NTSB report: EMS helicopter crashed after running out of fuel and failure to autorotate

(Updated at 1:51 p.m. MT, April 10, 2013)

The NTSB report mentions that the pilot was texting on his cell phone the day of the accident, including “during the accident flight”. An article at Bloomberg.com has more details about the texting, including:

…The NTSB documented at least 240 texts sent and received by the pilot during his shift the day of the accident, according to records cited by Bill Bramble, an NTSB investigator. There were 20 such texts with a coworker before and during the accident, the safety board found.

Freudenbert received four texts, three of them from a friend at work, and sent three others during the flight, according to NTSB records. He was planning to have dinner with the coworker, according to the records.

Another 13 texts were logged on his phone in the 71 minutes before the flight, including two during a previous flight, according to NTSB records.

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(Originally published April 9, 2013)

The National Transportation Safety Board has released the cause of the crash of an EMS helicopter August 26, 2011 near Mosby, Missouri. The agency’s report concludes the crash, which killed the pilot, flight nurse, flight paramedic and patient, occurred because the helicopter ran out of fuel and the failure of the pilot to execute a successful autorotation.

The finding about the possible reason for the autorotation failure after the engine failure at cruise speed may have implications for other pilots.

Below is the NTSB’s announcement:

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“April 9, 2013

NTSB DETERMINES FATAL MISSOURI HELICOPTER ACCIDENT WAS CAUSED BY FUEL EXHAUSTION, POOR DECISION MAKING AND INABILITY TO PERFORM CRITICAL FLIGHT MANEUVER

WASHINGTON — A pilot’s decision to depart on a mission despite a critically low fuel level as well as his inability to perform a crucial flight maneuver following the engine flameout from fuel exhaustion was the probable cause of an emergency medical services helicopter accident that killed four in Missouri, the National Transportation Safety Board said today.
Continue reading “NTSB report: EMS helicopter crashed after running out of fuel and failure to autorotate”

K-MAX hauls brush and timber from urban area in Utah

K-MAX at Sandy, Utah
K-MAX at Sandy, Utah. Screen grab from KSL video.

A K-MAX helicopter is being used in an urban area near Sandy, Utah to haul away brush and trees that hand crews cut in an area near homes. Thanks to a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service, the crews spent about 800 hours cutting and spraying brush to reduce the threat from wildfires. KSL has a video and still images of the project.

The K-MAX in the picture below from July 10, 2012, is operated by Swanson Group Aviation and was assigned to Custer, SD last year,

K-MAX helicopter, N161KA
K-MAX at Custer, SD. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Columbia Helicopters Receives First Three Of Ten Former Swedish Helicopters

Columbia Vertol 107
Columbia Vertol 107 in transit to Columbia Helicopters. (PRNewsFoto/American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association)

Columbia Helicopters has taken delivery of the first three of ten heavy lift helicopters purchased from the Swedish Department of Defense. The total order includes six Boeing Vertol 107-II and four Kawasaki Vertol 107-II models. The price was not disclosed.

According to Columbia Helicopter’s Public Relations Manager Dan Sweet, the three Boeing Vertol 107-II helicopters arrived at the Port of Tacoma, Washington March 25, after which they were loaded onto trucks for transshipment to the company’s headquarters and maintenance facility in Aurora, Oregon. The remaining three Boeing helicopters are ready to be shipped from Sweden, while shipping dates for the four Kawasaki Vertol V-II aircraft have not been determined.

Columbia Helicopters announced the purchase of the helicopters, spare parts and specialized support tooling in February of this year, following negotiations with the Swedish government in late 2012. Designated by Sweden as HkP-4s, the helicopters were operated in search and rescue, anti-submarine warfare, and mine-sweeping operations.  With the  Columbia Helicopters acquisition, Sweden’s military has retired its remaining Boeing/Kawaski Vertol V-IIs, as it transitions to the more modern NH Industries-built NH90.

“All of the helicopters were very well maintained, and are under 10,000 flight hours, which, given our high utilization rate, is very low time,” said Sweet. “Since the 107-II is not readily available on the international market, this presented an excellent opportunity for us to purchase more of the same type of helicopter we already operate.”

Columbia Helicopters will refurbish and modify each helicopter to meet the operator’s fleet standards, and bring them up to mission-ready status for heavy lift work and aerial firefighting. One of the newly arrived helicopters, in fact, will go into Columbia’s maintenance shop upon arrival, while the others will by cycled through as capacity permits.

This air tanker has it backwards


In this commercial that alert reader Devin saw on NBC television today, the air tanker in the video appears to be dropping gasoline instead of fire retardant. A how-this-commercial-was-made blog post admits it was “simulated flammable liquid”, but it’s an interesting advertisement. The blog article is dated June, 2012.

Devin noticed that the C-130 looks similar to Coulson’s C-130H, but the aircraft in this video, N466TM, is described at Flightware as a C-130A registered to TBM Inc., at Tulare, California. It was last tracked at Dubois, PA on March 7, 2012. The blog article referenced above is dated June, 2012. The paint job is similar to Tanker 67, N531BA, a C-130A that is also registered to TBM.

Aviation briefing, March 31, 2013

Coulson’s C-130 conversion in San Bernardino

Coulson's C-130 Taxiing
Archive photo of Coulson’s C-130 taxiing before the conversion. Coulson photo.

