The U.S. Forest Service intends to contract for 7 and later up to 15 aircraft outfitted with high-tech sensors to serve as platforms for aerial supervision on wildfires. Today the agency issued a Request for Information to find out what is available and which companies may be interested. The aircraft would not only be able to conduct aerial supervision of other firefighting assets, but would also provide a platform for training of aerial supervision personnel. This will require an aft crew station that provides the capability to manage aerial supervision operations in its entirety. The airplanes would be able to carry one pilot, an aerial supervisor, a trainee aerial supervisor, and an instructor.
Two of the seven aircraft would be able to support day and night operations and would be located at Lancaster, California, and McCall Idaho.
Some of the hardware the aircraft must have would include:
Infrared/Electro-Optical sensing systems with color camera and FLIR systems. The ability to manually “select” an area of interest upon which the system will autonomously (without user input) remain pointed at that area as the aircraft maneuvers.
The ability of the system to provide and display target location (latitude, longitude, altitude). If laser is used, it must be eye safe. The ability to provide a visible (within the visible light spectrum, with and without the aid of NVG’s) marking capability of a target that can be viewed by other aircraft within 1 mile and at off-axis viewing angles at night.
The ability to auto-detect non-participant aircraft.
Data link dissemination for near or near real-time video image viewing and analysis.
Track ground force and air force position location. Data entry to assign naming/labeling/text convention to ground and air forces engaged on the fire.
When an 18-wheeler crashed into a road grader and caught fire in northern Canada on July 29, an air tanker was called in to help prevent the fire from spreading farther into the vegetation. This video was shot on a cell phone by Shawn Noseworthy, a manager with Humber Valley Paving, who was part of a work crew on site when the crash occurred about 30 miles from Churchill Falls, a town of 650 residents.
Here are a couple of screen grabs — the video is below.
The Royal Newfoundland and Labrador Constabulary says the driver of the tractor-trailer rig slammed head-on into the road grater. He was trapped inside as the big rig caught fire, but the grater driver managed to pull the big rig driver to safety. He was taken to Goose Bay-Happy Valley and treated for non-life-threatening injuries at the hospital.
I am not sure if it’s a CL-215, CL215T, or CL-415. I can’t see any winglets at the end of the wings, but I think there are some ‘finlets‘ – two vertical stabilizers on each side of the horizontal tail surface. The presence of both would indicate either a turbo-converted CL-215 or a CL-415. In the audio, it sounds like turbine engines.
10 Tanker Air Carrier has some very impressive photos on their Facebook page of Tanker 910, one of their DC-10s, dropping on the Falls Fire at Lake Elsinore, California yesterday. We don’t have rights to the pictures, but you can view them here.
There are a couple of more plus a video at Wildfire Today. Below is one that was photographed on a TV screen during a live broadcast yesterday.
The U.S. Forest Service issued a solicitation on August 5 for one “amphibious water scooper aircraft”. It has a quick turnaround, with a response due date of August 19, 2013. Like some of the previous solicitations for air tankers, this one holds open the possibility of adding one additional aircraft during the contract period. The USFS expects to have the air tanker begin this calendar year, but the agency’s recent aircraft contracting history shows that may be a very optimistic goal. It took over 500 days to award the “next-gen” contracts.
The solicitation requires 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 does not have FAA or IAB approvals.
We are glad to see the requirement for 7 day a week coverage, instead of shutting down a firefighting resource one day a week like in some other air tanker contracts.
Britt Coulson sent us these photos and told us that last week they ran the engines and conducted calibration static tests on Tanker 131, their C-130Q air tanker. The aircraft was over at the USFS Tanker Base at the San Bernardino airport for some of the tests. They expect to complete the calibration next weekend and begin flight testing in the next few days.
If any of the other air tanker vendors with new exclusive use contracts would like to send us information and photos, we would certainly appreciate it.
The U.S. Forest Service has released another study on air tankers (large 10mb file), which is one of nine commissioned by the agency on the topic since 1995. The $380,000 contract for this one was awarded to AVID, a Virginia-based company that employed a crew of retired and current aviation professionals for this project.
It would be helpful if an expensive 117-page report like this clearly stated the objectives for the study, but all we could find was this:
The purpose of this study is to build analytical data that can be used to estimate the requirement for airtankers in the future.
The report includes a huge quantity of statistics about how air tankers have been used over the last several years. I was expecting to see some concrete recommendations about how they should be used in the future, but there was little along those lines.
