Forest Service issues multiple aircraft solicitations or RFIs

The U.S. Forest Service has recently posted multiple solicitations or Requests for Information (RFI) for fixed wing and rotor wing firefighting aircraft — Next Generation air tankers, scooping air tankers, various call when needed aircraft, helicopters, and one for the purchase of a new air tanker.

Purchase of a new air tanker

LM-100J

Lockheed Martin’s new LM-100J, expected to sell for about $65 million.

An RFI has been issued for the “potential” purchase of a new, turbine-powered, multi-engine turboprop aircraft with a payload of at least 34,000 pounds. It would be used as an air tanker, and for the transport of cargo and personnel. Likely, the RFI is a response to the $65 million the USFS received in this year’s budget for the purchase of a new air tanker.

Since a requirement is that it haul cargo and personnel in addition to dropping retardant, this restricts it, as far as aircraft types being used in wildland fire today, to a C-130-type or the new civilian version of the aircraft, the LM-100J which is expected to sell for about $65 million. Coulson’s C-130H has a 3,500-gallon retardant tank that can be easily removed to haul cargo.

However, the LM-100J is not really set up for carrying passengers, since it will not have a flush toilet or sound-deadening and temperature-controlling insulation blankets used on C-130s. If the USFS wants to use an agency-owned aircraft for hauling passengers, a better choice would be the seven C-130Hs the USFS is receiving from the Coast Guard, or the 15 Sherpa C-23Bs transferred from the military.

The reply due date on the RFI is March 20, 2015.

Lockheed’s LM-100J brochure.
Code One Magazine article about the LM-100J.

Contracts for next generation air tankers

The USFS issued a solicitation for up to seven next generation air tankers. They are seeking aircraft tanked and approved by the Interagency Airtanker Board, furnished with crews, maintenance, and support. It would be a five-year contract with an additional five one-year options.

The aircraft must have a 3,000-gallon retardant capacity. The solicitation states, “Aircraft with less than 3000-gallon dispensing capacity will not be considered”. It is interesting they specified all 3,000 gallons must be “dispensable”. The first BAe-146s provided by Neptune could not adequately dispense all 3,000 gallons, especially on downhill runs.

The minimum cruise speed required is 300 knots (345 mph).

Unlike most previous air tanker contracts, this one specifies seven-day coverage, except six-day coverage is permissible during the first two years, but with a five percent reduction in the daily availability rate. We first advocated seven-day coverage almost a year ago.

Proposals are due on March 24, 2015.

RFI for water scoopers

The USFS is looking for vendors to provide up to two water-scooping amphibious air tankers from 2015 through 2020.

Like the next-gen contract, the USFS expects to begin this contract in a matter of days, weeks, or months after first mentioning it on FBO.gov. That is very optimistic, since the first next-gen contract took 550 days before it was finally awarded.

Here’s a tip. The USFS should get their sh*t together and advertise the solicitation, not the RFI, at least one year before the mandatory availability period. Top quality air tankers, crews, and maintenance personnel can’t be magically produced out of thin air.

Call When Needed aircraft and services

The USFS is seeking information from vendors interested in providing the following types of aircraft or services:

  • Approximately 25 turbine engine aircraft with a minimum tank capacity of 2,000 gallons or more.
  • Airworthiness and Maintenance Program specific to air tanker dispensing mission.
  • Logistics support system to operate throughout the western states.
  • Turnkey retardant base to support operations at locations away from established bases.
  • A multi-engine support aircraft capable of supporting logistics needs and directing tactical operations for the AT. Sufficient flight crews to provide seven day coverage while in use.

Type 1 and Type 2 helicopters

A solicitation for Type 1 and 2 helicopters closed February 12, 2015.

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

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Video of an RJ-85 dropping on fires in Australia

And here’s another one:

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The last smokejumper DC-3 to retire this year

DC-3 smokejumper

Jump-42, a U.S. Forest Service DC-3 TP at its retirement ceremony at Ogden, Utah, October 24, 2012. USFS photo.

The last DC-3 smokejumper aircraft will retire this year, a few months after its 70th birthday. Jump-15 as it is known, came off the assembly line two months after the end of World War II but it will be making its farewell tour as it drops smokejumpers during its final fire season. The second to the last smokejumper DC-3 retired a couple of years ago.

The Missoulian has an article highlighting the history of Jump-15. Here is an excerpt from the article:

…Douglas Aircraft Co. started building the tail-dragging DC-3s in 1935. TWA director Charles Lindbergh reportedly made the requirement that it should always be able to fly with just one of its two engines. That’s a feature smokejumpers loved too.
The DC-3 was the first to be wide enough for side-by-side sleeper berths – a first-class requirement for the propeller-age jet set. It could fly across the United States in 15 hours with three refueling stops, the first commercial plane to make that trip entirely in daylight.

