Agreement sought to manufacture Be-200 air tankers in California

The aircraft would be manufactured in Santa Maria, California.

A businessman in Santa Maria, California, who has long been interested in the Russian-made Be-200 scooping air tanker, is pursuing still another avenue to use the aircraft in the United States.

David Baskett is the director of Santa Maria’s airport, president of TTE International, and is associated with International Emergency Services (IES).  Campaigning for years to import the 3,000-gallon Be-200 air tanker, in 2010 he arranged for one of the aircraft to visit the United States. It was on display at Santa Maria, California and made a demonstration water drop. Mr. Baskett said then that his plan was to purchase 10 of the aircraft and lease them to air tanker operators in the United States.

A Be-200ES rolls out for the public while another makes a demonstration water drop. May 30, 2016 at the Beriev factory in Taganrog, Russia.

Now he says he is working with the Beriev Aircraft Company (that makes the aircraft), Global Seaplanes, and Airbus to manufacture the aircraft in Santa Maria. He hopes that the air tanker will receive FAA certification.

Several years ago some U.S. Forest Service employees traveled to Taganrog, Russia the home base of the Beriev company, to conduct tests to determine if the Be-200 met the criteria established by the Interagency AirTanker Board (IAB). At the time, we heard unofficial reports that it met the criteria for water-scooping air tankers, but tests were not completed for dropping fire retardant.

This is not the first announcement that the Be-200 would be manufactured in the United States. In 2004 USA Firefighting Air Corps (USAFAC) said they signed a collaboration agreement with IES to produce the Be-200 in Colorado. USAFAC co-founder Chris Olson told the Colorado Wildfire Matters Review Committee that the company was in discussions with international financiers to back the initiative’s $500 million proposition.

USAFAC at the same time was proposing to convert the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt into an air tanker.

Air tanker museum to get a P2V

I talked with Bob Hawkins yesterday about the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting which is located at Greybull, Wyoming. It turns out that he a director of the museum.

He said this P2V-7 at one time belonged to Hawkins and Powers but was auctioned off when the company went out of business. It was given to the museum by Richard Camp who is the head of the “Save a Neptune” organization. This aircraft was never converted into an air tanker, but Bob hopes to get one someday that actually was an air tanker.

(I was thinking that Neptune Aviation or Minden might have something sitting around.)

Some of you may know Bob. He was the “Hawkins” in “Hawkins and Powers” that operated air tankers out of the Greybull Airport. Now he’s flying helicopters for Sky Aviation in Worland, Wyoming. A number of years ago I was a passenger in his helicopter for three days as we rounded up buffalo in Wind Cave National Park. I was pretty much terrified the whole time!

Articles on Fire Aviation about the museum.

Australians look at how large air tankers are used in the United States

Australian fire managers have been studying the use of air tankers, increasingly so in the last two years. They are on the second year of contracting to use a large air tanker and a very large air tanker during their summer bushfire season. And recently some of the aussies have traveled across the equator to see how the aircraft are used in North America.

Neptune acquires their eighth BAe-146

neptune BAe-146
Neptune’s eighth BAe-146 arrives at Missoula September 29, 2016. Photo by Bill Moss.

One of the major winter projects at Neptune Aviation will be converting their eighth BAe-146 airliner into an air tanker. Aircraft N477A arrived in Missoula September 29 after flying across the Atlantic via Reykjavik International Airport in Iceland.

Bill Moss, who took these photos, told us that the aircraft’s previous registration identifier was LA-HBZ and it had been flying for Bulgaria Air for the last five years. It has served with 10 different operators since its first commercial flight in 1988 for American Airlines.

Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Neptune Aviation, said they are not certain what the aircraft’s tanker number will be, but they are considering Tanker 15.

neptune BAe-146
Neptune’s eighth BAe-146 arrives at Missoula September 29, 2016. Photo by Bill Moss.

As the fire season in the west winds down, Mr. Snyder said two of their air tankers were released yesterday for the year but they still have seven operating for the U.S. Forest Service and one with CAL FIRE. All of their P2V’s will be migrating to their maintenance facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico which has a winter climate much more friendly to radial engines than Missoula.

