CAL FIRE Super Huey on the Moffat Fire

The Moffat Fire burned 1,265 acres north of Lone Pine, California Thursday April 19, 2018.

Forest Service contracts for aircraft onboarding analysis

When we saw the solicitation above and read the detailed description, we thought the U.S. Forest Service was planning to add more air tankers to their fleet or resurrect the Coast Guard HC-130H program, but that turned out to not be the case.

The solicitation seeks to hire seven contract personnel, with most of them being required to work out of Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It closed April 10 after being open for only about two weeks.

Their tasks will include:

  • Program and project management support;
  • Development of operations and management strategy;
  • Acquisition program support for aviation support contracts;
  • Technology insertion for aviation assets and facilities;
  • Analysis and implementation of supportability services for airframe, engine, and avionics.
  • Economic analysis for technology insertion and transformation efforts;
  • Safety program support for aviation and ground operations.

In February the Administration announced their desire to abandon the acquisition and conversion of seven Coast Guard HC-130H’s into firefighting air tankers after spending tens of millions on the project. They intend to operate one this year that is partially complete, borrowing a slip-in MAFFS retardant system.

Air Tanker 116 HC-130H retardant
File photo of Air Tanker 116, an HC-130H, using a MAFFS unit to spray retardant on a fire near Phoenix, June 22, 2017. Fox 20 Phoenix.

We asked Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist Jennifer Jones for a plain text translation of the language in the solicitation:

This solicitation is for engineering services needed for the USDA Forest Service to have one HC-130H equipped with a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) available to fly wildfire suppressions this year (2018) as in 2015 and 2017. The current contract for these services expires May 31st.

Ms. Jones supplied an update on the future of the HC-130H air tanker program:

Section 1098(a) of the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required the transfer of seven HC-130H aircraft to the USDA Forest Service for use as Airtankers in wildfire suppression. Based on recent increased private sector investment in Next Generation Airtankers, the agency has determined that government-owned Airtankers are no longer necessary since private industry is capable of fulfilling the agency’s required Airtanker needs. As such, the President’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget notes that the USDA Forest Service will seek Congressional support to terminate the NDAA provisions pertaining to agency-owned HC-130H aircraft. Any changes or modifications to these provisions will require Congressional action.

So apparently this contract for seven people mostly working out of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, will be to support one aircraft. If, however, unlike Ms. Jones’ description, they could perform these services for the entire USFS Fire and Aviation Management aircraft fleet, including contracting, it could be a worthwhile investment.

We are reminded that in June, 2015, 522 days after the USFS HC-130H acquisition began, they came to a conclusion, according to a Briefing Paper.

This is a new program for the Forest Service, one that we have never managed before (We don’t know what we don’t know).

 

Aero Spray is now Dauntless Air

Aero Spray, Inc., an operator of Single Engine Air Tankers, has changed its name to Dauntless Air. The company also announced today the expansion of its fleet and the recent naming of a new CEO, Brett L’Esperance. Dauntless Air now owns and operates 11 amphibious AT-802F Fire Boss and one wheeled AT-802F. The aircraft feature onboard thermal imaging units and gel blending systems.

In our view it appears to be a good idea to rebrand the company in order to separate it from the flock of aerial firefighting companies with similar names, including Aero-Flite, Aero Tech, Air Spray, and Air Tractor.

There is also a new tag line:

Dauntless

Mr. L’Esperance took the company’s helm as CEO in June 2017 after more than 20 years of private equity investing and operating roles, including time at Bain Capital Credit, Woodside Capital Management, and the Watermill Group, .

Since joining Dauntless Air (formerly Aero Spray), Mr. L’Esperance has overseen a variety of updates to the business, including the addition of two new aircraft and six new ground support vehicles to its fleet in preparation for the 2018/2019 fire season, the relocation of its corporate offices within Appleton, Minnesota, and the implementation of new administrative and technology support systems to serve as the foundation for a stable, growing business.

10 years ago this month pilot Gert Marais was killed while fighting a fire at Fort Carson

Fort Carson reports 20 training related vegetation fires in last 12 months

(This article was first published on Wildfire Today)

A spokesperson for Fort Carson, a U.S. Army base south of Colorado Springs, admits that 20 fires in the last 12 months have been a result of training activities on the base, according to KOAA. Below is an excerpt from their report:

On March 16, a fire caused by live ammunition training on a Fort Carson artillery range burned nearly 3,000 acres off Mountain Post property, destroying two homes, numerous outbuildings, and dozens of vehicles.  Sunday, a wildfire caused by shooting on the Cheyenne Mountain Shooting Complex public shooting range burned more than 2,000 acres and forced the total closure of a roughly 10-mile stretch of I-25 for more than an hour.

