California Governor vetoes three bills related to drones

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed three bills related to regulating drones on October 3. One of them would have given firefighters immunity for disabling hobbyist drones flying over emergency situations.

At a recent congressional hearing U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry James Hubbard said there were reports of 21 drone incursions in firefighting airspace this year — 12 of them grounded aircraft until the drones were removed from the area.

More information is at the Press-Enterprise.

Congressional hearing addresses drone safety

On October 7 the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss how the increasing use of relatively inexpensive drones is impacting aviation safety. A representative from the FAA testified that more than 600 drones have been reported by commercial pilots so far in 2015, which is up from 238 in 2014.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Government Technology:

…A representative from the United States Forest Service also testified at the hearing about incidents between firefighting aircraft and UASs. While Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry James Hubbard said close encounters are not to the same scale as passenger aircraft, the frequency of incidents was enough to prompt concern within his agency.

“Our challenge is incursions. I wouldn’t say that our statistics are significant compared to everybody else’s, but the trend is a little worrisome,” he said in his testimony.

According to Hubbard, fire crews in 2015 saw 21 drone incursions in firefighting airspace, up from only 2 incursions in 2014. Of the 2015 encounters, 12 of them grounded aircraft until the drones were removed from the area.

Because of the low operating elevation of airtankers, Hubbard said UASs pose a real threat to firefighting crews and fire operations in general.

“Our risks are significant, I believe, if something were to happing in the air with a drone and our aircraft,” he said…

San Diego to add a third firefighting helicopter

san diego county helicopter

San Diego County’s Bell 205 A-1 ++. Photo credit: San Diego County Sheriff Department.

San Diego County is adding a third helicopter to its firefighting fleet.

The Bell 205 A-1 ++ will be based at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, California and flown by ASTREA, the Sheriff’s Department aviation unit. It will have a hoist that can rescue injured firefighters and includes a 375-gallon external belly tank for fire suppression. The Board of Supervisors called for the new helicopter in the wake of the May, 2014 wildfires.

ASTREA crew members work with CAL FIRE in the rescue role. While ASTREA deputy sheriffs pilot the helicopter, CAL FIRE personnel operate the hoist and deploy on the hoist cable to assist victims on the ground.

San Diego County already has two other Bell 205 A-1 ++, as well as other helicopters used for law enforcement, including an MD530F, an MD500D, and Two Bell 407s.

Single engine air tanker en route to Australia

Air Spray SEAT

File photo of one of Air Spray’s Air Tractor 802s. They acquired this one earlier in 2015. Air Spray photo.

As we are writing this Saturday evening, a single engine air tanker (SEAT) is en route from the United States to Australia. An Air Tractor 802, Tanker 849, N30723, departed from Santa Maria, California on September 30 at 8:33 a.m., and after stopping in Honolulu and the Marshall Islands is now on the way to Honiara, Guadalcanal with an expected arrival time of 9:12 p.m. MT, October 3.

On the 13-hour leg to Honolulu it flew at 5,000 to 8,000 feet at a ground speed of 175 to 219 mph.

We have heard but can’t confirm that fuel can put in the hopper (retardant tank) on a SEAT to extend the range. Obviously extra fuel is stored somewhere to enable the 13-hour flight.

You can track the SEAT at FlightAware.

(UPDATE October 5, 2015)

We found out today that the SEAT was operated this summer by Aero Spray, a company headquartered in Appleton, Minnesota that operates several Air Tractor aircraft for spraying crops and fighting wildfires. They were the first company in the United States to operate an Air Tractor on floats. Laura at the company told us that they leased the Air Tractor Fire Boss, Tanker 849, from Pays Air Service in Australia, and it is being returned to the owner.

In an earlier comment on this article, Bean said the Air Tractor website mentions a ferry kit that enables 800 gallons of fuel to be carried in the hopper. And at a person identified as “AT502B” wrote:

AT 802’s are available with a ferry kit, which enables you to fill the water tank-or Hopper- up with fuel, thus giving you an additional 800gal of fuel. Add this to the standard fuel tank size of 336us gal- gives you some serious fuel capacity for a single engine aeroplane. An AT 802 burns approx. 75-85us gal per hour at a ferry speed of 200mph- so it gives you a pretty good range as well.

The aircraft arrived in Queensland, Australia Sunday, October 4 at 7:53 p.m. MT according to Flight Aware, after a flight of almost seven hours from Guadalcanal.

