Fire aviation briefing, September 10, 2013

Engine failure on S-2 

An S-2 air tanker working on the Clover fire southwest of Redding, California experienced a problem that caused the pilot to have to shut down one of the two engines. It occurred while the aircraft was returning to Chico to reload with retardant. The pilot landed the aircraft safely at Chico according to the Willits News.

Last month Tanker 910, a DC-10, lost their #2 engine just after making a drop on the Beaver Creek Fire in Idaho. They also landed safely, but at Pocotello, Idaho, their reload base.

DC-10 photos on the Morgan Fire

Claycord has three excellent photos of one of the DC-10s (or both of them?) dropping on Mt. Diablo during the Morgan Fire 18 miles east of Berkeley, California. When you visit the site, click on the photos to see larger versions. Both of the DC-10s responded to the fire but soon thereafter were diverted to the Clover Fire near Redding, California which was threatening numerous structures.

Problem with the Fire Boss prevents some from being used

single engine air tanker

A problem detected on Air Tractor Fire Boss AT-802F amphibious Single Engine Air Tankers is preventing some of them from being used by federal land management agencies. Cracks in the tail support structure were found on two Fire Boss aircraft.

The Bureau of Land Management’s exclusive use contracts with the Fire Bosses have expired for this year, but the agency has made a decision not to use them on call when needed contracts until they are satisfied the problems have been corrected. However Don Smurthwaite of the BLM emphasized to us that the aircraft are not grounded and they believe the issue is not widespread. The contractor is working to solve the problem.

Since the BLM administers the single engine tanker program for all the federal agencies this has stopped the use of the Fire Boss aircraft on all fires where a federal agency has operational control.

One Fire Boss under contract to the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), Tanker 851, has been inspected and given a clean bill of health and will continue to fly on fires where the IDL has operational control.

 

Coulson loses B.C. contract for Martin Mars

Martin Mars at Lake Elsinore, California
Martin Mars at Lake Elsinore, California

The Coulson Company announced that they no longer have a contract with the government of British Columbia for their water-dropping Martin Mars amphibious air tanker. The 7,000-gallon aircraft has been helping firefighters suppress fires for 53 years, and has dropped over 8,000 loads. Built in the 1940s, it was converted into an air tanker with the capability to drop plain water or gel on fires.

“It has been an honour, over the last seven years, to operate the aircraft and continue the tradition of the past men and women who have safely operated and supported the Hawaii and Philippine Mars in firefighting roles,” said Coulson Group CEO Wayne Coulson.

“The commitment to excellence that the Mars operation has displayed over the last 53 years is outstanding, given the difficult firefighting missions faced in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. There will never be another aircraft that can kill a wildfire like the Mars with its ability to directly attack fire with a pay load of 27,000 litres.”

 

Thanks go out to Roman

Aircraft on the Rim Fire

MAFFS C-130 drops on Rim Fire
MAFFS C-130 drops on the Rim Fire August 29, 2013

Mike McMillan took these photos of aircraft working on the Rim Fire in California on August 29, 2013 for the U.S. Forest Service. Earlier we posted some photos of UH-60 Blackhawks and HH-60 Pave Hawks arriving at Columbia Airport to be used on the fire.

OV-10 on Rim Fire August 29, 2013
OV-10 on the Rim Fire August 29, 2013
CD-10 Rim Fire drops
DC-10- drops on the Rim Fire below Pilot Peak August 29, 2013

Below are two videos posted by J N Perlot showing the DC-10 dropping on the Rim Fire. In the first one, on August 24, the approach to the drop begins at about 1:50.

In the next video, shot on August 31, the approach to the drop begins at about 1:00.

California: Castle Airport is now an air tanker base

Castle Airport
Castle Airport. Google Earth.

For a decade or two CAL FIRE and U.S. Forest Service aviation managers been talking off and on with officials at the Castle Airport (MER), 8 miles northwest of Merced, California, about using it as an air tanker base. As a former Air Force base with an 11,802-foot runway, and its location in central California near the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it could be a valuable resource for any fire aviation asset, but especially for Very Large Air Tankers like the DC-10 or 747.

Finally, prompted in part by the nearby Rim Fire, 40 miles from the airport, the U.S. Forest Service recently signed an agreement with Merced County to allow the airport to be used as an air tanker base. Tuesday of this week both DC-10 air tankers began using it to reload with retardant, making the round trip to and from the Rim Fire every 30 to 40 minutes, dropping 11,600 gallons with every trip.

According to the Modesto Bee:

Under the agreement, Merced County will charge the Forest Service through a series of fees: $225 per month for the 5,200-square-foot building lease, $450 per day for the 551,600-square-foot ramp and 50 cents per 1,000 pounds a plane weighs upon landing, according to county staff.

With a DC-10 air tanker weighing about 368,000 pounds, it will cost around $184 for each landing. The fee for landing a 6,505-pound single-engine Air Tractor AT-802 with an 820-gallon retardant capacity would be about $3.

For now, at least, the Tanker Base will be on call when needed status, staffed only if there is a specific need.

The video below has information about this new use for the Castle Airport.

Thanks go out to Johnny

Predator drone being used on Rim Fire

MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft
MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle

The California National Guard is operating a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle over the Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park. The MQ-1 Predator is streaming real-time video down to the Incident Command Post and reportedly alerted firefighters to a flare-up they otherwise would not have immediately seen.

This is not the first time that a large Predator-type drone has been used to collect real-time imagery of wildland fires. In 2008 and again in 2009 NASA made available their Ikhana Predator B UAV.

Here is an excerpt from the StarTribune with more information about the current use of the National Guard’s Predator:

…While unmanned aircraft have mapped past fires, use of the Predator will be the longest sustained mission by a drone in California to broadcast information to firefighters in real time.

The plane, the size of a small Cessna, will remain over the burn zone for up to 22 hours at a time, allowing fire commanders to monitor fire activity, determine the fire’s direction of movement, the extent of containment and confirm new fires ignited by lightning or flying embers.

The drone is being flown by the 163rd Wing of the California National Guard at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside and is operating from Victorville Airport, both in Southern California. It generally flew over unpopulated areas on its 300-mile flight to the Rim Fire. Outside the fire area it will be escorted by a manned aircraft.

Officials were careful to point out the images are being used only to aid in the effort to contain the fire.

Wildfire Today has more information about the Rim Fire at Yosemite National Park that is updated daily with maps and current information.

Tanker 131 nearing completion

T 131 taxiing
T 131 taxiing. Photo by Dan Megna.

Coulson’s C-130Q, Tanker 131, can see light at the end of the tunnel. The aircraft has the new wrap applied and looks pretty spiffy. Today they flew it from San Bernardino up to McClellan to get approval for FAA Part 137, which is for “Agricultural Aircraft Operators”, for “dispensing of any chemical designed to treat the soil or crops”.

Britt Coulson told us they are still working out a few certification details with the U.S. Forest Service, but their goal is to have the aircraft ready to drop retardant over fires as early as the end of this week, or at the latest, next week. The tank holds 3,500 gallons and very seldom will they have to reduce that load due to density altitude. Eventually they may install a larger tank.

SEAT base at Valentine

SEAT base in Valentine Nebraska
SEAT base in Valentine, Nebraska.

The new reload base for Single Engine Air Tankers in Valentine, Nebraska is nearing completion. Thanks to the Nebraska legislature’s passage this year of the Wildfire Control Act, a single-engine airtanker (SEAT) and three airtanker bases are now available in the northwest part of the state. The contracted SEAT came on duty July 15 and SEAT bases will be managed by the Nebraska Forest Service (NFS) at Valentine, Chadron, and Alliance.