When America entered World War II in 1942, the civilian plane put on an Army uniform. The military redesignated it the C-47 Dakota and ordered more than 10,000 before 1945.

Dwight Eisenhower ranked it along with the Jeep, the half-ton truck and the bulldozer as the Allied Forces’ most effective tools in winning the war…

Other articles on Fire Aviation tagged “DC-3″.

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

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Very small people pose with very large air tanker

Tanker 912

This is the Kindergarten class from the Monzano School in Albuquerque. On February 20, 2015 they took a tour of Air Tanker 912, a DC-10, and got their picture taken with Amy and Anselm from the 10 Tanker Air Carrier maintenance crew. Photo by 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

I love this photo that was posted today on the 10 Tanker Air Carrier Facebook page.

Below is a photo we took of the rest of a DC-10, Tanker 910, in 2013.

Tanker 910, DC-10, photo by Bill Gabbert

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Managing Australia’s aerial firefighting assets

Air Tanker 162

Air Tanker 162, known as Bomber 391 in Australia, is shown with a truckload of fire retardant transported to Western Australia by the Royal Australian Air Force. (still image from the video below)

The video below, produced by the Royal Australian Air Force, provides information about how the Australian Defence Force assisted residents and fire fighting efforts in Western Australia during the recent fire seige.

Victoria firefighting aircraft

Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning Victoria welcomes 46 firefighting aircraft. (still image from the video below.)

In the next video, produced by Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in December, 2014, officials welcome 46 firefighting aircraft of all shapes and sizes to the 2014/2015 bushfire season, including two large air tankers from North America.

And one last video — this one showing Tanker 131, known as Bomber 390 in Australia, landing at Avalon in Victoria.

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MAFFS pilot talks about landing without a nose wheel

MAFFS hard landing

The MAFFS 3 air tanker experienced a hard landing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Aug. 17, 2014 following an in flight emergency. There were no injuries and only minor damage to the aircraft. Photo supplied by Hill AFB, Utah. (click to enlarge)

More details are coming to light regarding the Modular Airborne FireFighting System C-130 that landed August 17 without the nose wheel fully extended.

Maj. Derik George, a C-130 pilot with the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing was part of the crew that recently received the Air Mobility Command Chief of Safety Aircrew of Distinction Award for their efforts following a landing gear malfunction while fighting fires in southern Utah.

The MAFFS C-130 crew was attempting to land at Hill Air Force Base, Utah after conducting aerial firefighting missions in southern Utah Aug. 17, 2014 when Maj. Jack Berquist, aircraft commander, and George, co-pilot, realized the nose landing gear was not functioning properly.

“As we were approaching to land, Maj. Berquist, who was flying, asked for the gear down. After lowering the landing gear we got an unsafe gear indication in the nose,” said George.

The crew stayed in the traffic pattern at Hill and started on their emergency procedures. There are three ways to get the nose landing gear down but none of them worked. They called a Lockheed Martin engineer and test pilot but neither call fixed the problem. The U.S. Forest Service sent a lead plane to see if that pilot could determine what was wrong from flying underneath the aircraft, but again, nothing helped. After more than three hours of circling the airfield, the crew determined they had no other choice but to attempt a landing.

“At that point we said, ‘well, we are out of options, we are just going to land with the nose gear up.’ We called the tower, and they were able to put foam on the runway, that way it would arrest any fire that might start. We ran our checklists again, making sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. Jack Berquist was flying, he did a fantastic job. I don’t think he could’ve done any better. He held the nose up as long as possible and was able to get the nose on the ground in the foam,” said George.

The aircraft came to a stop and the tower let the crew know a small fire started under the nose. The crew shut everything down and egressed to a safe area. The emergency crews on the ground quickly put the fire out.

“The most rewarding thing of the whole day was how well the crew worked together,” said George, who has nearly 1,500 C-130 and more than 3,700 total flight hours. “The navigator was Active Duty, I was a Reservist. The other four crew members were Wyoming Air National Guard. It was very seamless. Everybody knew exactly what to do. MAFFS crews are some of the most highly experienced and best trained crews in the Air Force.”

The efforts by the MAFFS 3 crew resulted in the safe return of six airmen and only minor damage to a $37 million aircraft.

“Other than the fact that there was a mechanical malfunction, which is pretty rare, there was nothing that surprised me about this event. We look for top notch people, we train hard. They tried ‘A,’ they tried ‘B,’ they tried ‘C,’ and they ended up having to do ‘D,'” said Lt. Col. Luke Thompson, 302nd AW chief of aerial firefighting. “It all worked, just the way it should have.”

Besides Berquist, Goebel and George, the other crew members were flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Damian Hoffmann, and load masters, Master Sgts. Brandon York and Christian Reese.

Four C-130 wings perform the MAFFS mission, each providing two MAFFS-capable aircraft and the air and ground crews needed to operate them. They are the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard; 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard; 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, in Colorado.

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