Three smokejumper injuries, one serious

Early last week two Missoula smokejumpers suffered minor injures during training jumps. But a much more serious injury occurred in April when a BLM jumper experienced a hard landing. Below is an excerpt from the accident report:

At 1158 on April 15, 2015 an accident occurred during a BLM smokejumper parachute training mission south of Boise, Idaho. The accident occurred when the smokejumper involved landed in strong winds while his main canopy was misaligned with the wind line. The misalignment caused the smokejumper to experience a hard landing, characterized by a substantial lateral and backwards movement at his point of contact with the ground. The smokejumper sustained a broken right humerus, dislocated right shoulder, with structural damage to the right shoulder, and a fractured rib upon landing. The injury occurred at Blacks Creek practice jumpspot. The injured jumper was given initial treatment on scene by Great Basin Smokejumper EMTs and transported to St. Alphonsus Hospital in Boise, Idaho, by St. Lukes #1 Life Flight for further treatment.


Forest Service launches short-haul program

short-haul training

USFS helitack personnel receive training in the short-haul program, during the week of May 18-22 in Missoula. USFS photo by Lane Lamoreaux.

This year the U.S. Forest Service is launching a short-haul program, which involves transporting personnel suspended beneath a helicopter. While the National Park Service and other federal and local agencies have been using the tactic for years to insert firefighters and rescue personnel and to extract people with injuries, firefighters in the USFS have not been authorized or trained in the technique. However short-haul operations have been conducted in the Forest Service for a number of years for law enforcement missions.

About 20 people from two USFS helitack crews went through short-haul training last week in Missoula.

The USFS plans to only use short-haul when someone has a “life and/or a loss of limb threatening injury or other medical complications that warrant prompt extraction”, or if a conventional rescue operation would expose rescue personnel or patients to a higher degree of risk. The agency is calling it the “Emergency Medical Short-haul Program” in their Emergency Medical Short-haul Operations Plan (6.5 MB).

short-haul training

USFS helitack personnel receive training in the short-haul program, during the week of May 18-22 in Missoula. USFS photo by Lane Lamoreaux.

The USFS will only use Type 3, or “light”, helicopters for these missions, such as a Bell-206B-III, Lama, MD-500, or AS-355.

Typically one or two medically qualified personnel would first be inserted who may initially treat or stabilize the victim, and then they will package the patient so that they can be extracted via a line that could be 250 feet long. They are then transported to the next level of medical care.

“In the past, the U.S. Forest Service has used contractors, cooperators, and the military to provide emergency medical short-haul capability,” said Seth Weber, National Short-Haul Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service who was an instructor last week.  “The agency is developing its own program to ensure that services are available when needed.”

The USFS will begin the program this year using two existing agency helitack crews, Teton Interagency Helitack from the Bridger-Teton NF in Wyoming and Wenatchee Helitack from the Okanogan-Wenatchee NF in Washington.

Short-haul qualified helitack crews will not be exclusively short-haul; their primary mission will continue to be support of fire management operations, but if needed they could be diverted to a short-haul incident. During fire season, the helicopters and helitack crews will likely be moved to locations experiencing a high amount of wildfire activity where they can be used to conduct both types of missions.

short-haul training

USFS helitack personnel receive training in the short-haul program, during the week of May 18-22 in Missoula. USFS photo by Lane Lamoreaux.


Additional resources arrive in Alaska

Smokejumpers in Alaska

Smokejumpers from BLM Boise, Idaho, board a CASA-212 to make their practice jump Saturday afternoon, May 23, 2015, at the BLM Alaska Smokejumpers Base on Ladd Air Field at Fort Wainwright.

Because of the recent high fire danger, additional resources, including three air tankers and 16 smokejumpers, have arrived in Alaska to bolster the aircraft fleet and jumpers already in place. These photos were taken and portions of the captions were written by Sam Harrel of the Bureau of Land Management/Alaska  Fire Service.

Smokejumpers in Alaska

Smokejumpers in Alaska

Smokejumpers from BLM Boise, Idaho, log their chutes as they prepare to make their practice jump Saturday afternoon, May 23, 2015, at the BLM Alaska Smokejumpers Base on Ladd Air Field at Fort Wainwright. Because of high fire danger in Alaska, 16 additional smokejumpers were brought to the state. Once the crews from Boise have completed their orientation to Alaska they will enter into the fire assignment rotation.

