NPS to hire branch chief for aviation

Above: National Park Service photo.

The National Park Service is expecting to hire a National Aviation Program Manager to fill the position vacated last month by the retirement of Jon Rollens. The GS-14 position provides leadership and direction for NPS aviation programs with specific emphasis on national aviation policy, standards and procedures.

There is only one “selective placement factor”. Applicants must have at least 90 days of wildland firefighting experience.

A pilot’s license is not required.

Skills the candidates should have include knowledge of:

  • Aircraft and associated support systems for resource management;
  • Wildland fire management, law enforcement, search and rescue, and related flying activities;
  • Evaluation and audit processes for aviation safety and risk management analysis.

Neither Mr. Rollens or his predecessor, Susie Bates, were pilots.

Before becoming NPS Branch Chief of Aviation in 2011, Mr. Rollens was the Regional Aviation Officer  for the U.S. Forest Service’s Northwest Region for nine years. From 1997 through 2002 he was a National Aerial Attack Systems Specialist for the Forest Service, and before that, a Helicopter Operations Specialist for the USFS Intermountain Region.


Our opinion:

The National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the other federal land management agencies would benefit from having qualified pilots in their top regional and national aviation positions. We have been told that the USFS National Aviation Officer is not a pilot and only one of their Regional Aviation Officers is. A person in these jobs who does not know what they don’t know can be dangerous.

For a position that leads the entire aviation program, if it comes down to two applicants, one with 90 days as a wildland firefighter and another with a pilot’s license, the pilot should get the nod. Most of the complexity in these positions is on the aviation side, not the firefighting aspect. There is a great deal of fire expertise in the organizations that the Aviation Officers can tap into. A wealth of specific and detailed aviation knowledge from a pilots perspective is more rare.

Federal hiring procedures are ridiculously complex, but these agencies should figure out a way to be able to hire at the GS-13 and 14 level, a pilot with extensive program management skills, even if they don’t have firefighting experience.

Georgia buys two single engine air tankers

Above: File photo of two Thrush 510G aircraft, a standard model and one with a dual cockpit. Thrush photo.

(Originally published at 6 p.m. MDT December 27, 2017)

The state of Georgia’s Forestry Commission has purchased two Thrush 510G Switchback single engine air tankers (SEATs).

The 510G model was introduced by Thrush in 2012 featuring a redesign of everything forward of the firewall including a different engine, the 800 shp GE H80 turbine.

The version acquired by Georgia has a dual cockpit and control systems, unusual in a SEAT, but it enables the aircraft to serve in a training role for Georgia Forestry Commission pilots.

The “Switchback” part of the name is an option which means in addition to delivering 500 gallons of water or fire retardant, it has the ability to switch from agricultural spray duties to firefighting capabilities in a matter of minutes thanks to its unique fire gate delivery system. These were the first Switchbacks delivered by Thrush, even though they have sold more than 100 510G’s.

“We’re extremely proud to be adding the Switchback to our aerial firefighting fleet,” said Georgia Forestry Commission’s director, Chuck Williams. “It boasts many advantages for our firefighting efforts and heralds an exciting new chapter in our commitment to protect and conserve the more than 24 million acres of timber land across our state. You’ll see these aircraft deployed not just for rapid fire suppression – but also in the very important role of rapid fire detection, which can sometimes make all the difference in being able to contain a wildfire, versus having it become uncontrollable.”

Specifications of the 510G:

  • Working speed: 90-150
  • Stall speed as usually landed: 55 mph
  • Take-off distance at 10,500 pounds: 1,500 feet
  • Landing Distance as Usually Landed w/Reverse: 350 feet
  • Cruising speed at 55% power: 159 mph

McClellan Air Field becomes Sacramento McClellan Airport

Above: Static Display March 23, 2016 at Sacramento McClellan Airport during the aerial firefighting conference.

(Originally published at 12:44 p.m. MST December 26, 2017.)

The former McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento has changed hands for the second time in the last 17 years and is now known as Sacramento McClellan Airport (KMCC). It was operated by the U.S Air Force from 1939 until 2000 when it was transferred to Sacramento County. In October of this year the 1,100-acre property was purchased by McClellan Business Park.

In addition to serving private plane owners and companies, the airport also functions as a main flight hub and home for many government agencies and emergency services operators, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento, CAL FIRE, HeliMax, and the U.S. Forest Service C-130 air tanker program. According to the new owners of the airport, it has the largest aerial fire retardant reload base in the United States.

McClellan Jet Services will continue to provide fixed-base services.

First flight for China’s amphibious water-scooping aircraft

Above: screen grab from the BBC video showing (through dense smog) the AG600 taxiing after its first flight December 24, 2017.

China’s new amphibious aircraft that can scoop water and drop it on wildfires made its maiden flight December 24 at Jinwan Civil Aviation Airport in Zhuhai, Guangdong.

The AG600 can carry up to 3,000 gallons of water, and like the CL-215/415 and Air Tractors it can scoop water from a lake and drop it on wildfires. When not fighting fires it can hold 50 passengers in a military or civilian role and has a range of 5,500 km (3,418 miles). It has four turboprop engines, can handle a wave height of two meters, and will have a maximum speed of 354 mph (570 kph, 308 knots).

In 2015  The Coulson Group, operator of the two huge Martin Mars water-scooping aircraft, trained 14 test pilots from China who were expected to be the first to fly the AG600 (also known as the TA-600). The training included ground, water taxi, flight, scooping, and dropping water. The pilots went through classroom and hands on training using Coulson’s Hawaii Martin Mars aircraft, actually taxiing and flying the huge flying boat.

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

Retardant from a helicopter’s internal tank

These days it is not uncommon on a large fire to see a helicopter dropping retardant or a Chinook with an internal tank, or… both at the same time.

