Two firefighters die in South Africa helicopter crash

Two firefighters died when a helicopter crashed in South Africa on April 22, killing the pilot Darrel Rea (39) and crewmember Jastun Visagie (23).

A company spokesperson said, “While landing at the fire scene in strong winds the Bell UH-1H (Huey) impacted a mountainside in Bain’s Kloof close to Wellington”. They were landing in order to configure the helicopter to drop water.

Working on Fire Aviation CEO Johan Heine said: “We are saddened by the loss of a very experienced pilot and crew member and wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to families as well as colleagues and the firefighting fraternity”.

“Mr Rea‚ who was the chief pilot for WoF Aviation‚ had total helicopter flying time experience in excess of 3‚300 hours and had worked for WoF Aviation for the last eight years. All WoF pilots are recruited‚ selected and trained to the highest international standards‚” Heine said. Visagie joined Working on Fire in 2013.

WoF Aviation has been engaged in Aerial Fire Fighting in South Africa since 1986.

According to their website, WoF is a government-funded, job-creation program focusing on Intergrated Fire Management in South Africa. WoF fire fighters are recruited from marginalised communities and trained in fire awareness and education, prevention and fire suppression skills. These young men and women form veld and forest fire fighting ground crews, stationed at bases around the country to help stop the scourge of wildfire which costs the South African economy billions of rands annually.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families and co-workers of Mr. Rea and Mr. Visagie.


Coulson’s L-382G going through static and grid testing

air tanker L-382G tank rolling in

The retardant tank rolling into Coulson’s L-382G. Coulson photo.

The L-382G that Coulson is converting into an air tanker will be at McClellan on April 27 for static testing of the tank system and in Lancaster, California on May 4 for grid tests.

The L-382G is the civilian version of Lockheed’s C-130H-30, which is the stretched H model.

The tank has a capacity of 36,000 pounds. There is not much agreement about the exact weight of retardant, but Britton Coulson said they expect to carry about 4,250 USG.

“Even with a full tank and 3 to 4 hours of fuel”, Mr. Coulson said, “we are still almost 20,000 pounds under our max gross weight so we are still no where near maxing out the airplane.”

L-382G ready for tank

The interior of the L-382G showing the lower hopper installation. This was a structural superior version where none of the Lockheed structure was cut, other than the skin. Coulson photo.

L-382G cargo

The interior of the L-382G with the floorboard down, configured to haul cargo. Coulson photo.

Coulson’s C-130Q air tanker began their fire season this year on April 1, the start of their Mandatory Availability Period.


10 Tanker’s upgraded DC-10 is almost ready to fight fire


This aircraft replaced the original DC-10, Tanker 910. 10 Tanker Air Carrier photo.

On April 18, 10 Tanker Air Carrier wrote on their Facebook page:

Last week our “new” 910 finished the conversion and came out of the hanger. Yesterday she made her first flight. She’ll head back to Albuquerque this week for Forest Service checks, and be ready for the fire season. What a beautiful addition to the fleet!


The “new” version of Tanker 910. 10 Tanker Air Carrier photo.

Last year 10 Tanker Air Carrier retired one of their three DC-10 air tankers, Tanker 910, the first DC-10 air tanker.

The aircraft was converted in 2004, and began working in California under a CAL FIRE contract in 2006. Since that time Tanker 910 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.

The “new” Tanker 910 is a newer air frame that will carry the same “T-910” designation as the plane that retired last fall. The work on the replacement began in early September, 2014.

“The new T-910, like T-912, is one of the last DC-10s built, and will standardize our fleet on the DC-10 -30 model,” Rick Hatton, President and CEO of 10 Tanker, said in January. He said the DC-10-30 is certified to fly at gross weights up to 590,000 pounds. On a typical firefighting mission with three hours of fuel the aircraft would lift off weighing approximately 390,000 pounds. The company says this allows a margin of nearly 200,000 pounds below the previously certified weight, which greatly enhances performance, maneuverability, and safety.

Mr. Hatton said three of their DC-10 airtankers will be available for the 2015 fire season — T-911, T-912, and the “new” T-910.


California National Guard helicopter crews train to fight wildfires

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

The article below was written by Johnny Yount. Photos were taken by Bob Martinez.

Times are changing in the wildfire business as quickly as the global weather. The annual National Guard and CAL FIRE training was conducted April 10 through 12 at the CAL FIRE Academy in Ione and Lake Pardee in Amador County.  The Army National Guard has been in partnership with CAL FIRE for over five decades fighting fire with helicopters. The C 130 (MAFFS) provided by the Air National Guard at Channel Islands have been delivering retardant since the 1970’s. In an effort to protect the people and resources of California every branch of the military in California can provide aerial delivery of water or retardant.  This is not unique to California, as many states have increasingly become involved in using state guard units to augment firefighting forces.

