An unusual air safety briefing

I may be the only person who had not seen this video before today because it’s had a ton of views on YouTube. It appears to be an actual video safety briefing for Air New Zealand passengers on a Boeing 777. I have a feeling that it will be more meaningful to those who have seen the Hobbit movies.

USFS Chief Tidwell: new contracts for air tankers within 2 months

Tanker 41
A next-generation air tanker, a BAe-146, at Neptune’s facility in Missoula, August 11, 2012. Wildfire Today photo.

UPDATE Feb. 25, 2013: The Associated Press reporter, Mead Gruver, who wrote the article referred to below, has expanded on his original fairly brief version. You can read the more complete article at the Billings Gazette.

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The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, called a reporter for the Associated Press Friday afternoon primarily to talk about air tankers. It has been 1 year, 2 months, and 22 days since the USFS issued a solicitation for next-generation air tankers, but Chief Tidwell said he expects the agency to award the contracts in two months.

A representative of one of the companies that bid on the contracts was recently told by the USFS that the contracts would be awarded by the end of February.

After announcing on June 13, 2012 that the contracts would be awarded to four companies for a total of seven next-generation air tankers, the USFS had to cancel the process just before the contracts were signed due to protests by two companies that did not receive awards. The aircraft that almost received contracts were four BAe-146s, an AVRO RJ85 (a variant of a BAE-146), and two MD87s, operated by Minden, Neptune, Aero Air, and Aero Flite. Four months later the solicitation was reissued with 31 changes. It required responses by November 1, 2012.

All federal contracts for large and very large air tankers expired December 31, 2012 and none were on contract until this week when the USFS extended last year’s contracts. Neptune’s contract was extended through March 5 and Minden’s will expire again on April 22, according to Jennifer Jones of the agency’s office in Boise.

In addition to the new contracts for next-generation air tankers, the USFS still needs to make decisions about new contracts for the existing Korean War vintage “legacy” air tankers and very large air tankers. Bids on legacy tankers were due December 14, 2012. A pre-solicitation for call-when-needed (CWN) very large air tankers was issued February 19, 2013.

The 2012 wildfire season began with 11 large air tankers on federal exclusive use contracts. After two 50+ year old tankers crashed on June 3 killing two pilots, we were left with only 9, down from 44 in 2002. For a few months Neptune was able to get two airliners that had recently been converted to air tankers hired on temporarily. They were BAe-146s, designated as T-40 and T-41, bringing the total for a while back to 11.

12 Questions for Dave Dicky

This is the eighth in a series of articles on FireAviation.com featuring aerial firefighters answering 12 questions about their profession. We hope to get participation from senior pilots, as well as Air Operations Branch Directors, Air Tactical Group Supervisors, and others that have worked closely with fire aviation. Our objective is to not only provide our readers with interesting articles, but these very experienced aerial firefighters may also reveal a few gems of information that could prove to be valuable to those considering or just beginning a career in fire aviation. If you have a suggestion of someone who would be a good candidate for these questions, drop us a line through our Contact Us page. And their contact information would be appreciated.

Today we hear from Dave Dicky, captain on a P2V for Neptune Aviation. In addition to flying air tankers he has also done some instructing for the companies he has worked with.

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Who is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known?
Mike Lynn is “The Most Valuable Player” in my book. He is highly experienced at the lead plane duties, maintaining safety and calmness throughout the mission. His prior experience as a tanker pilot shows in his ability to execute the tasks accurately and with little effort. He simply does an outstanding job in all aspects of the firefighting environment.

One piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?
Be open minded of those with much experience, even if they suggest another occupation.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Getting back to the basics of initial attack firefighting with the right tools. Bureaucracy doesn’t fight fire well at all.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
Call us in to work sooner. Don’t wait until it blows up to call in aircraft. It’s too late then, even for aircraft.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
There are much better aircraft out there for the mission.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?
P-3 Orion and Q400.

List the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?
PB4Y2, KC-97, P2V, P-3, and L-188 Electra. The P-3 is the most favorable due to its tank, capabilities and reliability.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
One air tanker being flown to another base to cover the existing tanker. It was funny to learn that both aircraft had the same day off.

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?
4900

Your favorite book about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?
The True Story of Smokey Bear

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
Co-pilot on Tanker 06 with Black Hills Aviation

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
GPS and In-flight Weather display is great. A multifunction display is also quite useful. A cell phone is pretty nice. How about a laptop computer? Where do you want to go with this? Snap-on super offset wrenches are very useful at times. I use a fork nearly every day too.

Oklahoma firefighters may use a drone on wildfires this year

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, have been in the news recently. FireFlight UAS, a company in Oklahoma that manufactures small versions of the aircraft, is adding to the hype by marketing their products to firefighters. According to NewsOn6, they have convinced John Hansen, the Director of the Oklahoma Council on Firefighter Training, the vehicles could provide valuable intelligence during suppression of wildfires.

Here is a video report about the UAV.
NewsOn6.com – Tulsa, OK – News, Weather, Video and Sports – KOTV.com |

Concept for UAV air tanker

In December, 2009, Wildfire Today covered a patent application filed by John A. Hoffman for an air tanker, in the form of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), that would be transported by a mother ship and released near the fire. It would then be piloted remotely from either the mother ship or from the ground, and after dropping retardant on the fire, would land to reload, or might be a single use aircraft and would be “destroyed in the release step”. In the latter case the UAV would be “possibly constructed of frangible material so as to crash into the fire area”.

NitrofirexThanks to a comment by Jerome on a recent article here about FAA approvals for the use of UAVs, we are now aware of a similar concept, this time by Nitrofirex, which appears to be based in Spain. Much more information is available about the Nitrofirex system than Mr. Hoffman’s idea.

