Elk brings down helicopter in Utah

The two-person crew sustained minor injuries.

Above: helicopter brought down by an elk during a net gunning operation. Photo by Wasatch County Search and Rescue

(Originally published at 10:18 a.m. MT February 14, 2018)

An elk took down a helicopter Monday afternoon during a net gunning operation in Utah. It happened about 40 air miles east of Provo near Currant Creek Reservoir (map).

Officials from the Division of Wildlife Resources hired the crew and the helicopter, a Hughes 369D, to capture elk using a net fired from a gun. As the helicopter flew 10 feet above the ground the gunner in the back seat fired the net over the cow elk, but its legs were not entangled as hoped. It jumped and struck the tail of the helicopter which became uncontrollable and crashed.

elk helicopter crash
Photo by Wasatch County Search and Rescue

The 2 people aboard the chopper are okay except a few small cuts and bruises. They were both checked out by Fruitland EMS. As for the chopper not so good. Not something you see every day when an elk brings down a chopper.” – Wasatch County Search and Rescue Facebook page

Photos show the tail rotor was no longer attached to the helicopter.

Net gunning is a commonly used practice for relocating animals, collecting biological samples, and placing radio tracking collars on wildlife. Some contractors use a modified shotgun to fire the net that falls over the animal, entangling its legs and trapping it. The helicopter then lands and the crew subdues the animal which can be treated at the site or transported in a cargo net to another location for processing.

elk helicopter crash
Photo by Wasatch County Search and Rescue


UPDATE at 11:11 a.m. MT Feb. 14, 2018. Unfortunately, the elk did not survive.

Australia to experiment with night-flying helicopters

This will be the first trial of helicopters dropping water on fires at night in the country.

Mesa Fire Cajon Pass
U.S. Forest Service night flying helicopter 531 dropping on the Mesa Fire in Cajon Pass in Southern California, November 8, 2014. Photo by San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Fire management authorities in Australia are planning a trial of night-flying helicopters later this year. Emergency Management Victoria is leading the effort which could begin toward the end of the current bushfire season in March or April.

“There is still a lot of planning and due diligence to complete, and regulatory approvals to work through”, Richard Alder, General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre said.  “We are just in the process of selecting the helicopters that are planned to be used, and should be able to release this information shortly. We currently have helicopters on contract that use Night Vision Goggles for reconnaissance, m​apping, and incendiary dropping, so the planned trial is really about having the capability to  extend firebombing into the night.”

Mr. Alder said fixed wing air tankers will not be part of this trial, but they are examining the possibilities for future phases of the project.

The video below is an example of a night-flying helicopter dropping on a structure fire in Los Angeles (at 1:08).

Around half a dozen or so agencies in Southern California have been using night-flying helicopters for a number of years.

The Australians have 42 Single Engine Air Tankers working this bushfire season — 40 AT802’s and 2 Hubler Turbine M18’s. Two of the AT802’s are Firebosses on floats.

They have also had four large air tankers from North America working in the country during their summer.

  • DC-10 (-912 contracted from Agair who work with Ten Tanker) based at Richmond near Sydney;
  • L-100 (T-132, Coulson Aviation based at Richmond) – the Mandatory Availability Period is already completed for this one;
  • C-130Q (T-131, Coulson Aviation) based at Avalon near Melbourne;
  • RJ85 (FieldAir with AeroFlite) based at Avalon.

The National Aerial Firefighting Centre is in the process of issuing contract solicitations for the 2018-2019 bushfire season. They expect to have about the same number of SEATS, large air tankers, and Type 1, 2 and 3 helicopters.

“Overall we would expect generally similar total numbers, but these solicitations could potentially see some changes in providers or fleet mix”, Mr. Alder wrote in an email. “Our multi-agency evaluation groups are currently working through all the options (and budgets!) and we hope to have a better idea of how the future fleet will look in a few months.”

A salute to LA County Air Operations

The Fox TV station in Los Angeles honored the Los Angeles County Fire Department Air Operations Section in this video clip.

Only 40% of requests for Type 1 helicopters were filled on wildfires in 2017

Last year the U.S. Forest Service reduced the number of Type 1 ships by 18%.

Above: N137BH, a Sikorsky 70A or “Firehawk” helicopter, flies to refill its water bucket after dropping on the Rankin Fire in South Dakota September 13, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 5:34 p.m. MT February 8, 2018)

The stats are in for the use of firefighting helicopters in 2017. The number of requests for Type 1 helicopters was close to average, but the number of orders that were Unable To be Filled (UTF) was almost double the number of filled orders. In 2017 60 percent of the requests were not filled — 220 of the 370 that were needed. That is by far the highest percentage of UTFs in the last 18 years. The second highest was 46 percent in 2012.

Type 1 helicopters are the largest used on fires, carrying 700 to 2,800 gallons.