BAe 146and CL-415

Neptune’s Tanker 10, a BAe-146, and Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260, a CL-415 water scooper, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, at BLM Alaska Fire Service at Fort Wainwright. The two aircraft are new to fire suppression efforts in Alaska.

T-260 CL-415

Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260, a CL-415 water scooper, sits on the BLM-Alaska Fire Service tarmac at Ladd Field on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, at Fort Wainwright. T-260 is less than a year old.

BAe-146 and Convair CV580

A BAe-146 and a Convair CV580 at the BLM- Alaska Fire Service retardant tanker base Tuesday, May 19, 2015, on Ladd Field at Fort Wainwright. The Convair turboprop tankers have been used in Alaska for several years. This is the first season in Alaska for the jet propelled BAe 146.

BAe-146 and RJ85

A BAe-146, T-10, and an RJ85, T-160, on the BLM-Alaska Fire Service Tanker Base tarmac Saturday morning, May 23, 2015, on Ladd Air Field at Fort Wainwright.


Chinese pilots to train in Canada to fly new amphibious air tanker

AG600 TA-600

AG600/TA-600 under construction. DFNS photo.

Chinese pilots will be training in Canada to fly the new TA-600 amphibious aircraft now being built in China by the Aviation Industry Corporation of China.

Britton Coulson of The Coulson Group said their company will be training 14 test pilots during two weeks in late July who will be the first to fly the TA-600. The training will include ground, water taxi, flight, and scooping and dropping water. The pilots from China will go through classroom and hands on training using Coulson’s Hawaii Martin Mars aircraft, actually taxiing and flying the huge flying boat.

The new Chinese aircraft will have a 3,000-gallon water capacity, four turboprop engines, can handle a wave height of two meters, and will have a maximum speed of 354 mph (570 kph, 308 knots). The base model for the aircraft is the AVIC TA-600 which is designed to be used for transport, water rescue, or to carry up to 50 passengers. The air tanker version appears to have the AG-600 model name. Both aircraft are similar to what was then known as the JL-600 when we wrote about it in 2010 at Wildfire Today. The maiden flight is expected to take place in the first half of 2016.

Hawaii and Philippine Mars

Hawaii (foreground) and Philippine Mars in 2008. Photo by RuthAS.

Coulson owns two huge water scooping flying boat Martin Mars air tankers, with a capacity of 7,200 gallons of water which can be mixed on board with foam concentrate. However, the two planes, the Philippine and Hawaii Mars built in 1945 and now based at Port Alberni, BC, Canada, have not been used as air tankers in recent years. The Philippine Mars, which retired several years ago, is expected to be traded to the Pensacola Naval Museum in Florida in exchange for some aircraft the museum has in their inventory. British Columbia did not renew their firefighting contract for the Hawaii Mars for 2014.

Mr. Coulson said, “By the end of July both Mars will be serviceable and most likely we will have the Philippine in the water as well getting ready to fly to Pensacola”.

Philippine Mars

Philippine Mars after being repainted in its original colors, July 17, 2014. (Screen grab from a Coulson video.)

Related articles on Fire Aviation and Wildfire Today:

China manufacturing large amphibious air tanker
Wayne Coulson, on the Martin Mars and their C-130
Coulson loses B.C. contract for Martin Mars
Martin Mars finishes fire contract in Mexico, next stop Discovery Channel
Video of Martin Mars’ drop in Vancouver today
Video of Martin Mars dropping on Mt. Wilson
Martin Mars drops 64,000 gallons on two fires


Pilot killed in Alberta air tanker crash

From the Toronto Sun:


“The lone occupant of a firefighting plane that crashed Friday afternoon in northern Alberta has died, a company spokesman confirmed.

Jeff Berry of Conair Aerial Firefighting told Postmedia Network that the plane, an AT-802 Fireboss amphibious water bomber, crashed just after 4:30 p.m. MDT, about 40 km north of Cold Lake near the Saskatchewan border.

