Air Tractor enters UAS market, acquires Yield Defender

Air Tractor, the Texas company that manufactures single engine air tankers and crop dusters, has acquired Hangar 78 UAV, and its flagship aircraft, the Yield Defender unmanned aerial system (UAS).

“We have done our research, and it’s clear that aggressively investing and further developing unmanned aerial systems into agriculture will enable Air Tractor to remain an industry leader and provide the latest technology to ag producers as UAS capabilities mature and are integrated into the industry,” said Jim Hirsch, President of Air Tractor.

Yielddefender
Yielddefender

Sensors available on the Yielddefender aircraft include near infrared and will “soon” enable 3-D mapping and thermal imaging. The company designs their systems for “real estate agents, farmers/ranchers, search and rescue, mining, oil and gas, forestry and many more”.

I wonder if Air Tractor is looking way down the road at converting the 802A into an autonomous UAS night-flying crop duster.

Air Tractor 802A
Air Tractor 802A. Air Tractor photo.

 

Chinook with internal tank apparently used on Foss Lake Fire in Minnesota

Judging from the photo above and another that we first used at Wildfire Today (duplicated below), it appears that a Chinook helicopter with an internal water tank is being used on the Foss Lake Fire in northeast Minnesota. This may be a first.

In the photo above you can see the draft hose coming out of the side of the helicopter as the ship descends over the lake. And below, the water appears to be exiting the helicopter from the center of the belly.

We have written a couple of times about the development of an internal tank for the Chinook, here and here.

Erickson Inc. struggling financially

Above: An Erickson Aircrane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire in northern California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Last year Erickson had eight Type 1 firefighting helicopters, Aircranes like the one above, on exclusive use contracts with the U.S. Forest Service. There are none on the new contract that was issued February 26.

While it may be only partially related to losing those eight contracts, Erickson Inc. is struggling financially. Their stock, (EAC) that reached a 5-year high of $28.10 on May 13, 2013, has dropped like a stone since early in 2014 and Friday closed at 99 cents.

In 2012 and 2013 the company went on a buying spree, and purchased two companies that had a total of 78 aircraft. When Erickson acquired Evergreen Helicopters, Inc. (and their 64 aircraft) and the Brazilian company Air Amazonia (and their 14 helicopters), they no longer qualified as a “small business” and lost their eligibility to compete for the federal firefighting contract. Evergreen Helicopters had 400 employees. Last year Erickson laid off 150 workers.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Oregon Live:

…Erickson is not a big player in oil and gas. But it has its own problems. It recently lost a crucial wildfire fighting contract with the U.S. Forest Service. It also borrowed heavily three years ago to buy the helicopter business from Evergreen Aviation in McMinnville, only to see the U.S. defense business that was Evergreen’s forte go into a tailspin.

The toll on Erickson’s financial performance has been dramatic.

The company lost $10.2 million in 2014 and another $86.7 million in 2015. So far, 2016 has brought little relief, with Erickson losing another $26 million in its first quarter…

Erickson had six aircranes working in Australia during their 2015/2016 summer fire season.  There are still nine Sikorsky helicopters similar to the Aircrane that are on contract for the next one to four years in the United States. Helicopter Transport Services has five and Siller has four. The models are CH-54A, CH-54B, SK-64A and SK-64E.

Wildfire training and certification for South Dakota national guard helicopter crews

Above: South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter drops water during training at Angostura Reservoir. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Four blackhawk helicopters and seven South Dakota National guard helicopter crews were put through their paces Friday at Hot Springs Municipal Airport and Angostura Reservoir. The flight crews were evaluated on dipping water from the lake, dropping it across, up, and down slopes, communication with firefighters, and hot refueling.

Firefighters on the ground practiced radio procedures with aviation resources, describing where water drops were needed.

This annual certification is required by the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior and allows South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopters to respond to wildland fires.

In the video below, Ray Bubb of the South Dakota Wildland Fire Division describes the annual wildfire training.

blackhawk helicopter fills bucket
South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter fills its water bucket at Angostura Reservoir. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
hot refueling Blackhawk helicopter
Hot refueling a South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter at Hot Springs Municipal Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
hot refueling Blackhawk helicopter
Hot refueling a South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter at Hot Springs Municipal Airport. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Blackhawk helicopter drops water
South Dakota National Guard Blackhawk helicopter drops water during training at Angostura Reservoir. Photo provided by South Dakota Wildland Fire Division.

Russian smokejumpers appear to fly in formation at sunset

Google attempted to translate the caption:

Practice jumping parachutist-firefighters Avialesookhrana. Photo Valery Korotkov, 2002