Colorado Senator calls for modernization of air tanker fleet

Air tankers at Rapid City
50-year old P2V air tankers at Rapid City, July 21, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert

A Colorado Senator has issued a press release stating that he is in favor of the modernization of the firefighting air tanker fleet. Senator Michael Bennet is quoted as saying:

After a wildfire season that has wreaked havoc in Colorado, it is clear that we need adequate resources in order to fight these fires and prevent extensive damage to our forests and surrounding communities in our state and across the country. With the average Forest Service aircraft more than 50 years old, I am committed to modernizing our aerial firefighting capacity and working with my Senate colleagues to pursue every avenue available, including possible legislation, to ensure that the necessary resources are available to fight future wildfires.

Mr. Bennet wrote a letter to Senators Jack Reed and Lisa Murkowski who serve as chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Forest Service’s appropriations. In the letter Bennet wrote, in part:

…the Secretary of Agriculture needs flexibility and options to renew a viable and effective fleet to protect the nation.”

Statements like that are very nice. Who is NOT in favor of more air tankers after learning the startling fact that the fleet has declined from 44 in 2002 to the 11 we have today. Most of us are also in favor of more apple pie and walks on the beach. But saying, like others have said over the last year, that he wants more air tankers and making a vague reference to legislation will not rebuild the fleet. Actions speak louder than words.

One of the primary reasons the number of air tankers is not scheduled to exceed 16 in the foreseeable future is that Congress and the President have cut the budget for fire suppression to the point that we can’t afford any more. When Congressmen and Senators whine about having too few air tankers, they need to look in the mirror.

Senators and Congressmen have the power to actually INTRODUCE and PASS legislation that would increase the U.S. Forest Service aviation budget that could provide funding for more air tankers. The agency only has the money now to add seven to the fleet over the next two years, and that will happen only if they can get their contracting house squared away so that they can award the contracts that have been advertised.

 

Thanks go out to Bean

More photos of firefighting aircraft on Google Earth

One of our readers has spotted what he says are three helicopters and one air tanker that show up in satellite imagery visible on Google Earth. Brian found them on satellite photos taken June 12, 2011 which show the Wallow Fire in eastern Arizona actively burning.

Last month on Wildfire Today we had information about three aircraft that showed up on Google Earth satellite photos taken October 26, 2006 during the Esperanza fire in southern California. This link is a Google Earth KLM file that has place marks for all three aircraft. On that imagery, the air tankers were clearly visible. The four reported on the Wallow fire are not as clear, partly because three of them are helicopters, which of course are smaller than air tankers.

But check it out yourself. Here is the information provided by Brian. You can copy the lat/long and paste it into the search box on Google Earth.

  • AE350B helicopter: 33 32 40.27 -109 24 10.21
  • B212 helicopter: 33 32 46.02 -109 24 01.06
  • S64 helicopter: 33 32 55.26 -109 23 13.25
  • P2V air tanker: 33 32 44.35 -109 26 33.99

Even if the aircraft are not super clear, it is interesting seeing the photos of the active Wallow fire which started May 29, eventually becoming the largest fire in Arizona history, burning 538,040 acres, which includes 15,407 acres after it crossed the border into New Mexico.

Australia to contract for aerial resources

NAFCThe National Aerial Firefighting Centre in Australia intends to award new contracts for helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for fighting wildfires. Over the next few months they will be accepting tenders or requests for proposals for:

  • Type 1 (High Volume) rotary wing firebombing services
  • Type 1, 2, and 3 rotary wing services
  • Type 4 fixed wing firebombing services
  • A number of other specialist aircraft services, including intelligence gathering
  • A small number of conventional light fixed wing aircraft services for reconnaissance
  • Very Large airtankers
  • Type 1 and 2 multi-engine airtankers
  • Scooping or self-filling fixed-wing aircraft
  • Proposals to supply data integration services for AFAMS – the national aircraft tracking and event logging system

The request for proposals for very large air tankers is a little surprising after their experiment during the 2009-2010 fire season. After that trial the Aussies were not entirely pleased with the overall performance of a DC-10, however most of the problems were a result of insufficient skill on the part of the crew, rather than the aircraft — for example dropping far too low or completely missing a target. The first pilots who flew the DC-10 very large air tankers had little or no previous experience flying air tankers when that program began. In the last two to three years they have gained a quite a bit more experience flying low and slow over mountainous terrain and have a good reputation in the United States. The two DC-10s have proven to be a reliable and valuable aviation asset.

Erickson Elvis in Victoria
File photo of Elvis in Victoria. Erickson photo.