In the early 1990’s a plan called Spirit of Cooperation was put together by CAL FIRE to begin working much more closely with the State’s military helicopter units to  benefit and provide a safer fire work environment for both CAL FIRE and the Military.

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifireCalifornia National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

Meetings where held, issues identified, and a plan of action initiated with a mutual understanding  of what would be required to enhance the capability of both the Guard and CAL FIRE simultaneously.

There were five components to the plan. One of the components identified was the addition of a military helicopter manager who would fly at all times with the helicopter and provide tactical and logistical support to the military air crew. This simple step, providing an air program qualified helicopter manager to be part of the flight crew, maximizes the capability of the helicopter to move around the State much like a fixed wing air tanker.

The training at the CAL FIRE Academy was a refresher for most in attendance. The majority of the students are CAL FIRE aerial fire fighters, air attack and helitack Captains. Each military manager represents years of air program understanding and airborne firefighting experience.  Also involved in the program are aerial fire fighters from Orange County Fire Authority and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

When a Guard helicopter is activated, a manager is assigned to a specific copter and crew. The Blackhawks have a crew of three military and one CAL FIRE military manager. The Chinooks have a crew of four military and one CAL FIRE manager. In addition to the airborne helicopter assets, Guard and CAL FIRE liaisons are assigned to the activation.  Maintenance teams, fuel tenders and other military support staff are also assigned as needed to assure that the activation runs smoothly.  As mentioned, the Guard helicopters move around the State more like a fixed wing air tanker than a helicopter.  It would not be uncommon for a Guard helicopter to be working a fire on the Modoc National Forest (Alturas Airport), get released, head south to a new emerging fire on the Angeles National Forest, remain overnight in Bakersfield, and then be reassigned to a fire in Ventura County.

During transit the Guard helicopters are in contact with the three primary CAL FIRE Operation Centers at Sacramento, Riverside and Redding.  New initial attack fires or change of assignment are common.  This fire season the Guard facilities at Los Alamitos, Stockton and Mather will be providing as many as five Chinooks and five Blackhawks.

CAL FIRE will hold similar training with the United States Marine Corps and Navy.

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire

California National Guard helicopter crew training wildifire


DynCorp awarded contract with CAL FIRE

DynCorp International (DI) announced today that they have been awarded a contract to continue supporting the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) aviation program helping suppress and control wildfires. Work will be performed at McClellan Park in Sacramento, California, and aircraft are deployed throughout 12 air tactical and 10 helitack bases throughout the state.

Through this contract, DI team members provide line to depot-level maintenance on CAL FIRE’s fleet of 51 aircraft including S-2T air tankers, OV-10A aircraft and UH-1H helicopters. DI will also continue providing full flight operations, including pilots, for CAL FIRE’s fixed wing fleet of aerial firefighting aircraft. Aircraft maintenance services include repair, overhaul, modification, and manufacturing of airframes, engines, propellers, helicopter rotating components, and various aircraft parts and components.

“We have been honored to be able to provide this unique support to the CAL FIRE team since 2001,” said James Myles, DynAviation senior vice president, DynCorp International. “This new award continues our partnership with CAL FIRE and retains DI’s status in the aerial firefighting community as part of the world renowned CAL FIRE Aviation Program.”

The competitively awarded contract has a two-year base period with three, one-year options, for a total potential value of $126.2 million.

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


Sky Aviation’s CH-46E


Sky Aviation, based in Worland, Wyoming, posted this message June 24, 2014 on their Facebook page:

Sky Aviation purchased four CH-46 helicopters and this week, we are taking official possession of them in Tucson! Stay tuned for pictures. At least one will be transformed immediately into civilian paint. We are hoping to support both fire fighting and construction with our Phrogs.

In June 2014 they flew one of them to Sabreliner Aviation in Perryville, Missouri to begin the demilitarization of the aircraft.

And on April 9, 2015:

Sky Aviation's CH-46.

Sky Aviation’s CH-46E getting the final touches in the paint booth. Photo by Sky Aviation.



Colorado agencies train for aerial firefighting

Agencies involved in aerial firefighting in the Colorado area are meeting and training together on Friday and Saturday of this week at Buckley Air force Base in Aurora. Friday’s sessions were indoors, focusing on procedures, communications, and the academic side of fighting fires from the air.

On Saturday they will take to the air working with the equipment they will use on a fire. The Blackhawk helicopters will be visible after 9 or 10 a.m. near Chatfield and Strontia Springs Reservoirs and Waterton Canyon.

The agencies involved include the Colorado Army National Guard 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region, Bureau of Land Management, and Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. The National Guard also worked with active duty Army aviation units from Ft. Carson, Wyoming, Nebraska, and South Dakota.


One of Colorado’s two Pilatus PC-12s.