Trade organization issues press release about the state of fire aviation

The American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) has issued a press release about the current state of contracted aerial firefighting services for the federal government.

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2013  — On the eve of its 2014 Annual Meeting in Boise, Idaho, on November 20, the American Helicopter Services & Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) has cited some progress over the past year toward airtanker fleet modernization, along with on-going opposition to any increased role for government in the aerial firefighting business.

“After years of discussions between AHSAFA, US Forest Service (USFS) officials, and Congress, multi-year, operating contracts—worth $261 million—were awarded last spring by the USFS to five companies for seven next-generation large airtankers, to be available for the 2013 fire season,” said AHSAFA Executive Director Tom Eversole. “The USFS has said there is a need for as many as 26 modern large airtankers within the next five years. We consider the contract awards to be a major step toward the replacement of the current large airtanker fleet, consisting of seven to eight Cold War Era military surplus aircraft. All indications are that the USFS will not contract for these legacy aircraft beyond the current contract period, which ends in 2018.”
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Tanker 131 on the Wheeler Fire

T-131 on the Wheeler Fire, November 14, 2013

Britt Coulson sent us this very impressive video and the excellent photos of their C-130-Q, Tanker 131, dropping on the Wheeler Fire in southern California. The still photos were taken by Michael Meadows on Thursday, November 14 and are used here with his permission.

You have to watch this video. I have seen lots of forward-looking videos shot from the cockpit of air tankers, but this one looking toward the rear allows you to see where the retardant hits the fire. Very impressive. We asked Britt for some details about the camera:

It is the newest version of GoPro and they mounted it on the rear ramp door. The C-130Q has a hole where the low frequency RF cable used to go out that was later converted to a window with bars over it so it doesn’t get damaged. We build a housing that attaches to the bars and holds the camera. I believe they activated it before they took off then just cut the video down.

They have another camera mounted on a wing tip but it was not turned on for this flight. The photo below was taken from that camera.

T-131 from wing tip camera

The Wheeler Fire, north of Santa Paula in Ventura County, was contained at 64 acres. T-131 dropped 10,500 USG over 3 sorties and 5 drops.

Coulson’s exclusive use contract with the U.S. Forest Service ended for the year on November 15 but the agency gave them an extension based on fire activity.

Click on the photos to see larger versions.
T-131 on the Wheeler Fire, November 14, 2013 T-131 on the Wheeler Fire, November 14, 2013Thanks Britt and Michael!

New USFS aircraft engineering contract requires C-27 experience

C-27J lands at Qalat, Afghanistan.
C-27J taxis after landing at Qalat, Afghanistan. USAF photo by Master Sgt Jeffery Allen.

The U.S. Forest Service has awarded an aircraft engineering support services contract to Aeronautica. Issued on November 4, the specifications in the solicitation require the contractor to have experience as an engineer with the G222, C27A or C27J. It is also necessary for the contractor to have a Designated Engineering Representative on staff that is fluent in Italian.

The USFS hopes to acquire seven Italian-designed C-27Js from the U.S. Air Force, but the Coast Guard is battling them and wants to get all of the remaining 14, possibly giving the USFS some old Coast Guard C-130s instead. The C-27Js are almost brand new and the USFS wants to use them as air tankers, smokejumper platforms, or for hauling cargo and firefighters.

Since the engineering contract specifically mentions the C-27J, the USFS must have been pretty certain when the solicitation was issued August 2, 2013 that they were going to obtain the aircraft. However the one to five-year contract, with a not-to-exceed amount of $300,000, has provisions that could apply to other planes as well, including:

  • Aircraft certification
  • Aircraft operational loads monitoring
  • Assist in determining contract compliance for other aircraft
  • Small Scale Engineering Projects
  • Integration of retardant delivery systems on large aircraft

It will be interesting to see how the negotiations between the USFS and the Coast Guard turn out.

Coast Guard wants to trade with the USFS, C-130s for C-27s


The fate of the 21 almost new C-27J Spartan aircraft that the Air Force wants to get rid of is still not clear. On October 28 Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the decision to give seven of them to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), but he has not determined the fate of the remaining 14 according to Pentagon spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. The U.S. Forest Service wants 7 of them for firefighting operations.

In the video above, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp said they wanted all 21, but  “…we are going to press ahead and get as many of those [remaining 14] as we can.” The portion of the interview in which the C-27J is discussed begins at 4:25.

Adm. Papp also broke the news that the Coast Guard is negotiating with the U. S. Forest Service to give them some old C-130s if the Coast Guard can get all 14 C-27Js after SOCOM takes the first 7.

Of course this throws a large monkey wrench into the Forest Service plans. But, the C-27J would not qualify as a next-generation air tanker since it could only carry 1,850 gallons of retardant according to a study that cost the agency $54,000. They want large air tankers that can carry at least 3,000 gallons, however there is something to be said about a mix of aircraft with their individual niche capabilities. A C-27J might be better used as a smokejumper platform, to haul cargo to fires, and transport two or three 20-person fire crews.

