RJ85 pilot — from Arctic Circle to Tambo Crossing

The Victoria Country Fire Authority in Australia has a story about Conair pilot Ray Horton, one of the pilots flying the company’s Avro RJ85 during the summer bushfire season.

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“Canadian pilot Ray Horton has travelled the long way around to fight bushfires in Victoria.

One of the world’s most respected aerial firefighters, Ray and the aircraft he flies – the Large Air Tanker ‘RJ’ – have become a welcome sight in Victoria’s skies over the past three summers.

So how did this one time “city slicker from Vancouver” find himself in Tambo Crossing [map], the Mallee and points in between?

His story begins in Canada’s Arctic North. The young pilot was building his hours in 40-below conditions, doing some “fantastic fun flying” as he puts it.

Then, one summer, he found himself flying supplies into the fire camps that are a base for summer firefighting in the Arctic summer.

Bomber 391
Bomber 391, an RJ85, at Avalon, Victoria. Photo by Avalon Airport.

It was the season that changed Ray’s life.

In quick time, he had a job with Conair, the Canadian aerial firefighting operator whose aircraft and pilots work fire seasons in North America, Europe and Australia.

He started in the Bird Dog – the observer aircraft that guides the larger air tankers to fires and coordinates aerial attack with ground crews. After that, it was 10 years flying the tankers themselves, many of them 1950’s US military aircraft repurposed for aerial firefighting.

Antsy for a change, Ray spent 10 years as an Air Canada captain. But civilian life was not for him.

“I had been spoiled fighting forest fires,” reflects Ray. “Once fire gets in your blood, there is always the challenge of trying to win. I had a tough time letting go of the challenge.”

Ray re-joined Conair and in 2014 arrived for his first fire season in Victoria. He’s returned every season since with RJ, the ‘next generation’ Large Air Tanker with which he’s been deeply involved since the aircraft’s infancy.

A veteran of fires seasons around the world, Ray had one word about the challenges of Victorian conditions – “Wind.”

“Most of the time when we are chasing fires in Victoria it is because of high winds and the high temperatures – they seem to come together,” says Ray.

“In North America, sure we get high winds. But then you’ll get a slew of thunderstorms come through. They may start 50 fires overnight. But then the wind will die down and you methodically get to as many fires as you can.

“Here in Victoria, that same storm will come through but with really high winds. Then you have your fuel types – the eucalyptus and others. The fires run much faster here – much, much faster.”

The other major difference, Ray believes, is the sheer number of volunteers working the fire ground in Victoria.

“That is something we just don’t see in North America. We don’t see the volunteer crews you have here. It’s amazing what Australia can do, particularly in Victoria with CFA and the number of volunteers.

“Here, we will typically see crews on the ground by the time we get to the fires. In North America, there are only so many crews to go around.”

Air crew and ground crew as one is a theme emphasised by Ray and his aerial crew colleagues.

“We know that we don’t put fires out,” stresses Ray. “We are here to allow the firies to get in and to support them. Hopefully we can make the difference that allows them to catch the fire.

“Our challenge – and the one we are called in for – is to put the water or retardant where the ground crews need it. When there are high winds and high heat, the challenge is really on us.

“Put it this way, it’s a long way to fly not to make any difference.”  “

Smokejumper aircraft experiences problem during landing

Due to an issue with an engine on the C-23A Sherpa, the crew idled it, but during landing the engine went to takeoff power uncommanded.

Above: photo of the Sherpa’s tire failure from the Rapid Lesson Sharing document.

After an incident on April 13, 2016 while a C-23A Sherpa was transporting smokejumpers on a training mission, the Redmond, Oregon Air Group conducted an After Action Review and wrote a Rapid Lesson Sharing document. Below are excerpts:

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“NARRATIVE

On the morning of April 13, 2016, a crew of three experienced captains performed a Smokejumper Mission Check Ride during a practice jump. The Pilot in Command of the C-23A Sherpa retarded the left power lever in preparation for the jump run and the engine did not respond appropriately. The number 1 engine would not reduce to flight idle as commanded.

We elected to discontinue the check ride and return to the airport to land.

The crew reduced the engine RMP power lever back to almost idle and the left engine stabilized at idle. We consulted the emergency checklist and decided to leave the engine running.

During line up for final the crew elected to keep the engine running due to a 90 degree crosswind condition in case a go around was required. On landing the left engine went to take-off power, un-commanded, and aircraft started to depart the runway. During subsequent actions to control the aircraft, brakes were applied and on ground contact the right main tire failed. The pilot in command ordered the left engine shut down and second in command shut the engine down. PIC was able to exit the runway and airplane was shut down on an adjacent taxiway.

