A passerby stops at the air tanker museum in Greybull

Above: Tanker 127, a PB4Y-2, at the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting, Greybull, WY. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The classic air tankers parked next to the rest stop on highway 20/14/16 just west of Greybull, Wyoming look incongruous sitting in the weeds. Most people drive on by the Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting, but Zach Bowman didn’t — he wrote about the retired Hawkins & Powers aircraft for Yahoo News. Here are some excerpts from his article:

We see them from the road, a scattering of old birds, their fuselages bright under the Wyoming sun. Their liveries are simple. Just a few splashes of blood orange on cowl and wing tip, the rest left to bare and brilliant aluminum. We don’t know what they are, or why they’re so close to the road, nosed up to a rest area like big, gleaming cows at a trough. Brandon comes over the CB:

“Do you want to go back and check it out?”

The answer should be, “No.” We’ve strung a week’s worth of long days together, pushing hard for the west coast, and spent most of the morning tending to necessaries in Ten Sleep. We’re barely an hour down the road, and we’ve got plenty more ground to cover before the day’s over.

“Absolutely,” is what I say.

[…]

Standing there among what’s left, most of it privately owned and on loan to the museum, it’s hard not to feel a pang. For a second, these planes were still in the air. Not parked and rotting. Not cut up for scrap. Working, as they were built to do. Not destroying the world beneath their wide wings, but preserving it. Not taking men’s lives, but buying them precious seconds. Enough to evacuate a home or dig a fire line. Enough to matter.

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

DARPA wants to develop a drone dragnet

Dragnet: a network of measures for apprehension (as of criminals)

Above: DARPA’s concept of an aerial dragnet for drones.

Since the launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, has investigated and created breakthrough technologies for national security. Their achievements include not only game-changing military capabilities such as precision weapons and stealth technology, but also such icons of modern civilian society such as the Internet, automated voice recognition and language translation, and Global Positioning System receivers small enough to embed in consumer devices.

Their latest goal is to develop a system for the detection of small drones, or unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Over the last two years we have seen how they can intrude into the airspace over wildfires, requiring the grounding of firefighting aircraft.

As the price of an off-the-shelf UAS decreases, they become easier to fly and are more adaptable for terrorist or military purposes, U.S. military forces will increasingly be challenged by the need to quickly detect and identify such craft — especially in urban areas, where sight lines are limited and many objects may be moving at similar speeds.

darpaTo achieve the technically difficult goal of mapping small UAS in urban terrain, last week DARPA announced its Aerial Dragnet program. The program seeks innovative technologies to provide persistent, wide-area surveillance of all UAS operating below 1,000 feet in a large city. While Aerial Dragnet’s focus is on protecting military troops operating in urban settings overseas, the system could ultimately find civilian application to help protect U.S. metropolitan areas from UAS-enabled terrorist threats.

“Commercial websites currently exist that display in real time the tracks of relatively high and fast aircraft—from small general aviation planes to large airliners—all overlaid on geographical maps as they fly around the country and the world,” said Jeff Krolik, DARPA program manager. “We want a similar capability for identifying and tracking slower, low-flying unmanned aerial systems, particularly in urban environments.”

Although several systems are being developed for tracking small UAS by extending surveillance methods used in open areas where large line-of-sight buffers mitigate the threat, these systems are impractical for operation in urban terrain. Aerial Dragnet seeks to leapfrog these approaches by developing systems adapted to the fundamental physics of small UAS in urban environments that could enable non-line-of-sight (NLOS) tracking and identification of a wide range of slow, low-flying threats.

The program seeks an array of innovative approaches, but notionally envisions a network of surveillance nodes, each providing coverage of a neighborhood-sized urban area, perhaps mounted on tethered or long-endurance UAS. Using sensor technologies that can look over and between buildings, the surveillance nodes would maintain UAS tracks even when the craft disappear from sight around corners or behind objects.

The output of the Aerial Dragnet system would be a continually updated common operational picture (COP) of the airspace at altitudes below where current aircraft surveillance systems can monitor, disseminated electronically to authorized users via secure data links. Because of the large market for inexpensive small UAS, the program will focus on combining low cost sensor hardware with software-defined signal processing hosted on existing UAS platforms. The resulting surveillance systems would thus be cost-effectively scalable for larger coverage areas and rapidly upgradable as new, more capable and economical versions of component technologies become available.

