Former Carson Helicopters VP pleads guilty to charges related to crash that killed 9 firefighters

Carson helicopter

Today in federal court in Medford, Oregon, a second person pleaded guilty to charges related to the crash of a helicopter in 2008 that killed nine wildland firefighters.

Steven Metheny, 44, the former Vice President of Carson Helicopters, pleaded guilty to one count each of filing a false statement and of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud while submitting documents to obtain $20 million in firefighting contracts with the U.S. Forest Service.

Read the rest of the story at Wildfire Today.


Update on Neptune’s air tankers

Neptune BAe-146 landing at Redding

Neptune’s Tanker 41, a BAe-146, landing at Redding, California, August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Missoulian has an interesting article about the status of Neptune’s air tankers and contracts.

Below is an excerpt:

…“The Forest Service is coming out with seven of what we’re calling the Next-Gen 2.0 contracts,” Neptune Chief Executive Officer Ron Hooper said. “We expected to see the notice on the first of November. We’re anxious to see the RFP (request for proposals) so we can see how many aircraft we’ve got working next year.”

Neptune still has three years remaining on its “legacy” contract with the Forest Service that covers six of its aging P2V propeller-driven retardant bombers and one of its new BAe-146 jet bombers. But its one-season contracts for three more BAe-146s have expired.

Meanwhile, the company has brought on two more of the jets, for a total of six…

Neptune's T-41 at Redding, California, August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Neptune’s T-41 at Redding, California, August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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


Aero-Flite moving to Spokane

The company that operates Avro RJ-85 air tankers is moving from Kingman, Arizona to Spokane, Washington. Aero-Flite announced Thursday that it is moving its corporate headquarters and tanker fleet to Spokane International Airport.

The company expects to bring 17 mechanics and 5 management personnel with them, and will also be hiring additional mechanics and some pilots, said Todd Woodard, a spokesman for the airport.

This year Aero-Flight added at least two converted Avro RJ-85s (converted by Conair) and one CL-415 to their fleet. They also operate five Canadair CL-215s. according to their web site.

The video below is a report from KXLY about the company’s move to Spokane.

The next video was uploaded on August 13, 2014 and primarily covers the large amount of retardant that was loaded at Moses Lake. At about 1:32 it features one of the Avro RJ-85 air tankers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to @jetcitystar and Carl.


Throwback Thursday: Monsanto ad


Vintage Monsanto ad for Phos-Chek.

For Throwback Thursday, here is a look at a vintage ad in which Monsanto is advertising Phos-Chek fire retardant. The ad includes the date, 1977.

The aircraft appears to be a C-119 which last flew over fires when? In the late 1980s? I seem to remember that one fell apart in mid-air while I was fighting one of the hundreds of lightning-caused fires in northern California in 1987. (UPDATE Nov. 21, 2014: we heard from Dale, who told us: “You are correct about the year of the C-119 crash in Northern California. There were 3 people on the airtanker when it crashed. The next day, Buzz Dyer, the USFS Airtanker Program Manager grounded all C-119’s from flying for the FS again.”

You can still see two C-119s at the Greybull Rest Area in Wyoming.


C-119 on final, about to drop on a fire, ~1972. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


Unmanned K-MAX helicopter demonstrates dropping water on a fire

Last year the U.S. Forest Service had eight K-MAX helicopters under exclusive use contract to help suppress wildfires. Lockheed Martin configured unmanned K-MAXs to deliver thousands of loads of supplies and equipment to soldiers in Afghanistan between 2011 and 2014, carrying more than 4.5 million pounds of cargo, sometimes through areas that would be considered unacceptably risky for human pilots.

On November 6, 2014 a team of Lockheed Martin and Kaman unmanned aircraft demonstrated its ability to aid in firefighting operations. During the demonstration, the remote controlled Indago quad rotor effectively identified hot spots and provided data to an operator who directed the unmanned K-MAX helicopter to autonomously extinguish the flames.

In one hour, the unmanned K-MAX helicopter lifted and dropped approximately 3,000 gallons of water onto the fire. A Skycrane could almost do that in one drop. This seems like a small amount of water for the K-MAX and appears to be about five drops, after dipping water from a nearby pond. Usually the K-MAX can carry about 680 gallons, not quite meeting the minimum capacity of 700 gallons for a Type 1 helicopter.

“The unmanned K-MAX and Indago aircraft can work to fight fires day and night, in all weather, reaching dangerous areas without risking a life,” said Dan Spoor, vice president of Aviation and Unmanned Systems at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business.

“This demonstration signifies the potential for adapting proven unmanned systems and their advanced sensors and mission suites to augment manned firefighting operations, more than doubling the amount of time on station,” said Kaman Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Neal Keating.

