Eleven CL-215’s to be converted to CL-415EAF

Above: Viking Air photo

Longview Aviation Asset Management (LAAM) of Calgary, Alberta, in cooperation with Viking Air Limited of Victoria, British Columbia, has launched the Viking CL-415EAF (“Enhanced Aerial Firefighter”) Conversion Program.

To initiate the program, LAAM will be hiring up to 150 technical and support staff members at its Calgary facilities, where eleven specially selected CL-215 aerial firefighting aircraft owned by LAAM will undergo the modification process utilizing Viking-supplied conversion kits.

To support development of the conversion kits, Viking has hired 50 employees to date and has launched a recruitment campaign to hire an additional 50 staff at its Victoria, BC location. Viking will also be reinstating its “Viking Academy” paid-training program to provide successful applicants with the targeted technical training required for these positions.

After acquiring the CL-215, CL-215T and CL-415 Type Certificates in late 2016, and based on feedback from the operator group, Viking elected to introduce an “Enhanced Aerial Firefighter” (EAF), mirroring the CL-215T conversion program and updating it with the addition of operator requested enhancements.

Both the CL-215T and CL-415EAF include the winglets, finlets, higher operating weights, increased capacity firebombing system, and foam injection system of the CL-415.  In addition to these standards, other improvements introduced with the Viking CL-415EAF conversion upgrade include:

  • Full modern Avionics package,
  • Component modernization improvements to address all fleet obsolescence issues,
  • Corrosion protection enhancements based on operator feedback,
  • Flight deck air-conditioning system,
  • Customized external paint scheme, and
  • Humanitarian relief and special mission options (e.g. stretcher rack, large cargo door, spray boom system)

The Viking CL-415EAF Conversion Program forms part of a staged approach to utilize the advancements made with the LAAM converted aircraft as the basis for the proposed Viking CL-515 new-production amphibious aerial firefighting aircraft.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Roman.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

I supersized it

I’m not sure why I have not done this before.

I have a lot of photo prints on my walls. Like other firefighters or former firefighters (is anyone ever a former firefighter?) many of them were taken at fires.

In deciding what to do with that empty space which was about six feet wide, I considered hanging two or more conventional-sized photos, 16″ x 20″ or smaller. Then I thought, why not go big — one megaphoto that would fill most of the space.

So I ordered a 48″ x 32″ canvas print of a photo I took at the Crow Peak Fire on June 27, 2016 of air tanker 161 dropping. I love seeing it on the wall.

(By the way, that photo won third place in the Professional category in the 13th annual Dahl Mountain Photo Competition in Rapid City. There were 215 entries.)

Photography Prints

Washington DNR prepares helicopter fleet for wildfire season

Above: One of Washington DNR’s UH-1H helicopters. Washington DNR photo.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources is getting their fleet of eight helicopters ready for the coming wildfire season. The agency began acquiring their military surplus UH-1H (B-205) ships in 1989.

The DNR started their helicopter program in the 1960’s with two Bell-47’s used for recon and carrying a 50-gallon water bucket which was designed by one of their pilots, Harold Clark. By the mid-1970’s the Kaman Husky, which could carry up to 450 gallons, replaced the Bell-47’s. Those six Kaman’s were phased out in the late 1970’s due to a shortage of spare rotor blades and the availability of the more reliable and faster Huey UH-1B, which were replaced by the UH-1H about 10 years later.

Kaman Husky
A Washington DNR Kaman Husky from the 1970’s. It had interlocking rotors, not unlike the present day Kaman K-MAX. DNR photo.

The agency now has a program manager, one helicopter coordinator, 11 U.S. Forest Service certified helicopter pilots, 6 aviation maintenance technicians (AMT) who maintain, and configure the aircraft, and one chief pilot who leads the team. Usually 7 helicopters are deployed, with one held in reserve as a spare.

All of the pilots have current Class II Medical Certificates and FAA Commercial Rotor Wing Certificates. Many maintain an FAA Certified Instrument Instructor rating and Airline Transport pilot certification.

In addition to the pilots and mechanics, the staffing includes one transportation supervisor, 7 helicopter managers, 7 squad leaders, 14 firefighters, and 8 support drivers. All helitack modules have an incident commander. Generally they stage at Omak, Deer Park, Dallesport, Pomeroy, Wenatchee, Colville and Olympia.

Washington DNR's UH-1H helicopters
Maintenance on Washington DNR’s UH-1H helicopters. DNR photo.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Spokesman.com:

The department pays for fuel, operations and maintenance, which works out to about $1,600 an hour when they fly.

Dropping water on forest fires can be rugged work. But while these “Hueys” are old – the most senior helicopter in the DNR fleet came off the factory line in 1963 and did two tours in Vietnam, where it was shot down twice – they’re extremely reliable and spare parts are plentiful.

Washington DNR's UH-1H helicopters crew
Washington DNR photo

Excellent video about the MAFFS mission

Above: Screenshot from the video.