Gert MaraisLocal residents and elected officials are wondering if there is anything the base can do to minimize the number of fires started by training, such as reducing dangerous activities during periods of elevated fire danger.

Ten years ago this month the pilot of a single engine air tanker was killed while helping firefighters on the ground contain a fire that started on Training Area 25 at Fort Carson. Wildfire Today wrote about the report released by the National Transportation Safety Board, which indicates there were very strong winds that day when Gert Marais died:

At the time of the crash, a U.S. Forest Service person on the ground who was directing the SEAT estimated that at the time of the crash the wind was out of the southwest at 30-40 knots. Winds at the Fort Carson airfield, 5 miles from the crash site, were between 20 and 40 knots from 1300 to the time of the accident at 1815.

Strong winds like occured on April 15, 2008 often indicate high wildfire danger if the relative humidity is low and the vegetation is dry.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

34 Type 2 helicopters awarded contracts

The contract was effective April 6.

Above: A Bell 205A-1 Type 2 helicopter lands at the Salmon, Idaho helitack base while working on wildfires in the area, July 28, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

New exclusive use contracts have been awarded for 34 Type 2 firefighting helicopters. Announced by FedBizOps on April 6, the duration is for one base year through April 30, 2019, with the possibility of 3 one-year renewal option periods. The U.S. Forest Service has shown by how they manage the air tanker and Type 1 helicopter contracts that the option periods are definitely not a sure thing after cutting those aircraft during recent optional years.

All of the Type 2 helicopters are Bell products: 205, 210, and 212. The daily availability rates range from $5,500 to $8,800 while the hourly rates are $1,884 to $2,175.

The last Type 2 exclusive use contract awarded in December, 2013 for 31 helicopters also specified one base year with three optional years. The contract before that was for 33 helicopters.

The Forest Service also has helicopters on Call When Needed contracts, on the hope that they will be available when the phone rings. CWN aircraft, both fixed and rotor wing, cost more than exclusive use ships. For example, the 2017 average daily rate for large federal call when needed air tankers was 54 percent higher than aircraft on exclusive use contracts.

Incident Command System specifications helicopters
Incident Command System specifications for helicopters. Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide, 2016.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Brian.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

After a 13-year hiatus the K-MAX is back in production

KAMAN Aerosystems has delivered 8 of the helicopters since restarting in 2016

Above: A K-MAX helicopter under production at KAMAN Aerospace’s facility in Bloomfield, Conn. KAMAN photo.

After producing 38 K-MAX helicopters between 1991 and 2003 KAMAN Aerosystems fired up the manufacturing shops again in 2016 and delivered the 46th a few days ago. The company has committed to making a total of 15 during this production phase with the possibility of adding another 10 later. The airframes are made in Florida and the final assembly is done in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

Like the Erickson Air-Crane, the K-MAX is a purpose built aircraft designed without compromises to do one thing well. Lift external loads. They don’t carry passengers or much internal cargo. In fact there is only room for one person in the K-MAX — the pilot.

K-MAX external instrument panel
K-MAX external instrument panel. KAMAN photo.

From the front it is very narrow, allowing the pilot to easily look straight down at the ground from both windows. While hovering over a target the pilot can see the external instrument panel; critical gauges and annunciators that are always visible during vertical reference flying.

The K-MAX’s on U.S. Forest Service Type 1 helicopter contracts have allowable payloads of 4,847 to 5,065 pounds. That translates to about 605 to 633 gallons of water, before the weight of the bucket is accounted for, which would reduce it by one or two dozen gallons. The Incident Command System requirement for a Type 1 helicopter is a minimum of 700 gallons, yet they continue to receive contracts as a Type 1. In 2016 10 of the 36 helicopters on the contract were K-MAX’s. After the reduction to 28 helicopters in 2017 there were 8.

The USFS contract (on page 102) carves out an exception for the K-MAX when used on initial attack:

For initial attack only, Kmax operators are authorized to use any water bucket with a capacity of over 200 us gallons. This allowance is based on the limited storage compartment capacity of the aircraft and the capability of the pilot to unload the bucket when carried. Higher capacity, compact, lightweight buckets are no longer available or no longer supported. Vendors shall switch to a bucket meeting contract specifications as soon as practical, typically after the first fuel cycle.

Lockheed has worked with KAMAN to configure at least two K-MAX helicopters to be remotely piloted or to operate autonomously. They spent months delivering cargo in Afghanistan flying pre-programed missions.