Great photo of a BAe-146 dropping on Devore Fire

BAe-146 Devore Fire, air tanker,
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, drops retardant on the Devore Fire in Cajon Pass in southern California, November 5, 2012. Photo by Rick McClure

Rick McClure just sent us this excellent photo of Tanker 41, a BAe-146, dropping on the Devore Fire in Cajon Pass in southern California. He used a Nikon D5000 and shot it at f/10 and 1/400. He was not miles away using a huge telephoto lens — he used a zoom lens set at 60 mm for this photo.

Mr. McClure said: “I actually couldn’t run fast enough to get totally out of the drift.”

The fire jumped Interstate 15 eventually burning 350 acres before it was knocked down by firefighters and aircraft.

One more photo that Mr. McClure sent us is on our sister site, Wildfire Today.

Erickson Air-Crane intends to purchase company with 14 helicopters in Brazil

Sky crane helicopter at heli-well
Air-Crane helicopter on the Los Conchas fire in New Mexico drafting water out of heli-well at Los Alamos National Laboratory, June, 2011. Photo: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Revised November 8, 2012

Erickson Air-Crane, a company in Portland, Oregon, that builds, operates, and sells Erickson S-64 heavy-lift helicopters, intends to purchase Air Amazonia, a subsidiary of HRT Participacoes, a company in Brazil, along with their 14 helicopters.

Erickson’s Air-Cranes are used extensively in fighting wildland fires. At least 15 Air-Cranes or Ch-54 helicopters were on contract with the U.S. Forest Service in 2012. The company has been sending some of the ships to Australia since 1998 to fight fires there during the down-under summer, which of course is winter in the United States. During the 2011-2012 summer there, Erickson had three of them in Australia — aircraft named Elvis, Elsie, and Marty.

The Mail Tribune has some details about the transaction:

“It plays well to our unique capabilities,”Udo Rieder [Erickson’s president and chief executive officer] said during a conference call with analysts on Wednesday.

He said the deal for 14 medium and light helicopters will significantly increase Erickson’s capability in South American markets, adding revenue and making good use of the company’s capital.

“It will reduce the impact of the seasonality of our business and expand our footprint in the gas and oil industry,” Rieder said.

HRT owns seven Sikorsky-61 aircraft, which are smaller but have many similarities to Erickson’s current fleet.

“We’ve always talked about adding medium-lift capability to our operation,” Rieder said. “It’s complementary to our business. The S-61s are little sisters to the air-cranes. Many of the parts are similar and some are identical — the cockpits are the same. This would give us quite a bit more capability at our Central Point facility. This will provide a platform to bring in S-64s and exchange equipment fairly quickly in Brazil and Peru.”

He said the company is unsure of what it will do with the Bell 212s and Eurocopter AS-350s that are part of the deal.

“We have the option to move them anywhere we want near-term,” he said. “We’ll wait and see what the demand is, but we’ll pretty much absorb all the aircraft there.”

The deal, however, isn’t expected to close until the second half of 2013, Rieder said, because of “fairly complex regulatory requirements and licensing matters.”

Below is a portion of the text from an announcement by Erickson:

===============================================================

Erickson Air-Crane Inc. Announces Letter of Intent to Acquire Brazilian Oil and Gas Aerial Services Business

Plans Purchase of Air Logistics Business from HRT Participaes em Petroleo, S.A.

Early Stage Transaction Announcement, Closing Expected in Second Half 2013

14 Aircraft Fleet to Position Company as a Leading Air Services Provider in Brazil

PORTLAND, Ore. — (BUSINESS WIRE) — Nov. 6, 2012 — Erickson Air-Crane Incorporated (NASDAQ: EAC) (Erickson Air-Crane or the Company), a leading operator and the manufacturer of the powerful heavy-lift helicopter, the Erickson S-64 Aircrane, today announced that it had entered into a non-binding letter of intent to acquire 14 helicopters and associated personnel and assets from HRT Participacoes em Petroleo, S.A. (HRT).

The letter of intent is non-binding and, for the acquisition to be completed, requires that EAC provide operational services to HRT in the Amazon, including both cargo and passenger transport, through a three-year, renewable contract.

Udo Rieder, Chief Executive Officer of Erickson Air-Crane, commented, We are very pleased to have identified what we believe is a strong future partner. Were confident that this acquisition can be an excellent path to diversification and growth. Brazil is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing industrial markets in the world and we are uniquely suited to provide our expertise and leverage the full capabilities of this fleet and our investment.

