737 air tanker undergoing FAA testing

(Originally published at 3:47 p.m. MDT June 17, 2018)

One of Coulson’s recently converted 737’s, Tanker 137, is in San Bernardino for certification testing by the FAA.

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(UPDATED at 1:38 p.m. MDT June 21, 2018)

Coulson may have seen Donn’s question about the loading ports. Here is what they posted on Facebook June 20:

Video of Air Tanker 850 working the “416 Fire” near Durango, Colorado

Filmed by pilot Jim Watson of GB Aerial Applications, this is a video of Air Tanker 850 on the “416 Fire” near Durango, CO June 13, 2018, working with John Ponts, Lead 51 trainee.

Jim said, “The Heavies did the long runs while the Single Engine Air Tankers offered close air support by reinforcing weak areas such as this drop in the bottom of a drainage.”

Forest Service issues solicitations for CWN air tankers

Above: Air Tanker 944, a 747-400, drops near structures on the Palmer Fire south of Yucaipa, California at 4:25 p.m. PDT September 2, 2017. The aircraft was under a CWN contract with CAL FIRE. Photo by Leroy Leggitt, used with permission.

On June 15 the U.S. Forest Service issued solicitations for Call When Needed (CWN) air tankers. There are two separate requests for proposals (RFP), one for Large Air Tankers (LAT) and another for Very Large Air Tankers (VLAT).

The verbiage in the LAT document implies that, perhaps, only air tankers that have a capacity of 3,000 to 5,000 gallons will be considered:

Aircraft less than 3000 gallons or greater than 5000 gallons are not considered necessary or more desirable than aircraft in the target volume, given the priority mission for these airtankers is initial attack.

And the VLAT RFP “prefers” aircraft that can carry at least 8,000 gallons.

Aircraft with greater than 8000-gallon (72,000 pounds) dispensing capacity are preferred. Aircraft less than 8000 gallons are not considered necessary or more desirable than aircraft at the target volume, given the primary mission for these airtankers is large fire support.

It is interesting that the RFP has such imprecise language for this important specification, capacity, that can be easily required and measured. It is not subjective, unlike the editorial comments about one type of air tanker being prioritized for initial attack and another for large fire support. This assumes that LATs are not suitable for large fires and VLATs are not appropriate for initial attack. There are so few federally contracted air tankers available, now that the numbers have been cut again, that during periods of high fire activity too often no air tanker is going to arrive during the initial attack stage when a new fire is still small — unless it is on state land in California where CAL FIRE still believes in aggressive initial attack from both the ground AND the air. A VLAT, while carrying three to six times more than a LAT, can split their load, only dropping what is necessary, and land partially loaded with retardant if necessary.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and various congressional committees have been begging the Forest Service for many years to develop hard data to determine the effectiveness of firefighting aircraft and the liquids they drop on fires, so that better decisions can be made about how the $100 million appropriated annually for this activity should be spent.

The last time the Forest Service issued a solicitation for CWN air tankers was 222 days ago, on May 16, 2017. For the first time in their air tanker contracting history, according to the GAO, the FS at that time restricted the maximum size of retardant tanks, specifying the capacity must be between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons. This eliminated VLATs from being able to compete, since the DC-10 holds 11,600 gallons and the 747 carries up to 19,200.

Global Supertanker, the operator of a 747 VLAT, filed a protest which was upheld by the GAO. In their decision, the GAO wrote that the FS:

…failed to provide reasonable justifications for the challenged specification, such that we are unable to conclude that the challenged specification is reasonably necessary for the agency to meet its needs.

We recommend that the agency make a documented determination of its needs. Once the agency identifies its needs, the agency should revise its solicitation to include specifications that are reasonably necessary to meet those needs. We also recommend that the protester be reimbursed the costs of filing and pursuing the protest, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.

In 2012 the FS began a program to answer some of the questions about the effectiveness of firefighting aircraft, titled, Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness (AFUE) Study. The agency’s stated goal was to begin releasing summaries of the results in 2017, but so far have not done so. A couple of weeks ago when we asked Vicki Christiansen, the Interim Chief of the Forest Service, when the study’s results would be released, she responded by email:

The summaries are not currently available. Unforeseen delays with staffing changes, retrieving aviation use data, and completing final reviews has delayed their overall schedule. The AFUE work group is continuing their work to complete the summaries and they will be provided as soon as they become available.

Kawak receives STC’s for new Chinook Internal firefighting tank

The tank can hold 2,500 gallons

Above: The test rig for the new Kawak 2,500-gallon internal tank. Kawak photo.

Kawak Aviation has received FAA Supplemental Type Certification (STC) for its CH-47D Chinook aerial liquid delivery system (ALDS) and auxiliary hydraulic system. The 2,500-US gallon (9,463-liter) tank fills in under 40 seconds and can release a full load of water in 3 seconds. The system is built around a fully independent 50hp hydraulic system, a new refill pump, and unique design of the water tank door.

