New multi-use aircraft touted as possible air tanker

KC-390 air tanker

Embraer has this photo on their website, showing the new KC-390 dropping on a wildfire.

No one is saying that Embraer’s new KC-390 jet-powered multi-use aircraft is purpose-built to serve as an air tanker, but the company’s website has a picture, an artist’s conception, of it dropping on a wildfire before it even takes its first flight. In the image, it appears to have a retardant system similar to the first generation Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) with the pressurized nozzles protruding out of the open rear loading ramp.

The aircraft was just rolled out for the first time October 21 at the company’s plant in Brazil and will not take its first flight for a few months, so it’s a little early to say it will join the fleet of next-generation air tankers. Embraer has said they have firm orders from the Brazilian Air Force for 28 of the aircraft, which will fit into the medium transport category dominated by Lockeed’s C-130 series.

The list of roles it could fill is long, including cargo and troop transport (80 troops or 64 paratroopers), medical evacuation, search and rescue, air to air refueling, and, the company says, firefighting air tanker.

According to Wikipedia, it will sell for $50 million and can carry a 52,029-pound payload. Business Insider reported it will have a cruising speed of 860 kilometers (550 miles) per hour. Wikipedia say the C-130J can carry a 44,000-pound payload and has a cruising speed of 348 knots (400 mph, 643 km/h).

KC-390

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

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1.5 million gallons of retardant loaded into air tankers at Medford, Oregon this year

Air tankers at Medford.

Air tankers at Medford, Oregon, September 1, 2014. Photo by Kristin Biechler.

The amount of retardant pumped at the Medford Air Tanker Bases this year was more than four times the 10-year average for the airport.

Below is a report provided by the Jackson County Airport Authority:

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“Here is an update with some interesting statistics from the Medford Air Tanker Base for our recently-ended (and VERY busy) fire season:

The Medford Air Tanker Base mission is to support wildland fire suppression in the Pacific Northwest. We provide support mainly to Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Season Activity
2014 was very big fire season for our suppression area. The Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport was fortunate to have two Airtanker Bases. We managed both the Medford Air Tanker Base (MATB) and the portable Medford Very Large Airtanker Base (VLAT). Medford ATB pumped out 1,068,226 gallons of retardant on 440 Air Tanker loads this season. This is more than 4 times our ten year average. At the Medford VLAT we pumped 506,893 gallons with 104 Air Tanker loads. Together the two Air Tanker Bases pumped 1,575,119 gallons of retardant.

Our highest one day total for the MATB was on 8/29. We loaded 6 Large Air Tankers 28 times with 79,422 gallons of retardant. The highest one day total for the VLAT base was 84,894 gallons on 9/7/14. We loaded two VLAT’s 8 times.

Together the two Air tanker Bases had 5 days over 90,000 gallons and 2 days over 100,000 gallons and a one day total of 143,000 gallons. On 9/6 and 9/7 the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport had its busiest two days ever with the regular commercial operations, 3 Scoopers, 5 Air Attack Planes, 2 Lead Planes and with us pumping 209,000 gals of retardant on 7 SEATs, 7 LAT’s, and 2 VLAT’s.

Medford ATB hosted a total of 31 different Air Tankers. These air tankers made 562 landings at the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport.”

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

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CAL FIRE’s aviation program at Hemet-Ryan

Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base

Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base. Google Earth.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise has an interesting article by Brian Rokos about CAL FIRE’s aviation program, and specifically the pilots and aircraft at the Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in southern California (map). Mr. Rokos goes into some depth, exploring how the aviation program is managed and the experience of the pilots at Hemet-Ryan.

Below are the first few paragraphs of the article:

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“Cliff Walters has a photo on the wall of his home in the San Bernardino Mountains showing him making a spectacular water drop on a brush fire from the Super Huey helicopter he pilots for Cal Fire. Framed with the photo is a handwritten note from schoolchildren thanking Walters for saving their homes.

Mike Venable also pilots a firefighting aircraft that brings out the shutterbugs: a Cal Fire airplane that can drop up to 1,200 gallons of orange-red fire retardant as it swoops through canyons and skims over treetops.

But the veteran pilots based at Cal Fire’s Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base say daredevils need not apply. Their jobs are shaped by calculated decisions – often made on their own – that weigh risk vs. reward in the race to put out flames that threaten lives and property.

“Maybe you have to make it look like (you are) a daredevil, but everything is controlled,” said Walters, 50.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more conservative,” said Venable, 55. “Everybody wants to come home to their families at night. Taking an unacceptable risk is going to jeopardize that.”…  “

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Memorial service for air tanker pilot planned

Firefighters will gather to pay their respects to airtanker Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt who paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life while fighting the Dog Rock Fire near El Portal, California. A celebration of Craig’s life, with full Line of Duty Death fire service honors, will take place Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 10 a.m.

On October 7, 2014, Dyncorp Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was involved in a fatal crash while flying a CAL FIRE S-2T Airtanker over the Dog Rock Fire burning near Yosemite’s Arch Rock.

“We continue to mourn the tragic loss of Craig.” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE Director.

“We know wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, but Craig made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot’s family during this difficult time,” said Jeff Cavarra, program director for DynCorp International.

Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was born October 14, 1951 in Richmond, IN. He is survived by his wife, Sally, who he married in September of 1975, and his two daughters, Nancy Hunt and Sarah Hunt Lauterbach. Hunt served as a US Navy P3 pilot from 1975-1984 and was in the reserves for 20 years. Hunt earned a Master’s in Business as well as in Biochemistry and was a chemistry teacher in the off season at the University of Santa Cruz. He had a love for flying, golfing, fishing, hiking, bird watching, scuba diving, math/sciences, teaching and dogs.