LESSONS

After the mission an AAR was conducted between the crew, maintenance, leadership and the participating smokejumpers. The only possible action in hindsight the crew indicated was not bringing the power levers over the gate into ground fine range which may of influenced the rapid RPM increase. The aircraft fuel controller was removed and sent in for overhaul. Disassembly of the fuel unit revealed a small burr on the throttle shaft bushing.

Questions for discussion between crews:

  • When would you declare an abnormal event an emergency and roll the trucks?
  • What situations would you consider it safer for the remaining jumpers to exit the aircraft than return with it?
  • What other abnormal conditions have you encountered that are not in the abnormal procedures (Chapter 4) section and how would you handle them?
  • What discussions need to take place with the guys in the back during occurrence of unplanned events?
  • Discussions on the above topics during ground time can save valuable time in the air when abnormal conditions do occur.

747 air tanker receives federal approval

Above: the 747 Supertanker at McClellan Air Field, March 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The 747 SuperTanker has received interim approval from the Interagency Airtanker Board (IAB) according to Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service. Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker, the operator of the air tanker, said he first heard from the IAB on January 6 that the approval had been granted.

Interim approval is the last step before full approval. It means the company can compete for and receive contracts to serve as an air tanker for federal agencies in the United States. If it receives a contract, the performance and effectiveness of the aircraft will be evaluated while under this status. Then if satisfactory, it can be elevated to full approval. The interim approval is valid through June 15, 2017, Mrs. Jones said.

When the Neptune Aviation BAe-146s were first converted to air tankers they were given “interim” status while bugs in the new system were found and eventually mitigated. For example, the company added additional drop doors farther forward on the fuselage in order to improve the dispersal of retardant while making a downhill drop.

However the retardant delivery system on this 747 has been used on previous 747s and was fully certified by the IAB years ago. Over the last year it has been installed in a 747-400 which has more powerful engines than the 747-100 and 747-200 used by Evergreen, the company that first built a 747 air tanker. Global Supertanker bought the hardware and intellectual property for the retardant system when Evergreen declared bankruptcy.

The 747 can hold 19,200 gallons, much more than any other air tanker. For comparison, the DC-10 very large air tanker carries 11,600 gallons, while the BAe-146, RJ85, and C-130 hold up to 3,000 to 3,500 gallons. The P2V Korean War vintage aircraft that has been the workhorse air tanker for decades usually carries less than 2,000 gallons. The S-2T used by CAL FIRE holds up to 1,200 gallons.

Last summer the 747 Supertanker received a Supplemental Type Certificate from the FAA and the agency’s Federal Aviation Regulations Part 137 certificate.

T-944 mountain flying
Global Supertanker.

In November it made a non-stop flight to Israel and after arriving dropped on two wildfires at the request of the country’s government.

“IAB approval is an essential requirement in airtanker contracts for some wildfire agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service (USFS),” Mr. Wheeler said. “With this approval, we look forward to bidding on – and winning – upcoming domestic and international contracts. We are grateful and excited to join the team of airtankers currently serving a critical mission for the United States and globally, and look forward to continuing to work with the USFS, CAL FIRE, and the IAB during the final approval process.”

Photography Prints

An introduction to the large air tankers in Victoria, Australia

“Our job is to keep small fires small.”

During the Northern Hemisphere summer the Avro RJ85 and the C-130 work on fires in North America, but migrate to Victoria, Australia under contract with the Country Fire Authority during the down under summer. In the video Wayne Rigg, working in a position that in the U.S. we would call Air Tactical Group Supervisor, explains how he coordinates aircraft to assist the firefighters on the ground.

Aircraft on skis

Russian smokejumper aircraft

The Avialesookhrana Instagram account frequently posts photos of Russian smokejumpers. This type of aircraft, now outfitted with skis, appears to be an air tanker and/or a jumper aircraft in the summer.

Google translated the above caption:

avialesookhrana # forest # flame # borbasognem # heroism # paratroopers # paratroopers # Avialesookhrana # lesnoypozhar # Avialesookhrana # Forest # fire # firefighter # smokejumpers # bomberos # Aviation # helicopter # plane # firefighterslife # helicopter # aviation # aviales # extreme # FFA # Media # TV ecology # # # the nature of the profession

Russian air tanker bi-wing

Russia smokejumpers

 

Pilot killed in air tanker crash in Chile

The aircraft was a Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT), an Air Tractor 802A.

Latercera is reporting that an air tanker crashed in Chile Wednesday, December 28 killing the pilot identified as Ricardo García-Verde Osuna, 47.

Photo by ARAUCOTV

The Google translation is very rough, but it appears that the aircraft went down about 15 kilometers from the town of Santa Juana after working on a wildfire in the Bío Bío region.

According to El Día the pilot had not reported any problems with the aircraft.

The air tanker was operated by FAASA, a company that has been in business for over 50 years.

We send out our sincere condolences to Mr. Garcia-Verde’s family, friends, and co-workers.