Crews are fighting an out-of-control 300 ha wildfire in the area, in the vicinity of Burnt Lake, Alta., near the CFB Cold Lake’s weapons range and an Imperial Oil facility.

Berry said the 37-year old pilot was no stranger to fighting wildfires.

“This was his fourth season, so he was well-experienced,” Berry said.

Berry said the single-seater plane was relatively new, built in 2009.

AT-802F Fire Boss

File photo of one of Conair’s AT-802F Fire Boss air tankers. Photo by Peter Unmuth.

He expressed his condolences to the friends and family of the pilot, and expressed his gratitude to Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) and Cold Lake Search and Rescue for their quick response.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada was sending an investigation team, expected to arrive Saturday morning, TSB spokesman Julie Leroux confirmed.

Cold Lake is about 230 km northeast of Edmonton.”


Our sincere condolences go out to the the pilot’s family, friends, and to Conair.

The fire is in the Cold Lake Weapons Range, 40 km (25 miles) north of Cold Lake near Burnt Lake, and has burned approximately 3000 hectares (7400 acres).


Douglas County, Colorado signs CWN aircraft contracts

Douglas County, just south of Denver (map), signed contracts three weeks ago with three fire aviation companies. The agreements are Call When Needed (CWN) and will only be activated when the aircraft are specifically needed.

Two of the contracts are for helicopters, with HeliQwest International and Trans Aero Ltd. The other is for the 11,600-gallon DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

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


The first Coast Guard HC-130H converted to an air tanker for USFS to be available in August

C-130H paint design

HC-130H paint design, by Scheme Designers

The first of the seven HC-130Hs that are being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service will arrive at Forest Service Air Station McClellan (FSAS MCC) in mid-June, not mid-May as originally planned. And yes, that is what the Forest Service is calling their facility at McClellan Airport in Sacramento, California.

The aircraft will still be a work in progress when it lands at MCC. It will not have the paint job as seen above, but will be gray and white with U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System MAFFS markings, according to Jennifer Jones, a USFS spokesperson for the USFS. The gravity-based retardant tank will not have been installed, so it will be temporarily operating with a MAFFS pressurized 3,000-gallon tank. It will also need to depart at some point for scheduled Programmed Depot Maintenance, painting, and retardant tank installation.

Coast Guard HC-130H 1721

Coast Guard HC-130H #1721, will be one of the first two Coast Guard HC-130Hs to be used by the USFS. Photo by Alan Stern 10-24-2014.

The USFS expects that it will be available to fly firefighting missions by August. It will usually be be restricted to fires within 500 nautical miles (575 miles) of MCC so that it can return there each day where both the USFS contract maintenance and U.S. Coast Guard support crews will be located. Missions at a greater distance and staying away from the base will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

500 nm radius from Sacramento

Map showing 500 nm radius from Sacramento.

A second HC-130H is expected to arrive at MCC in August and will only be used for flight crew training. It will also be a work in progress but should be sporting the new USFS paint scheme. Its Programmed Depot Maintenance will have been completed but it will still need to have a gravity-based retardant tank installed.

Coast Guard HC-130H 1708

Coast Guard HC-130H #1708, will be one of the first two Coast Guard HC-130Hs to be used by the USFS. Photo by Andrew Sieber 7-20-2009.

We are now using the model name “HC-130H” for these aircraft originally purchased by the U.S. Coast Guard. The first “H” indicates that it is an extended-range, search and rescue variant of the C-130 Hercules. It cruises slightly faster than the C-130H and has twice the range, capable of flying from Missoula, Montana to London non-stop. According to Wikipedia, the HC-130H has the following performance characteristics:

Maximum speed: 330 knots (380 mph, 611 km/h)
Cruise speed: 290 knots (333 mph, 537 km/h)
Range: 4,500 nm (5,178 mi, 8,334 km)
Service ceiling: 33,000 ft (10,000 m)

The first two aircraft to arrive at MCC this summer are 27 and 31 years old. If, after various federal government agencies invest up to $130 million in the conversion of the aircraft, and if the USFS keeps them for 20 years, at that point they will be about the same age as the P2Vs that have been falling out of the sky at an alarming rate over the last 15 years.

