The LA Times has an interesting article about our aging air tanker fleet.
W.J. Hennigan, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, describes himself on Twitter as an “aerospace writer intrigued with the military-industrial complex. If it soars, shoots, or explodes, I cover it.” But he had never written about fire aviation until he began researching a story about air tankers a couple of months ago. The product of his work appeared on the front page of Sunday’s LA Times, an article that revolves around the small, aging fleet of aircraft that drop retardant on wildland fires.
If you follow fire aviation closely, you will not find much new information in the article, but the fact that it appeared on the front page of a nationally respected newspaper makes this an important step toward educating the public and our elected representatives about the deteriorating air tanker fleet.
We’ve said repeatedly that you can’t fight fire on the cheap (here, here, and here), but that’s exactly what the federal government is trying to do. Below are some excerpts from the article:
Aviation companies have to keep bids low to win government contracts, and old military aircraft come cheap. Neptune Aviation Services Inc. of Missoula, Mont., has a Forest Service contract to operate eight large air tankers, the most of any company. It flies Lockheed P-2Vs, an aircraft first built in 1946 to hunt for Soviet submarines.
“We’re doing the best we can, realizing we can’t do it on the cheap,” said Tom Harbour, the Forest Service’s director of fire and aviation management. “When you look forward, by golly, do we have a problem. We need more aircraft and much more capability.”
Below is how the U.S. Forest Service describes a record-setting day for pumping retardant into air tankers on July 19 during the Mountain Fire west of Palm Springs:
“On July 19th 2013, there were 6 airtankers assigned to the Mountain Fire working out of the San Bernardino Airtanker Base. The day started at 6am and we were load and return until 9pm. Everything ran as smoothly as it could have. The retardant contractors never stopped mixing and loading retardant, the airport control tower made sure our airtankers had priority over other aircraft and the fuelers on the airport only left the base to fill up the trucks and come right back. The air crews followed direction and supported the base operations. In addition to this, the Forest Service crew performed flawlessly, the Ramp Manager never missed a beat and choreographed a very complex operation safely and efficiently, the Parking Tenders remained on point, knew their jobs and performed them well, the Aircraft Time Keeper never missed a radio or telephone call. Contractors, cooperators, permanent employees, temporary employees and AD’s side by side made this day the biggest single day in history and it could not have come together more perfectly.
The Ramp resembled that of a busy aircraft carrier with moving aircraft, vehicles and personnel. There were many opportunities for things to go wrong, but everyone had great situational awareness and was looking out for each other. Without the hard work of each individual involved at SBD on July 19th, we couldn’t have made such a mark in history. Just a little perspective, last year we pumped 400,020 gallons all year. During the Mountain fire we not only had a historic day of 260,036 gallons, but we also hit the million gallon mark for the year. We pumped 1 million gallons in one week which is unprecedented.
There were news crews, sound recorders, VIP tours and many other visitors looking to get as close as they could to these remarkable aircraft and crews. A special thank you to Johnny Rangel, Marc Durocher, Brian Nuno, Angel Soria, Stewart Miller, Katie Kangas, Dustin Bryant, Lance Dominguez, Steve Fortier, Mike Reza and Matt Bashaw. SBD would not have been as successful without the hard work and dedication of these 11 people. – Leslie Casavan”
Does anyone know what air tanker is shown in the image above? It is a screen grab from a new USDA video that can be viewed at Wildfire Today. This scene is from 1:06 to 1:16, lasting about 8 to 10 seconds. The retardant may not be coming from the belly of the aircraft, so it could be a MAFFS C-130. Also, the retardant appears to broken up into tiny droplets rather than having a few scattered chunks, indicative of a pressurized system as seen in the MAFFS. Those guys shoot tons of in-flight video.
The aircraft part on the left seems odd, since there’s nothing similar on the right side. But that could be because of the placement of the camera, possibly being off-center.
Below is a list of the 34 Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use contract this year. They all expire in April, 2016.
The list was extremely hard to get. We first asked for it on April 16, 2013, hoping to receive it well before the western wildfire season got underway. We were told that the list was only available if we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which we did. After many delays, uncounted emails, excuses, and receiving incorrect information, we finally got it yesterday, September 26, five months after asking for it.
It is absurd that this information about how taxpayers’ money is being spent is not easily available to citizens. It is especially stupid, since similar data about air tankers has been available for years on the National Interagency Fire Center web site. We asked the U.S. Forest Service yesterday why the information about helicopters requires a FOIA request to obtain. The spokesperson in Boise we talked to said they would check and get back to us. If we receive an answer, we will post it here.
Air Tanker 131, Coulson’s C-130Q, made its first drop on a wildfire Friday, September 20. It split one load, dropping on both flanks of the Sanctuary Fire on the Los Padres National Forest near the Hopper Mountain Condor Sanctuary where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raises the Condors.
The video above is the first drop for T-131 ever on a wildfire. The second video, below, is the second drop on the other flank.
Tanker 131 and T-44, a P2V, worked the fire with lead plane Bravo-52. The fire was contained at 27 acres.
A big thanks go out to Gary Monday of Ventura County Fire Department who shot the video.
A helicopter hauling logs for a logging contractor on the Willamette National Forest crashed Monday afternoon, killing the pilot, William Bart Colantuono, 54, of Indialantic, Florida. The incident occurred in a remote area near Idanha, Oregon southeast of Salem. Mr. Colantuono had appeared in the History Channel’s series, “Ax Men”.
The sheriff’s office said witnesses of the crash gave deputies the following account: The helicopter, a 1962 Bell UH1B, was being used to transport logs from the cutting area to a log deck in Idanha. It had just returned after the pilot had taken a 45 minute break.
The helicopter had picked up a load when witnesses reported hearing a loud snapping sound which was followed by logs hitting the ground and it appeared the pilot had released the logs electronically, indicating the pilot knew of a problem prior to the crash.
Witnesses then saw a rotor separate from the helicopter followed by it turning upside down and falling to the ground.
During the law enforcement response to the tragic shooting at the Naval Yard in Washington, DC yesterday one of the the U.S. Park Police helicopters got a lot of air time on the television coverage.
According to reports the helicopter was used to insert snipers onto roof tops, serve as an observation platform, and to remove some non-law enforcement personnel from roofs or other areas. At times an armed officer was seen sitting in the open door. In addition to the video above, photos of the helicopter at the scene can be found at Yahoo and the New York Post.
Following up on the development that Air Spray has received a Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra, we checked with Ravi Saip, Air Spray’s Director of Maintenance and General Manager at their new Chico facility in California to get an update on their conversion of a BAe-146 into an air tanker. Like some of the aviation companies, they are keeping their cards close to the vest, but he told us that the project is “moving along well”, and they “anticipate being available for the 2014 fire season”. They have a second BAe-146 that will be “arriving soon” which will also will be converted.
Mr. Saip said, “The long term goal for Air Spray is to facilitate the needs of both the US and Canadian wildfire management teams with as many tools as they need.”