This photo of a Columbia Helicopters ship supporting a very large firing operation on the Thomas Fire was in a tweet by the Los Padres National Forest.

In July we posted the KEYT video below which originally was streamed live on YouTube, showing and explaining the activities at a facility set up at the Whittier Fire northwest of Goleta, California for mixing retardant for helicopters that could draft to refill their tanks. The 11-minute video did not show any ships with buckets — just Type 1 helicopters with internal or external tanks.

The video below shows several helicopters including the same Columbia Helicopters aircraft and the 747, supporting the Thomas Fire on December 13, 2017.

Forest Service to purchase up to 20 new King Air 250’s

They “expect” to purchase four each year for five years.

Above: The King Air 250 as seen on the Beechcraft website.

(Originally published December 16, 2017)

The U.S. Forest Service has awarded a contract to purchase up to 20 new King Air 250 twin-engine aircraft. The contract, potentially worth $142 million, guarantees the procurement of only one plane, but contains “estimated” purchases of four a year for five years.

The contract was awarded to Textron Aviation, Inc., the company that was formed in 2014 following the acquisition of Beech Holdings which included the Beechcraft and Hawker Aircraft businesses. The new business unit includes the Textron-owned Cessna.

The aircraft would be used primarily for four missions:

  • Lead plane/Aerial Supervision Module
  • Infrared Mapping
  • Air Attack/Air Tactical
  • Forest Health Protection

The solicitation uses the term “Multi-Mission Aircraft” several times. The state of Colorado bought two Pilatus PC-12’s in 2014 that they refer to as MMA’s which since then have been loaned quite a few times to agencies in other western states. The PC-12 is single-engine, while the King Air 250 is a twin. The performance of the two is similar in some respects, but the PC-12 is much less expensive to operate. If you’re curious about the other differences between the two, check out Charlie Bravo Aviation for a comparison.

Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft”
One of Colorado’s two Pilatus PC-12 “Multi-mission Aircraft” which was seen at McClellan Air Field March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

I doubt if Colorado uses their aircraft as a lead plane often, but the USFS would use it frequently in that role. Flying low and slow over rough terrain, many pilots would prefer to have a pair of engines.

The “presolicitation” for the procurement was issued July 14, 2017 and the award was made five months later on December 11. That may be a record in the last five years for a USFS aircraft contract. But if there are protests, all bets are off. The first Next Generation large air tanker contract took 555 days.

Here are some of the award details:

King Air 250 contract award Forest Service
King Air 250 contract award

TBT: 16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program

For ThrowBack Thursday we’re revisiting a piece we wrote in March, 2016.


The aerial firefighting program in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has grown over a couple of decades into a highly respected, professionally managed organization. After spending some time at their aviation headquarters at McClellan Air Field on Thursday  [March 24, 2016] in Sacramento, I developed as list of 16 facts that you may not know about the program:

1. CAL FIRE has 22 S-2T fixed wing air tankers that can carry up to 1,200 gallons of retardant. They are presently converting an aircraft to replace the one destroyed in the October 7, 2014 crash that killed Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. That process should be complete in 18 to 24 months.

S-2T air tanker
S-2T air tankers at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

2. They have 15 OV-10 Air Attack fixed wing aircraft.

OV-10
A lineup of OV-10 air attack ships at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

3. And 12 Super Huey helicopters.

super huey
Super Huey at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

4. All of the above aircraft were discarded by the military.

5. The S-2T air tankers were designed to be based on aircraft carriers, and therefore have wings that fold. They still retain this feature, which makes it possible to cram more aircraft into a hangar.

S-2T folded wings
An S-2T with the wings folded. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Continue reading “TBT: 16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program”

Air tankers at Rapid City

An MD-87 and an RJ85 were at Rapid City for the Legion Lake Fire in the Black Hills

Above: Air Tanker 163, an RJ85, at Rapid City December 12, 2017.

(Originally published at 12:15 p.m. MST December 13, 2017)

When the Legion Lake Fire broke out in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota December 11 it grew quickly in strong winds. The Incident Commander didn’t hesitate to order additional resources, including two large air tankers. Tankers 101, an MD-87, and 163, an RJ85, responded from Southern California, arriving late in the afternoon. They were not used that day since the lead plane did not arrive until much later. The tankers also were not used the following day. But the fire blew up the night of the 12th, expanding from 4,000 acres to over 40, 000 acres. As this is written around noon on December 13, the Incident Management Team said they will be used if needed.

On December 12 we visited the Rapid City Air Tanker base while the tankers were parked there. We talked with MD-87 pilot Brent Connor who told us Erickson Aero Tanker expects to have their fifth MD-87 in service by the 2018 fire season. Tanker 101 was the first they built; the others are 102, 103, 105, and 107.

Articles on Wildfire Today about the Legion Lake Fire are tagged “Legion Lake Fire”.

Each of the recently developed jet-powered air tankers have unique retardant delivery systems, and the MD-87 is no exception. As you can see in the photo gallery (click on the photos to see larger versions) it has two imposing tubes (for lack of a better term) in addition to a tank under the cabin floor and a pod under the plane’s belly. Those three reservoirs hold 3,000, 1,000, and 700 gallons, respectively, for a total of 4,700 gallons.

To mitigate the issue of retardant dispersing over the wing, which introduced the possibility of it being ingested into the engines, they had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, lowering the release point by 46 inches.

Mr. Connor said that at this time they are limited to dropping 3,100 gallons, and they never have to download due to density altitude. After modifications are made to the system, they expect to be cleared to carry 4,000 gallons. He said that to get to the present stage of development the FAA required 80 hours of  flight testing.