This study, like the RAND report, included no information about Very Large Air Tankers. But while the RAND study was favorable toward scoopers, this AVID report addresses them like this:
There is a relatively small amount of USFS background data that documents the use of scooper aircraft, making it difficult to come to conclusions regarding their use. While continued analysis of scooper usage is warranted, the focus of the current analysis is primarily on large airtanker usage, followed by heavy helicopter usage.
There was little else in the report about scoopers, reinforcing the perception that the USFS has a bias against them.
There was definitely some interesting data in the study, and below are two illustrations. Click on them to see larger versions.
The U.S. Forest Service has released a study on how the C-27J could be used by the agency if the Air Force gives them seven as expected. This ninth air tanker study since 1995 was a surprise to us — somehow the Forest Service kept this one under wraps.
The report was prepared by Convergent Performance, LLC in Colorado Springs, Colorado at a cost of $54,000. We can’t find a date on it but the document must have been released very recently. We found a link to it on the Forest Service web site.
If used as an air tanker
The report confirms one thing that we were told by Art Hinaman, USFS Assistant Director for Aviation, on July 1 when we talked with him at the dedication of the memorial site for the crash of MAFFS 7 a month ago. Mr. Hinaman said he thought the C-27J would hold around 1,800 gallons of retardant when outfitted with a conventional, gravity-fed, constant flow tank, and that is what the Convergent study came up with. Of course, Mr. Hinaman had probably already seen Convergent’s findings when we talked about it.
The report 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).
If a mini-MAFFS slip-in retardant system was designed for the C-27J cargo space, which is smaller than a C-130, it would hold approximately 1,100 gallons if the same excess equipment was removed. A MAFFS2 has a maximum capacity of 3,000 gallons, but frequently carries less depending on density altitude and fuel load. The mini-MAFFS would not have an air compressor, therefore requiring the aircraft to depend on air compressors being prepositioned at air tanker bases. The USFS has six mobile air compressor systems that were built to support the original MAFFS, but the latest generation, MAFFS2, has an onboard air compressor.
If used as a smokejumper ship
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.
Here is an excerpt from the report:
The C-27J aircraft is very compatible with the smoke jumper mission. The aircraft is specifically designed as an aerial delivery platform for personnel as well as cargo. The C-27J is a high wing aircraft keeping the disruptive airflow above the jump platform; a distance of 41” between the propeller and fuselage to keep turbulence well away from the jumpers; and a horizontal stabilizer on the tail that sits well above the jumper path practically eliminating any parachute contact. The high wing design and the cockpit’s 16-windows provide the best conditions for air to ground visibility and the robust avionics suite with HUD allows pinpoint GPS accuracy for each airdrop. The side doors have a very safe and comfortable height of 6’ 4” and the rear door opening is 7’ 5” high. Free-fall jumpers can be deployed from either side door exit or from the aft ramp. Static line jumpers can only be deployed using the side door exits.
If used to transport firefighters
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 USFS asked Convergent to analyze how the C-27J could be used to transport two 20-person crews to high-elevation airports with relatively short runways. (The maximum allowable flying weight for a hotshot crew is 5,300 pounds.) The examples given were Alturas, CA (KAAT), 4,378′ above sea level; Reserve, NM (T16), at 6,360′; and Negrito Airstrip, Reserve NM (0NM7), at 8,143′. The conclusions were that landing would not be a problem. At two of the three airports taking off would be possible, but at Reserve (T16) with the 4,777′ runway, the aircraft would usually be able to carry only one crew when departing.
If used for cargo
The aircraft could carry between 12,222 and 25,353 pounds of cargo.
If the C-27J accumulated 250 flight hours annually, Convergent estimated it would cost about $7,400 an hour over a 20 to 30 year life span. At 400 hours a year the cost would be about $5,800 an hour over 20 to 30 years.
From the report:
The C-27J is training intensive and requires constant skill application by the aircrews to remain proficient and mission-ready. Although highly automated, this is not an aircraft that can be effectively and safely operated with min-run training and skill. It requires highly skilled professional aircrew. The training available is thorough and adequate, but it is time consuming (2- 3 months) and relatively expensive in its current form. The length of training and lead-time required to have a fully qualified crewmember to meet fire season operational demand will require structured, deliberate, action. Training is only offered by two sources, one being the manufacturer, but it is conducted overseas with equipment not representative of the aircraft the Forest Service would receive and is generally limited to new purchase customers as part of the point of sale agreement. The only US based training offered is in Warner-Robbins, GA.