This is the best description I have seen of the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) — the crews, aircraft, retardant delivery system, and the mission. The 3,000-gallon tank can be installed in a military C-130 in a few hours when additional air tanker surge capacity is needed for assisting wildland firefighters.

In 2017 there were 20 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. This year there are 13, so we might be seeing more military aircraft fighting wildfires in 2018. In 2002 there were 44 on contract.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Nigel.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Photos from the MAFFS training

The annual training was held this week at Sacramento McClellan Airport

The annual training and recertification for the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 crews has wrapped up. Held at Sacramento McClellan Airport this year, it was attended by all four of the airlift wings that operate the systems: three Air National Guard units from California, Nevada and Wyoming, and one U.S. Air Force Reserve unit from Colorado.

All of these photos were taken by Bob Martinez. Thanks Bob! You can see more of his work at SmugMug.

MAFFS aircraft air tanker military

MAFFS aircraft air tanker military

MAFFS aircraft air tanker military

Continue reading “Photos from the MAFFS training”

TBT: National Geographic, Fire Bombers 1998

For Throw Back Thursday, let’s take another look at a classic film produced by National Geographic, Fire Bombers 1998. It includes some excellent footage of air tankers in that era, and also has interviews with a number of pilots. Bill Waldman probably gets the most screen time — he’s a good storyteller and seems comfortable in front of the camera.

We did our own interview, sort of, with Mr. Waldman, in 2013 in which we asked him 12 questions.

Below is the National Geographic film.

Senators ask Forest Service Chief about cutback in air tankers

In 2017 there were 20 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. This year there are 13.

In a hearing Tuesday morning about the Forest Service budget for FY 2019 before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senators asked the interim Chief of the Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen, about the reduction in the number of large air tankers on exclusive use contracts and the agency’s plans to rely on call when needed aircraft to fill the void.

Vicki Christiansen, Interim Chief Forest Service
Ms. Vicki Christiansen, Interim Chief, U.S. Forest Service, testifies April 24, 2018.

Lisa Murkowski (AK), Chair of the committee,  mentioned the issue during her opening remarks. Senators Maria Cantwell (WA) and Cory Gardner (CO) asked questions about what could be a shortage of air tankers, with most of the discussion centering around call when needed vendors. The Senators appeared to be concerned about the higher daily and hourly costs of CWN aircraft, and referred to the 48-hour time frame for them to mobilize after notification.

air tankers contract exclusive use 2000-2018

Ms. Christiansen tried two or three times to explain how activating CWN air tankers works and how the USFS makes decisions about when to bring them on board. Her descriptions were rambling as she talked about predictive services, but it was a little too ambiguous for some of the senators who asked for clarification.

Senator Gardner mentioned that this year there are 13 exclusive use large air tankers compared to 20 last year, and talked about how call when needed aircraft are more expensive than exclusive use aircraft. He said, “What is the rationale for that again?”

Ms. Christiansen: “Senator, we really look hard and do our analysis on the right balance between the exclusive use which is for an extended period of time and the call when needed. We take this very seriously and we will evaluate each year and adjust for the balance of these contracts. These next generation aircraft are more expensive than the legacy aircraft we had operated for the last two decades. So we have to be fiscally prudent and responsible in finding that right balance. We are confident that we have the aircraft we need when we need it through the combination of exclusive use, the call when needed, the military MAFFS, and then when we can call our partners down from Alaska and Canada.”

Senator Gardner continued: “Do you think you’re providing industry with enough certainty, private industry with enough certainty, to replace some of the contracts in the past that were coming out of the Forest Service in terms of the air tankers that were in use since the 2014 passage of the Defense Authorization Act?”

Ms. Christiansen: “Senator Gardner we are doing everything we can to be a good partner with the industry and exercise our fiscal responsibility.”

No one acknowledged the elephant in the room, the reason there are fewer air tankers. The budget that Congress approved and the President signed forced the reduction. Ms. Christiansen, a member of the administration, apparently feels that she has to be a good soldier and say, everything is fine, there’s nothing to see here: “We are confident that we have the aircraft we need”.

And the Senators don’t want to admit that they approved legislation which caused the number of EU air tankers to be cut by one-third. So they asked mild-mannered questions and didn’t follow up when the administration’s representative insisted that everything is going to be OK.

During a discussion about budget reductions on a different issue, Senator Joseph Manchin (WV) said, “Have you been able to push back on the administration, saying you can’t cut me this deep, I can’t do my job?”

Ms. Christiansen: “Senator, we have prioritized what we can do within these constraints…”

Senator Manchin: There’s a lot of us that will go out and …..”

Ms. Christiansen: “Our priority is on the National Forests, but I look forward to working with you on additional priorities.”

Meanwhile, John Hoven, the Senator from North Dakota, spent most of his allotted time presenting what was basically an infomercial about his state.

A recorded video of the hearing will be available at the committee’s website.

Slow motion video of MAFFS test

The folks from the Air National Guard unit out of Reno, the “High Rollers”, tested their Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) before the training at Sacramento McClellan Airport this week. (I almost wrote “they tested it in slow motion” but that is not exactly correct.)