Another long term project Neptune is working on is performing some of the work on the C-23B Sherpa aircraft the USFS got from the US Army to convert them to civilian SD3-60 certificates. They are usually working on one or two of the planes at a time, Mr. Snyder said, and will continue that project at least through 2017.

“That really is going to depend on the contract situation”, Mr. Snyder said when we asked if they plan to acquire any more BAe-146’s. “The Next-Gen 3.0 contract is supposedly going to be released sometime in the latter portion of this year or the first of next year. And that will greatly dictate what we do as a company, depending on how many line items they decide to release and what that situation looks like from a contracting standpoint.”

Rare photo of the three DC-10 air tankers together

All three of the DC-10 air tankers were in the same place at the same time Saturday, October 1, which is a rare occurrence. Tankers 910, 911, and 912 were all parked at McClellan Air Field. This happened at least one other time that we are aware of, August 30, 2014 at Castle Airport near Merced, California.

The trio will be split up again in the near future when Tanker 910 begins preparing for its contract in Australia where it will begin in less than four weeks. Tankers 911 and 912 will continue their work for CAL FIRE and the U.S. Forest Service for the remainder of the season.

One of Coulson’s C-130’s, Tanker 132, started its contract in Australia on September 6.

10 Tanker Air Carrier photo, used with permission.

California passes law enabling firefighters to take out drones

Firefighters will not be liable for damage to a drone that was interfering with emergency operations.

DJI Mavic Pro drone
DJI Mavic Pro drone

Last week the Governor of California signed legislation that removes the liability if a firefighter takes down a drone, or unmanned aerial system (USA), that was interfering with emergency operations.

Airborne firefighters have had to ground their aircraft many times over the last two years when privately operated drones intruded into the airspace over wildland fires. If a drone collides with a helicopter or air tanker the consequences could be very serious.

Senate Bill #807 says in part:

An emergency responder shall not be liable for any damage to an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system, if that damage was caused while the emergency responder was providing, and the unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system was interfering with, the operation, support, or enabling of the emergency services listed in Section 853 of the Government Code.

Emergency responder is defined as “a paid or unpaid volunteer” or “a private entity”.

The price of sophisticated drones has come down in the last year and their capabilities have made them much easier to fly. It is likely that this interference problem on fires is going to get worse before it gets better.

Both DJI and GoPro in the last two weeks announced new, much more transportable systems with folding propeller arms. The DJI Mavic Pro only weighs 1.62 pounds and when folded can fit into the pocket of some cargo pants. The GoPro Karma is half a pound heavier and is about twice as large when folded. They can fly at 35 to 40 mph at a distance of 1.8 to 4.3 miles and cost around $1,000.

Some drone manufacturers, including DJI, are incorporating geofencing software designed to prevent drones from flying near airports, Temporary Flight Restrictions, and other sensitive sites. The Department of the Interior is beta testing a new system that will ultimately prevent drones from flying over a fire even before a TFR is initiated, as long as the dispatchers enter the fire location data into the Integrated Reporting of Wildland-Fire Information (IRWIN) service.

As long as the DJI drone operator is connected to the internet, the system will warn the operator not to fly into the fire area. However at this stage in the development of the system it will only be a warning and can be ignored. DJI and other drone companies could change that next year, making it impossible to fly into a fire area.

Report on the use of night-flying helicopters on the Cedar Fire

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has released a report on the use of night-flying aircraft on the Cedar Fire west of Kernville, California that burned approximately 30,000 acres in August.

Two night-flying helicopters, from the Angeles National Forest and Kern County, were used along with a night-flying air attack. The video above shows the two helicopters flying to and dropping on a spot fire detected by the air attack ship.

Below are some quotes from the report:

“We were the first resources into the subdivision. We were having a difficult time figuring out where to go (fire front). Night ATGS located us with infrared and directed us to the right location.”
Engine Captain

“The Helicopter saved our bacon and let us keep working on digging line.”
Crew Member

“We were digging line next to the fire. I looked up and there were 25-foot flames. H-531 came in, cooled it down, and we continued digging line.”
Crew Member