About Erickson Air-Crane Incorporated

Erickson Air-Crane specializes in the operation and manufacture of the Erickson S-64 Aircrane (the Aircrane), a versatile and powerful heavy-lift helicopter. The Aircrane has a lift capacity of up to 25,000 pounds and is the only commercial aircraft built specifically as a flying crane without a fuselage for internal loads. The Aircrane is also the only commercial heavy-lift helicopter with a rear load-facing cockpit, combining an unobstructed view and complete aircraft control for precision lift and load placement capabilities. Erickson Air-Crane owns and operates a fleet of 18 Aircranes, which are used to support a wide variety of government and commercial customers worldwide across a broad range of aerial services, including firefighting, timber harvesting, infrastructure construction, and crewing. Erickson Air-Crane also manufactures Aircranes and related components for sale to government and commercial customers and provides aftermarket support and maintenance, repair, and overhaul services for the Aircrane and other aircraft. Founded in 1971, Erickson Air-Crane is headquartered in Portland, Oregon with its principal manufacturing facility based in Central Point, Oregon. For more information, please visit http://www.ericksonaircrane.com.

 

Thanks go out to Joseph

Helicopter pilot officially commended for extracting firefighter in water bucket

You may have heard about the wildland firefighter who was rescued from an approaching fire by climbing into a water bucket below a helicopter and being extracted to safety. The story was first written up on our sister site Wildfire Today on October 1, 2012, and the followup details from a Facilitated Learning Analysis were posted there October 24.

Some of us were wondering what the official response from the U.S. Forest Service would be. Might they throw the book at him for violating the rules? However, I doubt if there is a rule that says “Thou shalt not transport a human in a helicopter’s water bucket”. The USFS is not known for bleeding edge innovation in their aviation program. Most deviation from standard procedure is strongly discouraged. And rightfully so in most cases. You don’t want to screw around with rules that provide for the safety of pilots and firefighters.

Fire Aviation is now able to disclose, with his permission, that the pilot was Joseph Berto. Congratulations to Mr. Berto! He may have saved the life of a firefighter.

Much to our surprise, the USFS officially commended Mr. Berto by presenting to him the following plaque.

Plaque, Berto

The text reads:

=====================================================

Aviation

Pacific Northwest Region

Joseph Berto

Pilot, Helicopter 58HJ

In recognition of your pilot skills and quick reaction

while conducting aerial firefighting operations

on the Pole Creek Fire.

On the 26th of September, 2012, you rescued a firefighter in

need. The fire community commends you for your actions.

In recognition of your special service

to the Pacific Northwest Region’s

Aviation Accident Prevention Program.

C-27J used for first time on missions in the United States

C-27J assisting with recovery from Hurricane Sandy
C-27J assisting with recovery from Hurricane Sandy, delivering generators and other equipment to the New York area, November 3, 2012. National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. David Speicher.

A bill was introduced in the Senate in July to transfer 14 surplus C-27J Spartan aircraft from the Department of Defense to the U.S. Forest Service to be used as air tankers. Nothing has happened to the bill, S. 3441, except to be transferred to a committee, where only 3 percent of the bills introduced in 2009-2010 were enacted.

The Air Force no longer has any C-27Js in Afganistan, but recently they were used for the first time on a mission in the United States. Air National Guard crews from Ohio, Mississippi and Maryland flew the first-ever C-27J domestic operations missions transporting power generation equipment and Humvees to Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y., to help provide needed power resources to areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

According to 1st Lt. Ken V. McGee, a public affairs officer for the Ohio Army National Guard, the 1484th Transportation Company was convoying about 70 trucks and 118 soldiers to set up a food and water distribution point in New York City as part of Ohio’s response to assist neighboring states. An advance team was airlifted by three C-27Js: one each from Maryland, Ohio and Mississippi ANG units.

“This gets the equipment there faster than on the ground,” said Lt. Col. Gary Laubach, an aircraft commander from 135th ASQ.

The C-27J crew flew their plane to Macon, Ga., Oct. 27 – safely out of the path of Hurricane Sandy. On Wednesday, they returned and were immediately put on alert for disaster relief missions.

“It feels different when you are so close to home and closer to your state,” said Laubach while talking about the difference between this mission and past disaster relief missions. “One of our pilot’s mothers is in the affected area and will be out of power for a week. This mission was great – extremely satisfying. It feels good to get stuff to the people who need it; I only wish I could be there when the generators get plugged in where the people need the electricity. This is the best mission you could get.”

Another aircraft the military wants to stop using is the C-23 Sherpa. A Florida Army Guard C-23 transported 6,500 pounds of Meals Ready to Eat from Fort Belvoir, Va., to Farmingdale, N.Y., over the weekend. The U.S. Forest Service has at least one C-23 that they use for dropping smokejumpers.