Ravi Saip, the company’s Director of Maintenance/General Manager, said he had hoped that the BLM would pick it up along with 32 other SEATs on their National EU contract.
Randy Eardley, spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, told us today that no EU contracts for Single Engine Air Tankers have been awarded yet this year, but there is an existing CWN contract for SEATs which will be used. He said it is unlikely that there will be an EU contract, for the second year in a row. Before 2017 there were typically 33 SEATs on EU. Approximately 10 have been working on a CWN basis in Texas and the Southwest during the last month or two.
So now, Mr. Saip is hoping that their remaining wheeled SEAT can find work on a CWN basis.
Like other air tanker operators, Air Spray has ground-based mobile maintenance units that are dispatched with their aircraft. But in addition to carrying tools and spare parts, they also bring pumps and tanks for mixing retardant before it is loaded onto the aircraft.
Air Spray also has a Lockheed L-188 that will be available to CAL FIRE on a CWN contract again this year.
The BAe-146 that the company started converting in 2014 has come a long way as you can see in the photo above. It will soon be doing some static testing for the Interagency Airtanker Board and at some point a grid test, dropping retardant into a grid of cups on the ground.
On Thursday the Departments of Interior and Agriculture briefed members of Congress about the outlook for wildfires in 2018.
There was a lot of talk about being more aggressive about attacking fires, forest health, firefighting aircraft, dead trees, logging, and reducing fuels in forests.
In response to a question by Washington Senator Maria Cantwell about expanding the use of drones on fires, the Secretaries of the two Departments announced that they would sign an agreement to more easily share resources and technology between the two Departments, including drones.
During her prepared remarks, Interim Chief of the Forest Service Vicki Christiansen said the Forest Service had “hundreds of aircraft ready to respond” to fires. The fact is, in addition to helicopters, in 2017 there were 20 large air tankers on exclusive use (EU) contracts. This year there are 13, with another 11 on call when needed (CWN) agreements plus one HC-130H Coast Guard aircraft outfitted with a temporary MAFFS tank. The Forest Service wants to get rid of the Coast Guard HC-130H currently being used and the other six that Congress directed them and the Air Force to convert to air tankers.
Randy Eardley, spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, told us today that no EU contracts for Single Engine Air Tankers have been awarded yet this year, but there is an existing CWN contract for SEATs which will be used. It is unlikely that an EU contract will be awarded, for the second year in a row. Before 2017 there were typically 33 SEATs on EU contracts every year. Approximately 10 have been working on a CWN basis in Texas and the Southwest during the last month or two.
A few of the politicians at the briefing criticized the reduction in the number of air tankers. At 16:00 in the video, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden expressed his concern.
Last week we were hearing in rural Oregon that there wouldn’t be enough air tankers on exclusive use contracts at the Forest Service…. What is the Service doing to ensure that the all call when needed air tankers are going to be there in terms of these fires.
Ms. Christiansen responded to the Senator:
Senator Wyden, I can assure you we will have the same number of large air tankers, 25, available to us on contract or agency operated. That’s in addition to the specialty that the Department of Interior provides in Single Engine Air Tankers and then we all have a selection of rotary helicopter resources. So we are confident in our ability to field the large air tankers and the other aviation assets. As I said before, we are always evaluating the mix of exclusive use and call when needed. Call when needed can be available within 30 minutes but often certainly within a couple of hours. And our predictive services I have great confidence in that we will bring those call when needed resources on as we anticipate the need expanding. It all happens out of our Interagency Fire Center in Boise.
Call when needed contracts for large air tankers specify that the aircraft should be able to be activated within 48 hours. And it is not as simple as a dispatcher making a phone call to the vendor, it must be handled by a contracting officer. But after being activated, they can remain in that status for an extended period of time, even if it is raining, and be subject to the same dispatch standards as exclusive use aircraft.
The quality of the video and audio below is very poor, but at least 90 percent of the audio is comprehensible.
The article was revised to clarify that while it is unlikely that an exclusive use contract will be awarded this year for SEATs, an existing call when needed contract can be used.
Jerry Messinger sent us this photo of N949CH, one of HeliMax’s CH-47’s at Sierra Vista, Arizona. He said it is on an exclusive use contract and has already flown about 75 hours on fires in the Southwest this spring. It is very dry there, he said.
Those large rotor blades can provide a little shade on a hot day.
Above: The four Maintenance Support units for 10 Tanker — one for each DC-10. Photo by Robert Mouck.
The crews at 10 Tanker Air Carrier are getting their four DC-10 air tankers ready for the fire season. Two of the aircraft are on exclusive use (EU) contracts with the U.S. Forest Service and the other two are on call when needed (CWN) contracts with the Forest Service.
The company just completed a two-year EU contract with New South Wales in Australia and will be submitting a bid for the next two years. 10 Tanker also has CWN contracts with Douglas County (just south of Denver) and four states: Nevada, California, Montana, and Minnesota.
They just upgraded their Maintenance Support units that follow the air tankers. Each of the four aircraft has a dedicated large goose-neck trailer full of tools and spare parts pulled by a Dodge heavy duty crew cab pickup.
John Gould, President of 10 Tanker, said they recently resolved a Supplemental Type Certificate issue with the FAA and expect to finalize some details with the Operational Load Monitoring System and the ATU soon, and then they will be carded again for this year.