One important change in 2017 was the 18 percent reduction in the number of Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use (EU) contract. For several years the U.S. Forest Service had contracted for 34 EU Type 1 ships, but reduced that to 28 in 2017.number type 1 helicopters firefighting order requests filled

These contracts require continuous availability throughout the mandatory availability period, which can be 180 days or more. Other helicopters may or may not be procured on a Call When Needed (CWN) contract. A CWN aircraft could be tied up on something else or undergoing heavy maintenance when the phone in the office rings asking if they can respond to a fire. And CWN aircraft cost the government much more to operate than EU resources.

These large helicopters are beloved by wildland firefighters, since they can strategically drop with pinpoint accuracy thousands of gallons of water or retardant while working close air support with ground personnel. This can cool and slow the spread of the fire, enabling crews to work nearer the fire edge. A series of water drops can enable hand crews to make steady progress on active flanks of the fire. Helicopters can often refill with water from a nearby lake or tank, making 5 to 15 minute turnarounds. A fixed wing air tanker that has to refill at an airport takes much longer.

The six helicopters that were cut last year:

  1. Prineville, Oregon (BK-1200) Swanson Group Aviation
  2. Helena, Montana (BK-1200) Central Helicopters
  3. Hamilton, Montana (BV-107) Columbia Helicopters
  4. Custer, South Dakota (BV-107) Columbia Helicopters
  5. Lancaster, California (CH-54A) Siller Helicopters
  6. Minden, Nevada (CH-54A) Helicopter Transport Services

Type 1 helicopters are frequently moved around depending on fire danger and incident activity and are often not at their home base.

What do aircraft studies recommend?

In March, 2017 when it was revealed that the six helicopters were being cut, U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Jennifer Jones explained the agency’s rationale:

At this time, the agency has determined 28 to be the appropriate number of Type 1 helicopters on EU contracts given current types and numbers of other aircraft in the fleet. This is in line with the 2012 Airtanker Modernization Strategy.

She said “Up to 30 additional Type 1 helicopters” are on Call When Needed contracts, which includes the six that no longer have EU contracts.

The Airtanker Modernization Strategydoes not make an independent recommendation on the number of helicopters or air tankers that are needed. But it refers to a study conducted from 2007 to 2009, the NIAC Interagency Aviation Strategy, which concluded that the optimum number of Type 1 helicopters on EU was 34. It also recommended a total of 35 air tankers by 2018, which included three water-scooping air tankers. At the beginning of the 2017 western fire season there were 20 large and very large air tankers on EU contracts plus two water-scooping air tankers.

fire Aviation Strategy
Table from the “2007-2009 NIAC Interagency Aviation Strategy document. Phase III”, page 21.

Our opinion

As this is being written, the politicians we elect to represent us in Washington are trying to put together a last minute (literally) federal budget that will keep the government from shutting down again tonight. They are proposing to increase the dollars spent on Defense by $165 billion. This would raise the total military budget for the next two years to $1.4 trillion. (A source in D.C. told us there is a chance the legislation will include a fix to the fire borrowing fiasco, where funds are taken from other functions to pay for wildfire suppression.)

Everyone agrees that the military needs to be adequately funded, but in 2016 the amount the U.S. spent on defense was almost equal to what the next 14 countries combined spent.

Here is an excerpt from the Washington Post, February 9, 2016:

On Tuesday, the International Institute for Strategic Studies released its Military Balance 2016 report, which seeks to examine closely the changing nature of military power. On a grand scale, the report showed – yet again – that U.S. military spending easily dwarfed the rest of the world. With a defense budget of around $597 billion, it was almost as much as the next 14 countries put together and far larger than the rest of the world.

military spending
Military spending, U.S and the rest of the world. Washington Post.

Much of the defense budget is spent in countries on the other side of the world. Meanwhile, the defense of our Homeland gets cut. Last year we saw 18 percent fewer Type 1 helicopters and the number of large air tankers was 57 percent of the recommendation in the NIAC Interagency Aviation Strategy.

Our suggestion is to prioritize the defense and protection of our citizens, homeland, forests, parks, grasslands, refuges, prairies, and wildlands FIRST, before considering spending trillions on the other side of the world.

Another Be-200ES delivered to Russia’s firefighting agency

The third of six that have been ordered was delivered in December

Above: The third Be-200ES has been delivered to the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. UAC photo.

(Originally published at 11:05 a.m. MT February 3, 2018)

The Beriev Aircraft Company continues to roll out their amphibious scooping Be-200ES firefighting air tankers at their Taganrog manufacturing facility in Southwest Russia. In December the company delivered the third of six that have been ordered by Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has ordered one Be-200ES air tanker capable of fighting fires and another four of the Be-200PS version that would serve other purposes.