“My dad died a hero. There was not a day that went by that I didn’t talk to my dad. He was my best friend”, said Sarah Hunt Lauterbach.

Memorial Service
Location: Church on the Hill, 500 Sands Dr., San Jose, CA 95125
Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 10 a.m.
Attire for uniformed personnel is to be either Department Class A Uniform or Work Uniform with tie.
Public Safety Departments or Agencies that wish to attend or send apparatus for the memorial static display, please click here. Please arrive at the church by 9:00 a.m. for set up.

Cards can be sent to the family in care of:
The Hunt Family
c/o CAL FIRE Firefighters Local 2881
1731 J Street, Ste. 100
Sacramento, CA 95811

In lieu of flowers donations can be made to:
G. Craig Hunt Memorial Fund
Ashville School
360 Ashville School Road
Ashville, NC 28806
This fund will be designated for scholarship and athletics at the Ashville School.
Contact: Tom Marberger at (828) 254-6345 ext. 4081

Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt

Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. Courtesy of Mr. Hunt’s family.

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More details about the fire aviation assets in Victoria, Australia this summer

RJ-85, tanker 161

One of two RJ-85s converted by Conair and operated by Aero Flite. There is a report that Conair produced three of these, keeping one for themselves. Calls to Conair to confirm the report and that one will be used in Victoria were not returned. Photo provided by NIFC.

On October 10 we wrote about the plans for the fire aviation program for the coming 2014/2015 summer fire season in Victoria, Australia. Now, thanks to Bryan Rees, who is in charge of fire aviation capability for the Department of Environment and Primary Industries in the state, we have more details.

As we reported before, the aircraft fleet will include:

  • 2 large fixed wing airtankers;
  • 1 firebombing helicopter to be based in the Latrobe Valley;
  • 2 Erickson Aircranes capable of dropping 7,500 litres (1,980 gallons) of water;
  • 2 large Sikorsky helicopters capable of dropping 3,500 litres (924 gallons) of water or transporting up to 17 firefighters;
  • 5 medium sized firebombing helicopters;
  • 15 light helicopters;
  • 12 single engine airtankers;
  • 2 infrared line-scanning fixed wing aircraft;
  • 4 fixed wing firespotting aircraft; and
  • 1 fixed wing aircraft to support the large air tankers.

Mr. Rees said the two large air tankers will be Coulson’s C-130Q and an RJ-85 from Conair. They can carry 4,000 and 3,000 gallons, respectively, and will work out of the Avalon airport beginning around December 10.

We asked Mr. Rees by email about the helicopters that would be on contract this summer:

Victoria has operated Erickson Aircranes since 1997. This season we will have 2 x S64 E models based in Melbourne and at Ballarat. In addition we have contracts for 2 x S61 from Coulson for firebombing, fire crew transport and rappel operations based at Mansfield and Ballarat. A number of companies provide Type 2 helicopters for firebombing and rappel operations in Victoria. Kestrel aviation operates 2 x B212’s and a B412, McDermott aviation a B214B, and Jayrow helicopters a B212 — we are currently tendering for an additional T2 for the Latrobe Valley area.

And, we asked about Victoria’s past use of large air tankers:

Victoria has operated large air tankers on a number of occasions over the years. We operated a RAAF Hercules fitted with a USFS MAFFS unit for the 1981/82 and 1982/83 fire season – this included operations during the disastrous Ash Wednesday fires. Victoria hosted the trial by CSIRO called Project Aquarios in 1983/84 using a Conair DC6. The DC10 was operated from Avalon here in Victoria during the 2009/10 fire season and 2 x Conair Convairs operated here in 2010/11.

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CAL Fire’s first permanent female helicopter pilot featured on LA television

Desiree Horton was recently hired by CAL FIRE as their first permanent female helicopter pilot. She has been working for the last year or so in a temporary position as a pilot for the agency, and before that she flew for many years as a contract pilot on firefighting helicopters, and as a news helicopter pilot in the Los Angeles area.

A few days ago we had a short video that teased about the report above, which which ran yesterday on the CBS Los Angeles 11 p.m. news.

Congratulations to Desiree!

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NTSB: S-2T that crashed may have struck a tree

S-2T air tanker crash

Site of the S-2T air tanker crash. Photo by Ken Yager.

In a preliminary report that was released Tuesday night, the National Transportation Safety Board said the S-2T air tanker that crashed near Yosemite National Park in California on October 7 may have struck a tree which broke off a part of the aircraft’s wing.

Two other firefighting aircraft were in the area at the time. A lead plane preceded the air tanker into the drop area but that pilot did not see the crash. However the crew of an air attack ship overhead did, and they told the NTSB that the S-2T may have struck a tree, causing part of a wing to break off.

Both aircrews reported that there was smoke in the area, but visibility was good.

The air tanker was stationed at the air tanker base at Hollister, California, and had been dispatched to the Dog Rock fire. The airplane arrived on scene, made one drop on the fire, then proceeded to the Columbia Airport to be reloaded with fire retardant before it returned and made its final flight. Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt died in the accident.

A resident in the area of the crash site told us that locals took quite a few photos and a video that will help the NTSB’s investigation. They are unwilling to release the imagery to the public until after the investigation is complete.

It will be many more months before the NTSB releases their final report.

CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott issued the following statement regarding the NTSB’s preliminary information on the crash.

“Aerial firefighting is not simply flying from one airport to another. The wildland firefighting environment is a challenging one, both on the ground and in the air,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, director of CAL FIRE. “We look forward to the final NTSB report to see if we can use the findings to help mitigate the inherent dangers of the job. We owe that to Craig, who traded his life in an effort to protect the lives of others.”

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