Multiple Nitrofirex UAVs would be transported in a large mother ship and released through the rear cargo door. The folded wings would deploy and the aircraft would glide autonomously to the target then “automatically and with great precision” release the water or retardant. The small engine which had been idling would power the ship back to the tanker base where it would be reloaded and inserted back into a mother ship.

According to the company the system could also be used:

  • “To combat a nuclear, biological or chemical emergency
  • To act on meteorological phenomena.
  • To combat pests or to spray crops in remote or inaccessible areas.
  • For night time fumigation of drug plantations.”

We were not able to find any specifications about the aircraft regarding retardant capacity, speed, range, or cost.

Nitrofirex screen grab
Nitrofirex UAV air tankers. Screen grab from the video.

Assuming that the cost, firefighter safety, and design issues are solvable, the only portion of the concept that troubles me is the assumption that an air tanker could, without a pilot either on-board or at a remote location, effectively drop retardant in the exact location where it was needed and at an appropriate height above ground. In flat terrain over a slow-moving fire this might be possible, but in mountainous areas it would be a challenge. Especially if a “squadron” of them were released at the same time.

What if…. an orbiting aircraft or a ground-based firefighter a safe distance away had a laser designator which the UAV could use as a target? Much like the military does for smart bombs and missiles. Terrain-following radar such as that used in the F-111C could make the drops more accurate and effective.

The company has developed a video which explores the UAV air tanker concept.

FAA approvals for the use of UAVs

FAA approvals for drones
FAA approvals for drones. Map by Electronic Frontier Foundation.

We ran across an interesting map put together by the Electronic Frontier Foundation that displays locations where the FAA has issued permits authorizing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones in the United States. Here is a link to an interactive version of the map with more information.

Below we have pasted some information from the map with a few details about land management agencies that have had these permits. Two of them have expired, and two are still active.
Continue reading “FAA approvals for the use of UAVs”

Former Carson Helicopter employees indicted over charges related to Iron 44 Fire fatalities

Over on Wildfire Today we have the news about two former employees of Carson Helicopters being indicted by a federal grand jury over charges related to the crash of a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter on the Iron 44 fire in northern California in 2008 that killed nine people, including seven firefighters and two crew members.

12 Questions for Bill Waldman

This is the seventh in a series of articles on FireAviation.com featuring aerial firefighters answering 12 questions about their profession. We hope to get participation from senior pilots, as well as Air Operations Branch Directors, Air Tactical Group Supervisors, and others that have worked closely with fire aviation. Our objective is to not only provide our readers with interesting articles, but these very experienced aerial firefighters may also reveal a few gems of information that could prove to be valuable to those considering or just beginning a career in fire aviation. If you have a suggestion of someone who would be a good candidate for these questions, drop us a line through our Contact Us page. And their contact information would be appreciated.

Today we hear from Bill Waldman who retired as a P-3 air tanker pilot.

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Who is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known? And why?
In 4 decades, there were many people that I worked with. I can’t list them all, might forget somebody. The great tanker pilots I knew or still know all believed they were firefighters and the aircraft and pilot skills were their tools. The great lead plane pilots knew how to fight fire, knew how I flew and I trusted them. The best air attack officers knew how to fight fire, didn’t try to con you into unsafe drops, and knew when to call off air ops.

Bill Waldman
Bill Waldman

One piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?
If you don’t know what you are doing, find somebody who does know.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Getting people in the upper Fire & Aviation Management who recognize trees, smoke and aircraft. Few, now at the top, seem to meet these minimum qualifications.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
When working on a fire with tankers, be alert. Due to bad communications or misunderstood directions, you could get a drop when you least expect it.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
During 40 years flying tankers I was always learning. Since I got my first initial attack card with only around 900 hours total time I had a lot to learn.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?
Nothing built in the last 20 years can equal the P-3. I would like to be proved wrong.

Bill Waldman, P3 dropList the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?
B-17, B-26, C-119, DC-4, P2V, P-3. The P-3 is the best all-around tanker platform.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
This incident happened on standby in Silver City 20 years ago. No names will be mentioned to protect the guilty. Alongside the tool repair shop was a platform of plywood over pallets. There was a shade cover over the area. People sat on the platform finishing tool handles and painting the steel. You could also hear new lies, oops stories you hadn’t heard before, and you could get a free haircut. The problem that arose was caused by the local skunks that set up housekeeping in the pallets. The skunks were prolific and there were at least 2 dozen in residence. It was decided that it was time for eviction. So started “The Great Silver city Skunk Hunt.” The plan was to lift the north edge of the pallets with a fork lift and then unleash a 1-1/2” fire hose to flush out the striped enemy. Waiting on the south side was a group of variously armed hunters. This motley crew consisted of a proficient bow hunter with a quiver full of deadly arrows and a tall skinny guy who looked something like the rake with which he was armed. The others, fearing a scented charge, were armed from 22 cal to 357 mag. Things went as planned until the enemy returned fire. The man with the rake was holding his own in close combat and the target skunk was being fatally raked. The bow hunter took a direct hit from his opponent and dropped his bow while barfing in the bushes. The gun toters decided that long-range was prudent and their skunks got a good head start. The gunfire faded down the road and over the plains to the south. The hunt was an unqualified success. Few skunks were buried. However, the terrified remnant has taken up residence in northern Mexico and have not been seen again at the tanker base.

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?
Approximately 8,800

Your favorite book about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?
Young Men and Fire

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
Co-pilot, B-17, Tanker-19, Redding, CA, 1969

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
When I started in the tankers there were no ATM’s. You carried a lot of cash and on long trips you tried to cash checks at local banks. The advent of bank cards and ATM’s ended the problem. The bank card – never leave home without it.