These videos were shot by crews on MAFFS 4 and MAFFS 6 while dropping on the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park in California August 18, 19, and 22. The first one has spectacular views of the fire from a vantage point seen by very few people. If you only watch one, watch the first one.
If you’re not familiar with the “Landing Gear” audio warning, it comes on automatically when the lady in the dashboard senses the terrain and thinks the crew is landing without lowering the gear. The MAFFS folks are working with Lockheed on a way to disable it while dropping retardant, but it will not be available until 2014 at the earliest.
After initially thinking their 747 Supertanker would be available in mid- to late September, Evergreen has reconsidered and expects to have it ready for the 2014 wildfire season.
The U.S. Forest Service awarded the company a Call When Needed contract on June 14, but the aircraft was sitting in Marana, Arizona with the engines removed and safely in storage. After receiving the contract Evergreen scheduled a needed C check which would have started August 2 and depending on what was found during the process would have been ready to fly in mid- to late September — about the time the western wildfire season begins to wind down. The cost of the C check is over a million dollars.
Today Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Supertanker Services, said they have reconsidered, and…
…concluded there was insufficient fire season remaining to justify the expense of an expedited C check as well as several system or component upgrades. The availability of a facility certified to complete the inspection and the unknown return on investment implied in a CALL WHEN NEEDED contract only complicated the decision.
Evergreen is going to defer the required airline level maintenance until later this year or early in 2014. Mr. Soelberg said they expect to have the 747 Supertanker in a position to be fully operational with all checks, inspections and carding complete before the 2014 season begins.
In a perfect world the U.S. Forest Service would get their shit together and issue all aerial firefighting contracts no later than December, to begin in the following spring or summer, instead of procrastinating as they have been doing issuing them in mid-summer. Giving a vendor zero time to get a multi-million dollar aircraft up and running is not realistic. The companies that received the next generation air tanker contracts and those that will be competing in the next few weeks for a scooper contract would no doubt agree.
The GAO report was in response to a March, 2012 request by four U.S. Senators asking for a review of “the nation’s depleted fleet of firefighting aircraft and the remedies needed in the face of increasingly severe fire seasons.” The Senators were Ron Wyden, Lisa Murkowski, Dianne Feinstein, and Mark Udall.
The GAO conducted an “audit”, between August 2012 and August 2013. Their product assembled a great deal of information about the current state of the aerial firefighting fleet which has dwindled from 44 in 2002 down to 8 to 11 this year. But it does not have a lot of new, specific, and practical “remedies”, other than collect data and develop a coherent plan. It concluded:
None of the agencies’ studies and strategy documents contained information on aircraft performance and effectiveness in supporting firefighting operations, which limits the agencies’ understanding of the strengths and limitations of each type of firefighting aircraft and their abilities to identify the number and type of aircraft they need.
The GAO had three recommendations:
Expand efforts to collect information on aircraft performance and effectiveness to include all types of firefighting aircraft in the federal fleet;
Enhance collaboration between the agencies and with stakeholders in the fire aviation community to help ensure that agency efforts to identify the number and type of firefighting aircraft they need reflect the input of all stakeholders in the fire aviation community; and
Subsequent to the completion of the first two recommendations, update the agencies’ strategy documents for providing a national firefighting aircraft fleet to include analysis based on information on aircraft performance and effectiveness and to reflect input from stakeholders throughout the fire aviation community.
The report included some information that is not widely known about Neptune’s BAe-146 air tankers. The Interagency AirTanker Board refused to extend the interim approval of the drop system in December, 2012 due to problems with the retardant delivery system and deficient performance. However, in February 2013, the National Interagency Aviation Committee overrode the IATB decision citing a shortage of air tankers. The committee granted an extension of the interim approval of the retardant delivery system through December 15, 2013. Neptune has recognized the problem and said a redesigned system is being installed in its’ third and fourth BAe-146s and next winter the problematic design in the first two will be upgraded.
The USFS’s recent Request for Information to possibly lease 7 to 15 aircraft outfitted with high-tech sensors to serve as platforms for aerial supervision could be partially in response to the GAO’s criticism about the lack of aircraft effectiveness data. These aircraft would be equipped with Infrared/Electro-Optical sensing systems with color camera and FLIR systems which would have recording capability. If the personnel on board had time, when they are not managing aircraft, they could record air tanker drops and monitor the location long enough to determine if the water or retardant had the desired effect on the spread of the fire. The aircraft would have an aft crew station for two people designed for training which would have a duplicate set of controls and radios, which could possibly also be used for evaluating drop effectiveness when not used for training.
Thanks go out to Rick and the others who let us know about this.
It’s just a guess, but what you see in this photo of Tanker 910 over the Beaver Fire in Idaho may be evidence of what led to the replacement of the number two engine last week. The image is a screen grab from the video below which has many excellent still images from the Beaver Creek Fire.
As we move into national Preparedness Level 5 today for the first time since 2008, and we have more than 48 uncontained large fires, it’s a good time to see what air tankers are available. These numbers are provided by Mike Ferris, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service.
Today, not counting 2 air tankers that are on their days off and five that are down for maintenance, there are 13 in service.
Overall, if none were on days off or down for maintenance, we would have:
7 P2Vs on Exclusive Use Contract
2 BAe-146s on Exclusive Use Contract
2 DC-10s on Exclusive Use Contract
4 CV-580s borrowed from Canada and Alaska
5 MAFFS borrowed from the military
This amounts to 11 that are on federal contract and 9 that are borrowed, for a total of 20.
Six of the seven air tankers that received “next generation” contracts, and the 747 that will be under a CWN contract, are weeks or months away from being physically ready and fully certified. However, these are counted when the USFS distributes misleading stats claiming, “Overall, we could have up to 26 airtankers available for wildfire suppression.”
This is a video of MAFFS 4 from the 146 Air Wing of the California Air National Guard making a drop on the American Fire, August 17, 2013 in northern California. The audible gear and altitude warnings are normal for MAFFS drops. The MAFFS folks are working with Lockheed on a fix so that they can disable them while dropping retardant.
Tanker 910, a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, experienced an engine failure coming off of a drop on the Beaver Creek Fire in Idaho on Thursday, August 15. The pilots flew the tanker back to their reload base at Pocotello, Idaho, making a non-emergency landing, said Rick Hatton, CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier. The engine, the number two engine which is in the tail, is being replaced and the aircraft should be back in service today or Monday.
Losing an engine is not unheard of, especially in the P2Vs air tankers which have 16 18-cylinder radial engines with many moving parts. For example in 2012 there were two engine failures in a two day period. One occurred in a P2V just after takeoff from Rapid City. Tanker 43 had to jettison their retardant onto the runway, which required its’ closure, diverting at least one commercial flight to another airport.
10 Tanker’s two DC-10s have both been very busy on fires for the last couple of months. Tanker 911 received a multi-year exclusive use contract on June 7 during the next generation award process. Mr. Hatton told us that on June 14 their other DC-10, Tanker 910, received a 60-day exclusive use contract. We had been told by a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service that it was a Call When Needed contract like the one awarded to Evergreen’s 747 on June 14. Mr. Hatton said that at the end of the 60 day period the contract will revert to CWN for Tanker 910. He, of course, is bullish on the capability of the DC-10s, and said:
Any future national fleet composition would be significantly enhanced across all the relevant metrics by having six to nine Next Gen DC-10s on long term exclusive use contracts.