We are not sure which HC-130H will arrive first (we are guessing T-118) but here are more details:

  • Air Tanker 118
  • Coast Guard #1721
  • Lockheed Martin SN 5121
  • Transferred from Lockheed to the USCG 6/16/1988
  • Hours: 5,194
  • The center wing box will not be replaced at the Programmed Depot Maintenance due to the low number of hours
  • Air Tanker 116
  • Coast Guard #1708
  • Lockheed Martin SN 5002
  • Transferred from Lockheed to the USCG 9/17/1984
  • Hours: 22,807
  • The center wing box will be replaced at the Programmed Depot Maintenance

Contract for air crew

A $6 million contract for air crews to fly the aircraft was awarded April 27, 2015 to CASS Professional Services Corp, headquartered in Temecula, California. The following jobs will be initially filled for a nine month period with options to extend the term of the contract for an additional two years.

  • 1 C-130H Qualified Contractor Aircrew Project Manager
  • 2 MAFFS II Qualified Instructor Pilots,
  • 1 US Coast Guard Qualified Flight Engineer Instructor, or US Air Force Qualified FE Instructor
  • 2 MAFFS II Qualified Load Master Instructors

Retardant tank

The Air Force has issued a solicitation for gravity-based fire retardant tanks:

…design, manufacture, and installation of a 3,500 gallon Retardant Delivery System (RDS) for seven (7) HC-130H aircraft. There will be a basic contract with one (1) trial kit/install, one (1) verification kit/install, and three (3) production kits/install. There will be an option for two (2) additional production kits/installs. Effort includes but is not limited to: RDS development, manufacture and installation, structural modifications, and maintenance and inspection plans.

The upper portion of  the tank above the floor will be removable and have the ability to disperse 3,500 gallons.

Contract for maintenance

A contract for maintenance of the aircraft is being advertised now with a response date of May 29, 2015. The contractor must provide a total of 17 mechanics and avionics/electrical technicians in the Primary, Secondary, and Back Shop crews. The contract will initially be for a nine month period (June 1 through January), with options to extend for an additional two full years. Services will be provided five days a week during the non-fire season, and seven days a week during the fire season.

The other five HC-130H aircraft

Most of the work on the one or two aircraft that will initially be operated as MAFFS is being done at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and at the U.S. Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in North Carolina.

Jennifer Jones told us that the location of the work that will be done on the other five HC-130Hs will be determined once the U.S. Air Force has awarded a contract for it. Work that needs to be done on these aircraft includes demilitarization; performing wing and airframe modifications; designing, contracting for, manufacturing and installing retardant tanks; and equipping them with radios, Aircraft Flight Following, and other equipment. The U.S. Air Force will perform center and outer wing-box replacement modifications, programmed depot-level maintenance, and modifications necessary to procure and integrate a gravity fed aerial fire retardant delivery system (RDS) in each aircraft before they can be brought into U.S. Forest Service operation for firefighting missions.

If you want to know more about what is involved in replacing wing boxes, check out the article we wrote last year, Wing box replacements in the USFS C-130s.


European Space Agency to develop regulations for the use of drones over wildfires

ViaSat Inc. today announced it is part of the consortium awarded the DeSIRE II project, a program funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) Integrated Applications Promotion (IAP) program, the European Defense Agency (EDA) and industry to define regulations and civilian usage for satellite-controlled Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) also known as drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

As part of the consortium, ViaSat is taking the lead in developing the communication, navigation and sensing (CNS) technologies for real-time RPAS command and control across Ka- and L-band satellites. ViaSat will provide an advanced satellite communications (satcom) system that includes modems for both frequency bands and modems for system gateways to demonstrate how a satcom system can lead to the safe use of RPAS in “unsegregated” or civilian airspace.

ViaSat will also help identify civilian service applications for RPAS usage such as environmental monitoring, maritime surveillance and emergency response. One application proposed by ViaSat is the effectiveness of RPAS in early warning and response of a wildfire outbreak. ViaSat in collaboration with CEREN, the French public organization that represents 14 fire brigades, will demonstrate how the DeSIRE II project can aid in data collection and transmission; identification of risk and alarm trigger; real-time video information of wildfire outbreaks; and night flights with infra-red capabilities.

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