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

Current list of large air tankers on USFS contracts

Large air tankers contract 10-4-2015Now that the U.S. Forest service has awarded exclusive use contracts to seven additional “next generation” large air tankers, we have updated our list — which has now expanded to 21. That’s the most since 2008. The USFS is slowly rebuilding the fleet which had atrophied, declining to 9 in 2013 after having 44 in 2002.

We don’t yet have the tanker and tail numbers for the seven “new” aircraft. Although, one person in the air tanker industry told us that those numbers should not really matter, saying a company should be able to trade out an air tanker for an identical one for maintenance or other reasons. If, of course, the company has the luxury of having a duplicate air tanker sitting around.

On October 4, 2015 we updated the list above to reflect that Neptune replaced T-06 with T-14. 

Australian campaign against unauthorized aircraft near bushfires

drones bushfires

The United States is not the only country concerned about drones interfering with firefighting aircraft. These posters are being circulated in Australia. The one above is clearly directed at operators of drones, while one below is apparently for pilots of conventional manned aircraft.

unauthorized aircraft bushfire

Forest Service awards contracts for seven additional air tankers

Conair RJ85 first flight

The first flight of Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85 air tanker in September, 2013 built for Aero-Flite. Conair photo by Jeff Bough.

Today the U.S. Forest Service announced contract awards for seven additional large and very large air tankers. The aircraft being added to the exclusive use contracted fleet are four BAe-146s operated by Neptune Aviation, two RJ85s flown by Aero-FLite, and one DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

The contract solicitation, issued November 26, 2015, is for what the USFS calls “next generation” air tankers, which must be turbine or turbofan (jet) powered, can cruise at 300 knots (345 mph), and have a retardant capacity of at least 3,000 gallons. The DC-10 carries 11,600 gallons, while the others can hold up to about 3,000 gallons.

This brings the total number of next-gen air tankers on exclusive use contracts to 14. There are also seven “legacy” air tankers on exclusive use contracts, all operated by Neptune. Six are Korean War vintage P2Vs which usually carry about 2,100 gallons and are powered by two 18-cylinder radial engines. There is also one BAe-146 on the legacy contract.

These new next-gen awards, which begin this year, are for a five-year period with options for five additional years, with at least 160 days of mandatory availability every year.

The daily rates for Neptune’s BAe-146s, which is paid even if the aircraft is not used that day, varies during the possible 10-year period from $29,000 to $32,640 each day, while the hourly flight rate is from $8,000 to $9,274.

The daily rate for Aero-Flite’s Rj85 are from $28,581 to $35,546, and their flight rate is $7,559 to $9,862 per hour. The daily rate for the DC-10, a Very Large Air Tanker, are from $34,000 to $35,000, and the hourly rate is $13,600.

These rates do not include the cost of fuel, which will be paid by the government.

Most of the contracts the U.S. Forest Service has attempted to issue in recent years for large and very large air tankers have been protested, which suspends the activation of the contract until the Government Accountability Office adjudicates the dispute. This contract has already been protested by Coulson Aviation and Erickson Aero Tanker even before the closing date of the solicitation. However, the GAO decided in July to deny the protests. But that does not mean that there will not be additional protests now that the contracts have been awarded.

More information:

Details of the rates awarded under the new contract.

Nightline features smokejumpers

Tuesday night ABC’s Nightline had a nine-minute story on smokejumpers that featured the crew at Redding, California.

Below is Nightline’s description of the video.

Mitch Hokanson, 39, peers out the window of the roaring aircraft. Down below, a thin smoke coil emerges from a patch of pine trees. It’s been a dramatic fire season in the West. Drought conditions mixed with a rash of lightning strikes have caused small fires to break out. Close to 8.9 million acres have been burned by wildfires so far in 2015 — well above last year’s 3 million acres during the same time period.

Inside the plane, nine men strapped with parachutes and gear are ready to leap out the open door. They are part of an elite, and rarely seen, group of wildfire fighters employed by the U.S. Forest Service. Their mission: to stop the flames before they spread.

While it might take days for other crews to reach remote fires, depending on the location, this team can be at the scene, battling a fire in 30 minutes. The pay is modest, conditions treacherous, and hours can be long. Meet the California Smokejumpers.

You can see the video in a larger format at ABC’s website.

Smokejumper operates chain saw

A smokejumper operates a chain saw at a wildland fire. Screen shot from the Nightline video.