DARPA’s Aerial Dragnet program seeks teams with expertise in sensors, signal processing, and networked autonomy to achieve its goal. A solicitation detailing the goals and technical details of the program is on FedBizOps.

In a related effort, the U.S. Air Force is requesting proposals for a portable system to detect, identify and defeat a UAS.

Tanker 132 begins contract in Australia

Above: Air Tanker 132 makes a practice drop in New South Wales. Photo by Sgt. Brett Sherriff, Royal Australian Air Force.

Coulson’s Air Tanker 132 started its contract with New South Wales on September 6, helping to provide air support for wildland firefighters in Australia. This is the second year in a row that the L-382G, a variant of the C-130 platform, has worked down under during their summer bushfire season.

air tanker 132 c-130
Air Tanker 132 is reintroduced to the media in New South Wales, Australia.

The aircraft will be based at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base at Richmond. Known as “Thor” in Australia, the 4,000-gallon air tanker will be operated under contract to the NSW Government. In November it will be joined at Richmond by a very large air tanker, with the two aircraft being part of a two-year trial by the NSW Rural Fire Service.

Last year one of 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s DC-10 very large air tankers worked in NSW alongside Thor. Rick Hatton, President and CEO of the company said they will again have a DC-10 in Richmond to start their contract on November 1. The end date is flexible depending the bushfire conditions, but he expects to have it there through February, 2017.

On launching from RAAF Base Richmond the tankers can reach any part of the state within an hour.

RAAF Base Richmond will provide aircraft parking and security, access to fuel and refuelling facilities, equipment storage, use of resources including water, aircrew office space, meals, and accommodation for up to 20 people. 

air tanker 132 c-130
Air Tanker 132 makes a practice drop in New South Wales. Photo by Sgt. Brett Sherriff, Royal Australian Air Force.

bushfire season outlook Australia 2016-2017

Tanker 910 on the Soberanes Fire

Tanker 910 Soberanes Fire
Tanker 910 on the Soberanes Fire, 6:02 p.m. MDT July 23, 2016. Photo by Wally Finck.

Wally Finck, a Battalion Chief with Santa Clara County Fire, sent us two photos he took of Tanker 910, a DC-10, dropping retardant on the Soberanes Fire in Monterey County, California.

Tanker 910 Soberanes Fire
Tanker 910 on the Soberanes Fire, 6:02 p.m. MDT July 23, 2016. Photo by Wally Finck.

On August 4 we ran the photo below that Chief Finck also shot.

T-910 Soberanes Fire
T-910 on the Soberanes Fire. Photo by Wally Finck.

Thanks Chief Finck.

747 Supertanker receives certification from FAA

The company hopes to obtain approval from the Interagency Air Tanker Board.

Global Supertanker took another step toward obtaining every certification necessary for their 747 to be fully qualified as an air tanker for the federal land management agencies in the United States. A month or two ago they received a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA but just recently got the agency’s Federal Aviation Regulations Part 137 certificate. At this point many state organizations and other countries would be comfortable employing the air tanker that can carry 19,600 gallons of water or fire retardant, especially since the delivery system is basically the same that was used in version 1.0 of the air tanker when it was developed and operated for several years by Evergreen.

The company’s next step is to obtain approval from the Interagency Air Tanker Board for the aircraft designated as Tanker 944, which would qualify it to be used on federal fires in the United States.

“Global SuperTanker has completed the requested USFS testing and we are now awaiting the outcome from the Interagency Air Tanker Board (IAB),” said Harry Toll, Managing Partner of Alterna Capital Partners LLC, whose portfolio company, Cyterna Air, LLC, owns Global SuperTanker. “This is a busy time of year for the IAB members, but we are confident they will review the test materials in the very near future. We are volunteering to do all that we can to receive their final approval.”