The Admiral did not say what model of C-130s the Coast Guard wants to get rid of, although he did mention C-130Js at one point. Nor did he say WHY the Coast Guard wants to get rid of the old C-130s (and get almost brand new replacement aircraft!). If they are low-usage C-130Js in good shape with lots of life left in them, the USFS could create a government-owned, contractor-operated large air tanker program. But Coast Guard aircraft are used in a maritime environment, much like the old P2Vs which were converted to air tankers, which could accelerate aging issues.

The text below is a transcript of a portion of Adm. Papp’s statement in the interview:

We were interested in getting our hands on all 21 of them. Special Operations Command I believe is going to get 7 of them and some number of aircraft were promised or at least directed to the Forest Service for firefighting.

It’s difficult for me to talk about the details of the negotiations right now but we’re working with the Forest Service to make sure that that is the particular aircaft that would suit their needs. We have C-130s that we can convert and turn over to them that might be better for them but we have staff that are working right now. Ideally out of the remaining aircraft we would like to get 14, that allows us to fully outfit 3 air stations and anything less than that, we would have to go back and really reevaluate the project… We are going to press ahead and get as many of those as we can.

In July of 2012 Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced legislation known as the Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 2012 (S. 3441) ”to help replenish the agency’s aging airtanker fleet”. It would have required the transfer of 14 C-27Js to the Forest Service. The bill died, and since then the USFS has said they want 7 of the aircraft.

C-27Js at Mansfield, Ohio Feb. 13, 2013. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Harwood
Air National Guard C-27Js at Mansfield, Ohio Feb. 13, 2013. US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Harwood.

The report the USFS commissioned concluded the C-27J could carry 1,850 gallons of retardant if 3,200 pounds of unneeded equipment were removed, including flight deck armor (approximately 1,100 lbs), miscellaneous mission equipment such as litter stanchions, tie-down chains, ladders etc. (approximately 1,000 lbs), and the cargo loading system (approximately 1,200 lbs).

Smokejumpers could exit the C-27J through the two side doors or the aft ramp. Depending on how the aircraft was configured, it could transport between 24 and 46 jumpers. According to the report, the aircraft configuration can be changed and fitted with standard outer and center seating to accommodate 68 passengers with limited personal equipment plus 2 loadmasters. The maximum allowable flying weight for a hotshot crew is 5,300 pounds.

The study said the aircraft could carry between 12,222 and 25,353 pounds of cargo.

 

Thanks go out to Dave

Australian aviation fleet prepares for bushfire season

Air-Crane Camille drops on the Badgerys Lookout Fire
Air-Crane Camille drops on the Badgerys Lookout Fire in New South Wales. Photo: Kerry Lawrence, NWS RFS

As the bushfire season begins in Australia the firefighting agencies in their States and the National Aerial Firefighting Centre are ramping up the fleet of aerial resources to be ready for the fires which got a much earlier start than normal in October when the “worst wildfire conditions in more than 40 years” destroyed more than 200 homes. During that siege two two fixed wing aircraft crashed killing both pilots.

The bushfire season has historically started in late November or early December and lasted through February, but now that we have warmer and more extreme weather across the globe fire managers in Australia and around the world are having to adapt.

Most of the firefighting aircraft in Australia are privately owned and work under contracts for the government. The National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC) coordinates the procurement of the aircraft on behalf of the States and Territories.

 National Aerial Firefighting Centre Richard Alder, the General Manager of the NAFC, told Fire Aviation that about one third of the 75 contracted aircraft have started work already and the majority will be on by early to mid-December, depending how the fire season develops in the south part of the country. As the summer temperatures increase, the down under fire season moves from north to south. The 75 aircraft includes helicopters, Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs), and fixed wing aircraft that are used for reconnaissance and other purposes.

During last year’s 2012-2013 fire season, NAFC had the following on contract:

  • 14 SEATs (Air Tractor AT 802 and AT 602)
  • 3 Bell 206-L
  • 2 Bell 205
  • 5 Bell 212
  • 2 Bell 214-B
  • 5 Erickson S 64 Air-Crane
  • 12 Eurocopter AS 350, 355, and 365
  • 2 Kawasaki BK 117-B2
  • 4 Sikorsky S 61-N

This season, 2013-2014, in addition to the smaller helicopters, Mr. Alder said they will have:

  • 23 SEATs, which includes one water-scooping FireBoss. (All are on exclusive use, three-year contracts with options to extend to five years.)
  • 6 Erickson S 64 Air-Cranes (from Kestral Aviation via Erickson)
  • 2 Sikorsky S 61-N (from Coulson Aircrane Australia, a subsidiary of Coulson Aircrane in Canada)
  • 10 Bell 214-B, which the NAFC considers a Type 1 helicopter (from McDermontt Aviation)
  • Other aircraft, including 30 SEATs, are available on call when needed contracts.

