Above: CAL FIRE OV-10s at McClellan Airfield March 17, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
This month the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is finalizing their plans for the management and deployment of their firefighting aircraft, with the total numbers being similar to last year:
- S2T air tankers: 21 plus 1 spare
- OV-10 Air Tactical, fixed wing: 12
- OV-10D Aerial Supervision Module, fixed wing: 1
- King Air 200 Air Tactical training platform, fixed wing: 2
- Super Huey helicopters: 10 plus 2 spares
Below is the anticipated lineup of air tankers, provided by Dennis Brown, CAL FIRE’s Chief of Flight Operations.
The reporting dates for the air tankers have not yet been established, but CAL FIRE is required to provide the information to DynCorp, the contractor that provides the pilots and maintenance for the S2Ts, by April 1.
Before CAL FIRE’s Tanker 81 crashed near Yosemite National Park in 2014, killing pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt, the agency had 23 S2T tankers. The project to replace the tanker is underway at McClellan and is expected to be complete in about 18 months. The aircraft are provided by the Federal Excess Personal Property program which supplies fire engines and other firefighting equipment, including aircraft, to state and local fire departments. Most of the hardware originates with the Department of Defense before being transferred through the Forest Service to other agencies. The FS retains ownership of the equipment.
CAL FIRE, for the second year in a row, will have a BAe-146 large air tanker on contract provided by Neptune Aviation.
The agency will have a number of air tankers on Call When Needed contracts that will be activated only if the fire situation in the state is more than the 22 tankers working every day can handle. They will have one DC-10 very large air tanker from 10 Tanker, three DC-7 large air tankers from Erickson Aero, Electra L-188s from Air Spray, and single engine air tankers from Air Spray and Aero Spray.
There has been speculation that CAL FIRE would put a very large air tanker such as a DC-10 on exclusive use contract, which is something they have not done for several years. When we asked Mr. Brown about that he said, “A decision has not been made yet on whether we will be doing an Exclusive Use contract for one this year or not.” A 747 very large air tanker is in the final stages of being built and is scheduled to make an appearance showing off its new paint job at the Aerial Firefighting conference at McClellan in Sacramento on March 22.
The Super Huey helicopters will be based at Kneeland, Bieber, Vina, Howard Forest, Boggs Mountain, Columbia, Alma, Bear Valley, Hemet, and Prado. All of them now have hoists installed that can be used for extracting injured personnel.