In 2015 the two companies demonstrated an optionally-piloted K-MAX near Boise, Idaho dropping water and delivering cargo.

The hour and a half demonstration included the following missions:

  • Spot drop – 100 feet
  • Spot drop – 55 feet
  • Trailing drop – 55 feet both at the demo area and at the ridge
  • Carousel delivery – 55 feet, two each to the demo area and on the ridge
  • Backhaul Cargo from the ridge – 150 feet
K-MAX Custer SD
K-MAX helicopter at Custer, South Dakota, July 8, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Roger Wassmuth, Senior Director of Business Development for KAMAN, told us that since the demonstration and the missions in Afghanistan they have improved the technology and are expecting to see the helicopter being used in the future for suppressing wildfires and inspecting or constructing power lines without a pilot in the cockpit.

Mr. Wassmuth said the K-MAX can be purchased for a little over $7 million, which he pointed out, is less than a third of what CAL FIRE expects to pay for each of their 12 new FireHawks, which are running about $24 million in the latest configuration specified by CAL FIRE.

K-MAX under production
A K-MAX under production at KAMAN Aerospace’s facility in Bloomfield, Conn. KAMAN photo.
A K-MAX helicopter drops water on the Comet Fire north of Salmon, Idaho July 28, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
K-MAX Salmon Idaho
K-MAX helicopter at Salmon, ID July 28, 2016. The open doors allow access to various systems for maintenance. The compartment is large enough to store a Bambi Bucket while ferrying. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Revised April 7, 2018 to show that the K-MAX’s on USFS Type 1 helicopter contracts have allowable payloads that are below the ICS minimum requirement for Type 1’s.

Meg Gallagher named branch chief for NPS aviation

Margaret “Meg” Gallagher
Meg Gallagher. Photo by Tina Boehle.

By Tina Boehle

Margaret “Meg” Gallagher has been named as the new branch chief for the National Park Service (NPS) Aviation Program, succeeding Jon Rollens, who retired at the end of 2017. Meg is currently the acting aviation branch chief, having previously served as the national helicopter specialist for the NPS Aviation Program.

Meg began her career in the federal government as a Student Conservation Association (SCA) volunteer for Olympic National Park as a backcountry ranger. Over the next five years, she worked in wildland fire management for the U.S. Forest Service, NPS, and Bureau of Land Management as a seasonal wildland firefighter on hotshot crews, in fire dispatch, fire prevention, and as a helitack crewmember.

In 1992, two years after completing the Joint Apprenticeship Committee (JAC) Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program, she moved to the Toiyabe National Forest as the assistant helicopter manager in Las Vegas, NV. In 1995, she became the helitack program manager of the Bridger-Teton/Grand Teton interagency rappel/shorthaul program in Jackson, WY. The following year, Meg spent a season on the “Ice,” as a helicopter specialist for Antarctica Support Associates at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

In 1998, as a warranted contracting officer, she became the aviation resource specialist for the Department of the Interior Office of Aircraft Services (OAS), then five years later stepped into the role of aviation training specialist for the thirty-seven states in the OAS’s Eastern Region. In 2009, Meg was hired by the NPS as an aviation management specialist. Among her diverse duties, she filled the role of regional aviation manager for NPS’s three eastern regions.

Most recently, Meg became the national helicopter specialist for the NPS Aviation Program in 2014. For the past four years in Boise, ID, she has built national operational plans for NPS’s high-risk programs with the experts in the regions and parks, as well as kept the Service up-to-date on quickly changing policy that shapes the Service’s aviation operations.

NPS Division of Fire and Aviation Chief, Bill Kaage stated, “With Meg’s understanding of the many aspects of aviation within the National Park Service, her focus on policy and safety, as well as her experience at local, regional, national, and departmental levels, I have great confidence that the NPS Aviation Program will continue to excel as it moves forward.”

Meg stated, “I look forward to leading the National Park Service’s Aviation Program into the future with evolving technology, while building on our current excellent safety record. I also look forward to filling vacancies so we can provide the best customer service to all National Park Service employees who use aviation to meet the mission.”

Meg and her partner reside near Boise. When not working, she enjoys travelling, riding her motorcycle, snowshoeing, and enjoying fine Idaho vintages.

She will begin her new position on April 15, 2018.

Air tanker traffic in Abilene heavier than average

Abilene Air Tanker Base
Air tankers at the Abilene Air Tanker Base. Screen grab from the KTAB video.

The air tanker base at Abilene Regional Airport has been busier than usual so far this year.

The four large air tankers stationed there Wednesday is the most they have had in one day since 2011.