The Press-Enterprise has an article about the air tanker conversion that Coulson is working on at the San Bernardino, California airport, converting into an air tanker what the article identifies as a C-130Q. According to the article test flights are scheduled to begin in April. Coulson is hoping to receive a next-generation air tanker contract for the aircraft.

Wildfire Today first wrote about Coulson’s C-130 April 9, 2012.

Santa Maria reduces air tanker landing fees

The Santa Maria Public Airport 55 miles north of Santa Barbara, California has reduced the landing fees charged to air tankers using the airport. An article in the Santa Maria Times says the fees will be reduced from $1 per 1,000 pounds to 50 cents per 1,000 pounds. In addition to this fee, firefighting aircraft have to pay ramp handling fees and fuel flowage fees.

After being downgraded to a call-when-needed air tanker base for three years, the Los Padres National Forest in October, 2011 restored it to full-time status during the fire season.

Contracts for next-generation air tankers

Late in the day last Wednesday the U.S. Forest Service announced contract awards for eight “legacy” air tankers, which included seven P2Vs and one BAe-146. Some people within the agency thought contracts for next-generation air tankers would also be announced last week, but that did not happen. The USFS is probably bending over backwards this time in an attempt to minimize the chances of the awards being protested again. Last summer after the awards were announced but not yet finalized, two companies that were not slated to receive contracts filed protests, which sent the agency back to the drawing board, starting the process over again after making dozens of changes in the solicitation.

It has been 487 days since the USFS began the solicitation process for next-generation air tankers.

Forest Service announces contracts for legacy air tankers

(Originally published at 9:53 a.m. MT, March 28, 2013; updated at 2:15 p.m. March 28, 2013)

On Wednesday the U.S. Forest Service awarded contracts to two companies for what they are calling “legacy” air tankers, for a total of eight aircraft in 2013. Minden will receive a contract worth $17.1 million and Neptune’s contract will total $180 million.

Minden will have their Tanker 48, a P2V, working under this new contract for one year, with options for four additional years, according to Mike Ferris, spokesperson for the USFS in Boise.

Dan Snyder, President of Neptune Aviation, told Fire Aviation today that their company will have five P2Vs on contract for five years. Two other Neptune aircraft, one P2V and one BAe-146, will have a one-year fixed contract, with options for four additional years.  The optional years will be totally up to the USFS — if they have the need, desire, and the funds, they could activate the additional years, one at a time.

These awards mean that the USFS will have eight air tankers working this year under this “legacy” contract. Beginning in 2014 if the optional years are not activated, there will be six, if the information we have been provided is correct.

Mr. Snyder said they expect to have their signed contract in their hands within the next two days.

We attempted to talk to Tim Christy, Director of Flight Operations for Minden, but he was unavailable. Minden had one P2V on contract last year after their other one, Tanker 55, was damaged June 3 while landing on disabled landing gear, the same day that Neptune’s Tanker 11 crashed in Utah, killing the two pilots. For the last two or three years Minden has been working on converting a BAe-146 into an air tanker.

We are still waiting to hear from the U.S. Forest Service about contract awards for next-generation air tankers powered by turbine, turbofan, or jet engines. That solicitation was first issued 484 days ago. Recently U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a letter written to Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, said contracts will be awarded “soon” for seven next-generation air tankers.

Also pending are contract awards for very large air tankers, such as a DC-10 or 747, which can carry 11,600 and 20,000 gallons, respectively. The P2Vs usually hold about 2,000 gallons while the BAe-146 has a 3,000 gallon capacity. The P2V cruises at about 225 mph. The BAe-146 more than doubles that speed, at 498 mph.

While it may seem surprising that a jet-powered BAe-146 received a contract through a solicitation for “legacy” air tankers, Mr. Snyder of Neptune said they were allowed to put any air tanker they wanted on their proposal as long as it met the specs in the solicitation. He said the USFS was looking more at cost than technical specifications, and wanted “best value”.

Neptune still has the two fully operational BAe-146 next-generation air tankers that worked on fires in 2012, Tankers 40 and 41. They will operate them for one more season, Mr. Snyder said. After they they may be modified. The company is also finishing the conversions of two more BAe-146s that will have a much improved tanking system that Mr. Snyder said will fix some of the issues uncovered in their first two converted aircraft, including trail-off of retardant, consistency, and constant flow. The new systems will still hold approximately 3,000 gallons, but the exact capacity has not been determined. The tanks will be internal, and from the outside will look very similar to Tankers 40 and 41. But the redesign is so different that the Interagency AirTanker Board (IATB) is requiring that they go through the expensive grid tests, in which retardant is dropped over a grid of hundreds of containers to determine the consistency and volume of the retardant when it reaches the ground. Neptune is negotiating with the IATB on the date and location of the test. If the IATB certifies the new tank design, Mr. Snyder expects that Neptune’s third and fourth BAe-146s could be available in the Spring or early Summer.

Availability of air tankers

Air Tanker contract dates-2012
Mandatory availability periods for large exclusive use air tankers in 2012. Data from NIFC, chart by Wildfire Today. (Click to enlarge)

We are still waiting to hear from the U.S. Forest Service about contracts for air tankers this year. Above is a chart showing the mandatory availability periods for large air tankers in 2012. We made it last year after the two aircraft crashed on June 3.

It was 483 days ago that the U.S. Forest Service issued their solicitation for next-generation air tankers, however no contracts have been awarded. The USFS is also considering contracts for legacy and very large air tankers.