The Beriev Be-200ES manufacturing facility at Taganrog, Russia in 2016. Photo: Fotografersha

Beriev began manufacturing the Be-200 in 2003. It is one of the few purpose-built air tankers, designed primarily for fighting wildland fires. The aircraft can land or take off on water or land, and the firefighting version can scoop water to refill its 3,000-gallon tanks. It can be converted to haul passengers or serve as a search and rescue aircraft, landing on water to retrieve victims if necessary.

The Beriev Aircraft Company is a branch of the United Aircraft Corporation. It is primarily owned by the Russian government and produces special purpose and amphibious aircraft.  According to Wikipedia they have manufactured 10 Be-200’s of various configurations since 2003. The company hopes to produce four annually for the next three to four years.

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

Building Twin Otters, in time-lapse

The production facility for Viking’s Twin Otter Series 400 is seen in time-lapse in this video. Twin Otters have transported many smokejumpers over the last few decades.

I looked, but didn’t see any CL-415’s in the background being built. Viking  bought the rights from Bombardier in 2016 for the scoopers, but to date have not publicly committed to manufacturing more.

DARPA wants to launch and recover swarms of drones from a C-130

In 2009 and 2013 two companies proposed concepts for aerial firefighting that involved launching drones from motherships

Above: an artists concept of a swarm of drones launched from a C-130. Department of Defence image.

Launching drones from an aircraft is not new — that’s the definition of an air-launched cruise missile. But recovering it in mid-air on the mothership has not been done.

From the NavyTimes:

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency plans to demonstrate the ability to launch and recover swarms of drones from a C-130 sometime in 2019, according to statements by the agency and by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, one of two companies contracted to design prototype of the drones. The other is Dynetics.

Once dispatched, the drones would be outfitted with different payloads in order to accomplish an assortment of missions, to include ISR, electronic warfare, signals intelligence and even kinetic effects.

“When the [drones] complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours,” according to DARPA.

Each drone would be capable of a remaining on station for one hour at a range of 300 nautical miles while carrying a 60-pound payload, according to General Atomics.

The company is incorporating commercial technology to drive down the cost of the [drones]. The goal is for each drone to come in under $500,000 per unit, a company representative told Defense News, a sister publication, at an August demonstration.

Two proposals with similarities to this concept have been proposed for aerial firefighting, but did not include the possibility of recovering the drones on the mothership while in flight.

In 2009 John A. Hoffman, with Fire Termination Equipment, Inc., applied for a U. S. Patent for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that would be transported by a mothership, either internally or externally, and released near the fire. It would then be piloted remotely from either the mother ship or from the ground. After dropping retardant on the fire it would land to reload, or might be a single use aircraft and would be “destroyed in the release step”. In the latter case the UAV would be “possibly constructed of frangible material so as to crash into the fire area”.

Fire Termination Equipment concept
Fire Termination Equipment concept, from the patent application.

In 2013 we wrote about another concept, by Nitrofirex. Their UAVs would be transported in a large mothership and released through the rear cargo door. The folded wings would deploy and the aircraft would glide autonomously to the target then “automatically and with great precision” release the water or retardant. The small engine which had been idling would power the ship back to the tanker base where it would be reloaded and inserted back into a mothership. There is even a video:

If the DARPA program comes to fruition, it is hard to see how a UAV carrying 60 pounds, or about 7 gallons of retardant, could have a meaningful effect on a wildfire. We were not able to determine how many gallons the other two proposals could carry. If the UAV was scaled up to carry at least 1,000 gallons, you’re probably not going to get many of them in a C-130. However, a C-5A Galaxy might be a difference-maker. That is, if price is no object.

First flight tests for Air Tanker 79

When in service hopefully later this year it will replace T-81 that crashed in 2014. Designated T-79, this aircraft will bring the number of CAL FIRE air tankers back up to 23.

Above: One of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted to an air tanker, becoming Tanker 79. Photo by Sergio Maraschin January 29, 2018.

(Originally published at 4:19 p.m. MT January 31, 2018)

Sergio Maraschin sent us these photos of one of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted at Sacramento McClellan Airport to replace Tanker 81 that crashed near Yosemite National Park in 2014, killing pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. The work is nearly complete on what will become Tanker 79 and will bring the number of S-2T’s in the CAL FIRE fleet back up to their traditional number, 23. For the last couple of years T-12, a Neptune Aviation BAe-146,  has temporarily replaced T-81. CAL FIRE expects T-79 to be in service later this year.

Air tanker 79
One of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted to an air tanker, becoming Tanker 79. Photo by Sergio Maraschin January 29, 2018.
Air tanker 79
One of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted to an air tanker, becoming Tanker 79. Photo by Sergio Maraschin January 29, 2018.

And as a bonus, here’s a remarkable photo that Sergio took of T-80 in 2014.

Air tanker 80
Tanker 80 takes off for the last flight of the day while working the Butte Fire in 2015. Photo by Sergio Maraschin.