FAA: Wildfire and drones don’t mix

WASHINGTON – Responding to recent incidents in which unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as “drones,” interfered with manned aircraft involved in wildland firefighting operations, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is supporting the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service in their simple message to drone operators: If you fly; we can’t.

 “Flying a drone near aerial firefighting aircraft doesn’t just pose a hazard to the pilots,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “When aircraft are grounded because an unmanned aircraft is in the vicinity, lives are put at greater risk.” 

Often a temporary flight restriction (TFR) is put in place around wildfires to protect firefighting aircraft. No one other than the agencies involved in the firefighting effort can fly any manned or unmanned aircraft in such a TFR. Anyone who violates a TFR and endangers the safety of manned aircraft could be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties. Even if there is no TFR, operating a UAS could still pose a hazard to firefighting aircraft and would violate Federal Aviation Regulations.

“The FAA’s top priority is safety. If you endanger manned aircraft or people on the ground with an unmanned aircraft, you could be liable for a fine ranging from $1,000 to a maximum of $25,000,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Know the rules before you fly. If you don’t, serious penalties could be coming your way for jeopardizing these important missions.”

Since so many people operate unmanned aircraft with little or no aviation experience, the FAA is promoting voluntary compliance and working to educate UAS operators about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws. The agency has partnered with industry and the modeling community in a public outreach campaign called “Know Before You Fly.” 

The campaign recently reminded UAS users to respect wildfire operations. The National Interagency Fire Center also posted a video warning for users to, “Be Smart. Be Safe. Stay Away.” 

Additionally, the FAA provided guidance to law enforcement agencies because they are often in the best position to deter, detect, immediately investigate, and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions to stop unauthorized or unsafe unmanned aircraft operations.

So remember this simple message around wildfires: If you fly, they can’t. Keep your drone on the ground and let firefighters and aircraft do their jobs. And, if you see someone flying a drone near a wildfire, report it immediately to local law enforcement and the nearest FAA Flight Standards District Office with as much information as possible. You can find the closest FAA office at: http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/field_offices/fsdo/.

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


$25,000 rewards approved for turning in drone operators

When we learned that San Bernardino County was going to consider offering large rewards for turning in drone operators who interfere with aviation operations on wildfires, we were not certain that the $75,000 appropriation would pass. But damn, it did.

The Board of Supervisors for the southern California county unanimously agreed on Tuesday, July 28, to allocate $25,000 rewards for information that could lead to the arrest and conviction of operators of the drones that caused temporary halts to aircraft operations on three recent fires — the Lake fire near Barton Flats on June 24, the Mill 2 fire near Yucaipa on July 12, and the North fire near Cajon Pass on July 17.

This just might be effective. It is even possible that an unintended consequence of this action could be large numbers of reward seekers flocking to fires hoping to spot a drone operator and then later have a reward authorized for that fire.

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


Air tankers at La Grande, Oregon

T-10 at La Grande

T-10 (a BAe-146), another BAe-146, and an RJ85, La Grande, OR. Photo by Josh Annas.

Josh Annas took these photos of air tankers that were working out of Union County Airport in La Grande, Oregon (map) between July 20 and 24. The aircraft were working the Blue Creek Fire in the southwest corner of Washington.

Aaron tells us that on July 23, 13,000 gallons of Jet A fuel was used.

RJ85 at La Grande

An RJ85 at La Grande, OR. Photo by Josh Annas.

T-131 at La Grande

An RJ85 and T-131 (a C-130Q) at La Grande, OR, while a SEAT photo-bombs. Photo by Josh Annas.

Tanker 45, a P2V

Tanker 45, a P2V, at La Grande, OR. Photo by Josh Annas.


Martin Mars drops on a fire near Skutz Falls, Vancouver Island

(Originally published at 8:52 a.m. PT, July 29, 2015)

Martin Mars on Skutz Falls Fire

Martin Mars on Skutz Falls Fire. Screen shot from video by Jody Kerrone.

This image of the Martin Mars dropping on a fire near Skutz Falls on Vancouver Island yesterday is a screen shot from a video by Jody Kerrone. We are unable to embed the video here, but you can see it on the Wildfire Today Facebook page.

The Martin Mars was preceded by a jet-powered lead plane, or Bird Dog as they are called in Canada.

The British Columbia Wildfire Service reports that the fire is 10 hectares (25 acres). Two helicopters were also working on the fire.

As far as we know, this is the second fire the Martin Mars has dropped on in the last couple of weeks.


(UPDATE at 1:46 p.m. PT, July 29, 2015)

Wednesday afternoon Coulson Flying Tankers released the following information about the mission:


“Last night the Mars made a total of six drops on the fire at Skutz Falls. The drops averaged 21,600 litres [5,706 gallons] per drop for a total of 130,000 litres [34,342 gallons] in approximately 1.5 hrs, beginning with the first scoop at 7:30 p.m.

The turn times averaged 15 minutes per drop which was excellent with some 8 minutes drop cycles. As there were other aircraft working on the fire we had to allow them the time to get clear prior to each drop. It was an example of great teamwork, working in tandem with the other aircraft.

The current fuel load allows the Mars to stay airborne for approximately 6 hours prior to refueling. With this much fuel on board at the beginning of the scooping cycles we have to scoop a few smaller loads until we burn enough fuel to get up to maximum load capacity.

Every aircraft is the same with regard to maximum fuel load. All aircraft have to balance the amount of fuel on board and take into account the outside air temperature as well as working altitude and then factor in the load capabilities. However for the most part smaller aircraft carry only enough fuel for a maximum of 3 hours.”


Video of Tanker 131 dropping water on wildfire in Florida

In this video, Air Tanker 131, a C-130Q, is seen making two drops with water — instead of fire retardant — on the Mud Lake Complex of fires in Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida. This is an unusual tactic for most large air tankers that normally drop retardant. It was a direct attack on the edge of the fire, rather than being offset as they would usually do with retardant. In the United States, federal policy does not allow retardant to be dropped near water. Many areas in the Mud Lake Complex were near wetlands.

Air tankers that can skim over the surface of a lake, scooping water to refill their tanks, usually drop water instead of retardant. Those aircraft include the Air Tractor Fire Boss, CL-215/415, and the Martin Mars.

Coulson Aviation attached a GoPro camera to the belly of their C-130Q to record the video in May, 2015.

If you are wondering how far water dropped by an air tanker spreads out laterally, check out this video of a scooper dropping on a vehicle fire in Canada.


A better way to search Fire Aviation

We received an email from one of our readers who said he had trouble searching for a particular topic on Fire Aviation. The bulit-in search function on the site’s home page is pretty good, but not great. What works better is to use Google. Type this into a Google search box:

site:fireaviation.com [enter your search words here, leaving a space after the .com, and leave out the brackets]

This works for any internet site.


Photos of air tankers on the Lowell Fire

Tanker 44 Lowell Fire

Tanker 44 on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.

Matthew Rhodes sent us these excellent photos of air tankers dropping on the Lowell Fire. He said he took them July 25 near Gold Run in Placer County. Thanks Matthew!

The Lowell Fire has burned 1,700 acres 46 air miles northeast of Sacramento, California, west of Interstate 80.

Tanker 60 Lowell Fire,

Tanker 60 on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.

Tanker 60 Lowell Fire

Tanker 60 on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.

Tanker 118 Lowell Fire,

Tanker 118 on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.

Tanker 118 on the Lowell Fire

Tanker 118 on the Lowell Fire, July 25, 2015. Photo by Matthew Rhodes.