There are no air tankers larger than SEATs working in Australia, in spite of a request for proposals that NAFC issued in November, 2012. They advertised it at the time via Twitter:

That RFP indicated their intention to contract not only for various types of helicopters, but also for water-scooping, large, and very large air tankers. We asked Mr. Alder what became of the effort to procure the larger aircraft. He responded:

The RFP is a component of a major project we have running to closely examine the applicability of larger fixed wing airtankers in the Australian situation. The project is ongoing and we are continuing to (actively!) gather and analyse data and related information on these capabilities (and are particularly grateful to our colleagues in the US for sharing their experiences over the recent season).

 

New CL-415 seen at Winnipeg

Aero Flite CL-415 at Winnipeg
Aero Flite CL-415 at Winnipeg, November 5, 2013. Photo by Bokovay.

We have received two reports about a new CL-415 that has been at Winnipeg (CYWG) for the last several days. It is sporting an Aero-Flite logo and a registration number of C-GUZF. This is apparently the aircraft purchased by TENAX Aerospace which will be leased to Aero-Flite, the company that recently received a five-year contract from the U.S. Forest Service for a CL-415 water-scooping air tanker. We think this is designated Tanker 260.

 

Thanks go out to Mike and Barry

After crash, Dromaders grounded in Australia

Six days after the crash of a Dromader single engine air tanker that killed pilot David Black, government investigators have reached the crash site. Firefighters built a helispot in the steep, rugged terrain, but strong winds prevented helicopters from flying the investigators into the area.

Below is an excerpt from the Guardian:

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“…Seven other models of the same fixed-wing aircraft were grounded on Wednesday by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority as a precaution.

David Black, 43, died when his Dromader aircraft crashed in Budawang national park, 40 kilometres west of Ulladulla, about 10am on Thursday.

A witness saw one of the plane’s wings fall off before the aircraft plummeted.

Fire risks and rough terrain meant investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found it difficult to reach the crash site but on Wednesday a team of four got there.

“Rural fire service teams had completed clearing a helicopter landing site nearby. However, the site has not been accessible until today due to ongoing high winds,” a bureau spokesman said.

On the same day a Casa spokesman, Peter Gibson, announced that seven Dromaders had been grounded.

“It’s a precaution to make sure there aren’t any problems with the wings or other structures on the aircraft,” he said.

The aircraft were used for crop dusting in NSW and Queensland, Gibson said, and could be contracted for water bombing.

In April the bureau released a report after investigations into three fatal incidents involving Dromader aircraft.

On each occasion the aircraft were carrying increased weight and the bureau found associated safety risks, despite approval being granted for operation at takeoff weights of more than 4200kg.

The report outlined operating limitations under higher loads and recommended increased awareness among pilots.”

USFS awards scooper contract to Aero-Flite

The U.S. Forest Service awarded a contract today to Aero-Flite of Kingman, Arizona for one scooper air tanker.

CL-415. Photo by LA County Fire Department.
File photo of CL-415, courtesy of LA County Fire Department.

The U.S. Forest Service awarded a contract today to Aero-Flite of Kingman, Arizona for one scooper air tanker, an aircraft that can refill its tank by skimming along the surface of a lake. As Fire Aviation reported at the time, the solicitation was posted August 5, 2013 and closed August 19. In spite of the two week federal government shutdown it was awarded about 5 weeks after closing, a remarkably quick turnaround for USFS aircraft contracting. It took over 500 days to award the “next-gen” air tanker contracts.

The solicitation required the following: amphibious and scooping capability, turbine engines, 180-knot cruise speed, 1,600-gallon capacity, and 7 days a week coverage. It also has to have previous approval by the Interagency Airtanker Board. The specs appear to limit the qualifying aircraft to only the CL-415. The Be-200 could possibly meet the operational specs, but it does not have FAA or IAB approvals.

According to FedBizOpps.gov the dollar amount of the contract is $57 million. It is a five year deal with a provision to add a second aircraft if both parties agree.

Aero-Flite’s website says they have five Canadair CL-215 aircraft, and does not list a CL-415 in its inventory. Calls to company President Matthew Ziomek to obtain more details about the contract were not returned.

The CL-415 will be leased from TENAX Aerospace by Aero-Flite. It is a brand new aircraft and will be the only CL-415 in the United States.

In June Aero-Flite also received a contract from the U.S. Forest Service for two Avro RJ85 “next generation” air tankers but Conair has not yet completed the conversions for TENAX who will lease them to Areo-Flite. One of them, Tanker 160, has been seen in Canada undergoing flight tests in recent weeks.

UPDATE May 5, 2014: Aero-Flite’s CL-415 was designated Tanker 260.