Using their existing refill pump technology as a starting point, they designed an all new pump to meet the fill time requirements of the new system.

“Unlike swinging door designs, our sliding doors provide an unbroken ribbon of water that exits the tank with less wind break up providing a better drop pattern. In short more water reaches the fire for a more effective drop,” said Andrew  Sawyer, director of marketing.

Kawak internal tank chinook firefighting wildfire
Test fitting the first 2,500 gallon riveted tank prior to final riveting.

The system includes a secondary 128-US gallon tank that can add foam concentrate if needed as the main tank is filled. A live telemetry functionality automatically records how much water is taken on, how much is dropped, and where. This information is then transmitted to the agency managing the fire to assist in analyzing utilization of resources.

Having completed flight testing and received the STC, Billing’s Flying Service will be using the tank this summer.

(All photos are provided by Kawak)

billings flying service Kawak internal tank chinook firefighting wildfire
Billings CH47D flight testing the new internal tank.
test Kawak internal tank chinook firefighting wildfire
Kawak CH-47D firefighting system drop test.

Continue reading “Kawak receives STC’s for new Chinook Internal firefighting tank”

New “Daredevil Dads” book has chapter about smokejumper/tanker pilot

A book published this month has a chapter featuring a frequent contributor to FireAviation.com.  Johnny “Coldwater” Yount has written many comments on this site where he relies on his aviation and firefighting experience to contribute meaningfully to the discussions.

The book “Daredevil Dads” tells Johnny’s story from his first solo flight when he was 14 years old to his experiences with crop dusters, smokejumping, helitack, and air tankers. From my interactions with Johnny, I have seen that he does not seek the limelight or continually remind everyone about his experiences and qualifications, but author Tam Rodwell was able to get him to discuss his extraordinary aviation and firefighting careers.

Daredevil DadsThe book covers several near misses, including the time the engine on his crop duster disintegrated while flying close to the ground leaving him in a small plane with a full loads of fuel and fertilizer. The aircraft hit a muddy field  then cartwheeled and ejected him 50 yards away, still belted to his seat and suffering from a concussion. After being released from the hospital he discovered that he had temporarily acquired what we might loosely call today a super power. But I won’t spoil it for you.

The book also has chapters about 14 others with unique and dangerous occupations, including astronaut, ultimate fighter, bomb disposal, human cannonball, and a high-wire walker.

Reprinted below, with permission from the author, is an excerpt from Johnny’s chapter:

Johnny truly came into his own when piloting planes involved in aerial firefighting. As he became a little older the smoke jumping part of his life became less and less frequent and he used his encyclopedic knowledge of all aspects of fighting blazes to extinguish them by air.

While smoke jumping had its obvious dangers, aerial firefighting seems that little bit safer to the outsider, however, nothing could be further from the truth. First and foremost, he was dealing with planes that were extraordinarily heavy given the combination load of fuel and water that he was carrying. Planes react in different ways and are harder to correct when they are bloated with load so he explains that often you needed to have faster reaction times as well as planning your turns further ahead as a result of the slight slow motion effect one needed to deal with.

“Daredevil Dads”, published by Crux Publishing, is available at Amazon for $13.99.

Simplex introduces internal tank for Blackhawks

There are two versions, holding 850 or 1,000 gallons

Above: The Simplex 850-gallon Fire Attack System installed on PJ Helicopters’ UH-60 Utility Hawk. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

For decades Simplex Aerospace has been manufacturing devices used by aerial firefighters, including the Helitorch and various internal and belly-mounted water tanks for helicopters. This year they added to the list by developing an internal water tank for Blackhawk helicopters. The 850-gallon tank can be installed in less than 15 minutes in several models of Sikorsky ships, including the S-70i, S-70A, UH-60A, and UH-60L.

According to the company, the 850-gallon tank drops water through the cargo hook well “with minimal modifications to the aircraft”. They also have a 1,000-gallon version with three dispersal doors, which requires “minimal modifications to the aircraft skin”.

Simplex internal blackhawk water tank
The Simplex 850-gallon Fire Attack System installed on the PJ Helicopters’ UH-60 Utility Hawk. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

While hovering, the tanks can be refilled at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute, or on the ground using ports on either side. Pilots can select the number of drops, flow rate, and percentage of foam concentrate to be mixed with the water.  There is also an automatic emergency water drop feature.

Mark Zimmerman, Simplex’s CEO said “Simplex’s internal Fire Attack systems eliminate the need for the Blackhawk gear extensions required for belly mounted tanks, making the internal tanks ideally suited for civil Blackhawk operators.”

San Diego to get a new Sikorsky Firehawk

The City of San Diego Fire Department expects to receive their new Sikorsky Firehawk helicopter in October. Their staff just completed simulator and hands-on flight training for the new aircraft.