Air tanker strikes powerline

A single engine air tanker (SEAT) struck a powerline while on final approach for a water drop on a fire in northern Idaho. At the time the pilot was not aware of the strike but after making the drop noticed that there was some damage to the left wing. The accident occurred July 28, 2016.

You can read the entire Rapid Lesson Sharing report here. Below is an excerpt:

****

“…New Approach Brings SEAT Over an Undetected Powerline

The SEAT, based out of McCall, was dispatched to the fire near Kooskia, Idaho at 1529 hours. The line strike occurred on the SEAT’s second load delivered to the fire. The first load was split and applied on two different runs prior to a Lead Plane arriving on scene.

map SEAT wire strike

On the second load, the SEAT was a little off of the line set by the Lead Plane and the SEAT Pilot was unsure of exactly where the Lead Plane wanted the drop. This prompted the SEAT Pilot to make a dry run.

At this point, the ATGS, who was circling overhead, instructed the Lead Plane to give the SEAT a target and let him work his own approach. The SEAT came back around in a fairly tight circle which created a different final approach than had previously been used. This new approach of the flight line brought the SEAT over a powerline that had not been identified prior to the strike. The Pilot identified the location of the known powerline across the draw and concentrated his attention on the approach as he was lining up for the drop.

Pilot Informs ATGS He Might Have Hit Something

The angle of the bank caused the nose and the right wing of the plane to create a blind spot, obscuring Power Pole 2 from view. The angle of the sun and the dark color of the powerlines would have made them basically invisible against the backdrop of the terrain. The Pilot was unaware of the strike at the time it occurred with the only indication being a brief sound that was not part of the “normal” sounds experienced in the aircraft. The flight was bumpy due to turbulent air that is normal on hot summer days in canyon country. Following the successful drop, the Pilot informed ATGS that he might have hit something.

Pilot Notices Vortex Generators Missing from Left Wing

The Pilot flew back over the drop area and confirmed that the known powerline was still intact. He did not locate the poles from the line that had been struck. As he was heading back to the dip location, he looked out at his left wing and realized that numerous vortex generators were missing. The vortex generators are glued on the wing and have been known to come off in flight, but normally only under extreme cold or hot weather conditions. Normal flight is not affected by missing vortex generators. Their purpose is to add stability, lift, and performance during dipping and dropping maneuvers. All controls of the aircraft were functioning normally.

At this time, it had not been established that a wire strike had, in fact, occurred. The Pilot was initially going to return to the dip site for another load when the ATGS recommended that the SEAT fly to the Lewiston Air Tanker Base to check for possible damage (56 miles with crash/rescue services). The Pilot informed ATGS that he was returning to base at McCall (83 miles without crash/rescue services).

diagram SEAT wire strike

The wire strike was first confirmed when the Pilot was on the ground in McCall and was able to see the black marks from the wire on the wing. At this time, the Tanker Base Manager in McCall alerted Dispatch to notify personnel on the fire that a wire had been struck and of the potential for hot wires on the ground…”

Making a withdrawal from the Bank of Experience

Sully, the movie about the Miracle on the Hudson that opened today has so far received pretty good reviews. As you may know, it is about the aircraft that struck a flock of geese at 3,200 feet about 100 seconds after taking off from La Guardia airport near New York City.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger
Captain Chesley Sullenberger. Photo by Ingrid Taylar.

Chesley B. Sullenberger III was the pilot in command. After both engines went silent he said to his First Officer whose turn it was to take off on that flight, “My aircraft”.

Captain Sullenberger, now often called “Sully”, was selected for a cadet glider program while attending the Air Force Academy. By the end of that year he was an instructor pilot. When he graduated in 1973 he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship award, as the class “top flyer”. He went on to fly F-4 Phantoms in the Air Force and served as a member of an aircraft accident investigation board in the Air Force. After he became a commercial pilot for US Airways he occasionally assisted the NTSB on accident investigations and taught courses on Crew Resource Management.

When the geese hit the engines January 15, 2009, Sully felt the impact, but more disturbing was the the sensation after the engines quit of slightly moving forward in his harness as the aircraft suddenly went from accelerating to slowing — at low altitude over New York City when they were supposed to be climbing.