The K-MAX autonomously dipped water from a pond and delivered it to the fire location. The helicopter was manufactured by Kaman and outfitted with an advanced mission suite by Lockheed Martin. Using its electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) camera, K-MAX can locate hot spots and designate the location to its operator for water drops at that location. K-MAX has proven the ability to autonomously conduct resupply operations with the capability to deliver to four different locations. Its flexible multi-hook carousel is suited for attachments such as water buckets, litters and medical supplies.

K-MAX helicopter at Custer

K-MAX manned helicopter at Custer (South Dakota) Airport, July 10, 2012, Photo by Bill Gabbert.


Coast Guard incorporating C-27Js into their fleet

You may remember that the U.S. Forest Service wanted to acquire 14 C-27J aircraft that were being disposed of by the military, hoping to convert them into air tankers. The agency appeared to be confident they would receive them and even awarded an aircraft engineering support services contract for up to $300,000 to Aeronautica. The contract required experience as an engineer with the G222, C27A or C27J. But instead of the C-27Js, the USFS got seven C-130Hs that the Coast Guard was throwing away, and the Coast Guard received the 14 C-27Js which were only a few years old.

The first C-27J to complete the Coast Guard’s regeneration process arrived at the C-27J Asset Project Office (APO) in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Nov. 13, where it will be used to train and qualify Coast Guard aircrew and maintenance personnel, as well as develop flight and maintenance procedures for Coast Guard-specific mission profiles. Ultimately the aircraft will receive the equipment and systems needed to perform the full spectrum of Coast Guard missions.

Coast Guard C-27J

CG-2714 arrives at Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Nov. 13. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Regeneration is the complex process that leads to flight clearance of planes being re-activated from long-term preservation. Working at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group’s facility in Tucson, Arizona, where 13 of the 14 C-27Js being transferred to the service are stored, the Coast Guard’s regeneration team investigated the aircraft’s history, verified the details of its configuration and inventoried the installed components, performed extensive inspections and necessary maintenance actions, and conducted a functional check flight. The plane was then released for transit to the APO.

While CG-2714 underwent regeneration, the APO commanding officer, Capt. Shannon McCullar, sent his executive officer, Cmdr. Peter Beavis, and operations officer, Lt. Cmdr. Kenneth Bethea, to Italy for training to be rated as C-27 pilots. The APO also prepared the hangar at the Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City to house and support the aircraft.

A second C-27J should complete regeneration before the end of this year, and two others are expected to finish by mid-2015.

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


In-flight videos shot from Tanker 131

These videos were shot with a GoPro camera attached to Tanker 131, a C-130Q, while it was dropping on the King Fire between Placerville and Lake Tahoe, California. That was the fire where 12 firefighters deployed their fire shelters in front of advancing flames and were led to safety by a pilot in a helicopter.

Thanks go out to Britt Coulson for making these available.

We wish other air tanker operators would invest a couple of hundred dollars in a camera they could attach to their aircraft.

I’d love to see a split screen video of an air tanker dropping. On one side we would see the ground and the drop itself, and the other side would be shot from the cockpit and would include the audio of the crew — like this video shot from MAFFS 3 in July. It would take a little bit of advanced video editing, but I imagine if the raw footage was available we could find a volunteer who could put it together.

The photo below of Coulson’s Tanker 131 was shot while it was on final for landing at Redding, California, August 7, 2014.

T-131 landing at Redding, California 8-7-2014

T-131 landing at Redding, California August 7, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


Tanker 910 is retiring

The Castle Airport Fire Department gave a final farewell to T-910 as it taxied out for the final time November 15. Photo via 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

10 Tanker Air Carrier is retiring one of their three DC-10 air tankers, Tanker 910, the first DC-10 to be converted.

Its final flight after serving for 10 years was this Saturday when it flew from Castle Airport, 910’s base since last summer, to Oscota Michigan for dismantling. To honor the work the airplane has done on California fires, officials at Castle saluted the airplane as it took off for the last time.

The aircraft was converted to an air tanker in 2004, and began working in California under a CAL FIRE contract in 2006. Since that time Tanker 910 has dropped on over 500 fire missions in California, and over 750 across the country. It has been joined by two other converted DC-10s, with the third one being introduced to the fleet on August 30.

10 Tanker Air Carrier will replace Tanker 910 with a newer air frame that will carry the same “910” designation as the plane being retired this fall. The work on the replacement began in early September and now the aircraft is going through a “C” check at Kalitta Air in Oscoda, Michigan.

10 Tanker expects to have Tanker 910 Version 2.0 ready to go by April, 2015.

Tanker 910 DC-10

Air tankers 911, 912, and 910 (L to R) at Castle Airport near Merced, California, August 30, 2014. (click to enlarge)

Updated November 16 with the photo of T-910 being saluted as it took off for the last time from Castle Airport.