US Airways did not have a checklist for the loss of both engines in an Airbus A320 at low altitude. The First Officer, Jeffery Skiles, went through the checklist for restarting the engines, but of course had no success. Sully evaluated their options — returning to La Guardia, diverting to Teterboro airport, or the third choice, a water landing in the Hudson River. Based on his experience, and drawing on his background as a glider pilot, he determined that it was impossible to make it to either airport. He lowered the nose and headed toward the river.

Passing 900 feet above the George Washington Bridge he pointed the aircraft so it would come to rest near a boat he spotted, thinking that it could help pull the passengers out of the very cold water on that winter day. Working with his First Officer, they made the only non-fatal water landing of a large commercial aircraft in recent history.

Airbus Hudson river
US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. Photo by Greg L.

As the 150 passengers and four other crew members climbed out onto the wings and waited for rescue by ferry boats, Sully walked through the passenger compartment as it took on water to make sure everyone was off, then grabbed the maintenance log book and was the last one to exit the aircraft.

In a  recent interview Katie Couric conducted with Sully director Clint Eastwood and actors Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart, she recalled something Sully, who at the time had 19,663 flight hours, told her not long after the successful water landing:

For 42 years I’ve been making small regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. On January 15 the balance was sufficient so I could make a very large withdrawal.

In the last few decades wildland firefighters have used another name for the “bank of experience”, their “slide file” —  memories of the situations they have been in over the course of their careers, good experiences and bad ones, all of which left data from which they can extrapolate solutions to new situations.

There is of course no substitute for an account balance in a bank of experience or a slide file. You can acquire incremental bits of it from books and training. But you can’t write a check and easily transfer it to someone else, not entirely, anyway. It has to be earned and learned, organically.

And here’s hoping you don’t have to “make a very large withdrawal”, on the ground or in the air.

Reno Air National Guard unit begins training with MAFFS

Above: The first 152nd C-130 equipped with a U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne FireFighting System arrived Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016, at the Nevada Air National Guard Base in Reno. The unit completed its first fire fighting mission as co-pilots augmented with the Air Expeditionary Group the previous week. The 152nd was selected to become the new MAFFS unit in April. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Emerson Marcus September 8, 2016.

The Air National Guard unit at Reno completed its first training activation operating the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne FireFighting System last week and the first of the unit’s C-130s equipped for MAFFS arrived at the base Thursday, September 8.

In April the Reno 152nd Airlift Wing became one of the four bases designated to operate MAFFS units. They are replacing the 145th Airlift Wing of North Carolina that is transitioning from the C-130 to the C-17. The other MAFFS bases are at Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, and Channel Islands in California.

The USFS has 8 MAFFS units that can be slipped into a C-130 in just a few hours, converting it to a 3,000-gallon air tanker. Usually two of the units are at each of the four bases, but one is now being temporarily used in an HC-130H that was transferred from the Coast Guard to the USFS.

In recent weeks, 12 aircrew of the 152nd activated as part of the Air Expeditionary Group fighting wildland fires in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.

The AEG – made up of military C-130 units operating MAFFS – flew 142 sorties, 125.5 flight hours, dispensing more than 3.5 million pounds of retardant on 165 drops during the month-long activation that began in early August.

“Nevada crews have fully embraced the MAFFS mission and are committed to getting full up as quickly and safely as possible,” said Col. David Herder, deputy AEG commander. “They have been stepping in to get training with the other units whenever possible. They have been a welcome addition to the MAFFS community.”

This fire season effectively started the 152nd’s co-pilot certification clock. Co-pilot certification could be completed prior to the 2018 fire season when the unit would enter certification as aircrew commanders. Once the aircrew commander certification is complete, they then begin certification as flight instructors and could begin autonomous fire fighting missions.

“The actual drops have been challenging and exhilarating,” said Lt. Col. Tony Machabee, acting 152nd Operations Group commander and the first member of the unit to co-pilot a MAFFS mission. “It’s a great feeling to see your immediate results whether we are dropping a protective line of retardant between the fire and someone’s property or dropping ‘mud’ (retardant mix) directly on flames leaping from the tops of trees in an effort to slow the fire’s progress.”