First flight tests for Air Tanker 79

When in service hopefully later this year it will replace T-81 that crashed in 2014. Designated T-79, this aircraft will bring the number of CAL FIRE air tankers back up to 23.

Above: One of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted to an air tanker, becoming Tanker 79. Photo by Sergio Maraschin January 29, 2018.

(Originally published at 4:19 p.m. MT January 31, 2018)

Sergio Maraschin sent us these photos of one of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted at Sacramento McClellan Airport to replace Tanker 81 that crashed near Yosemite National Park in 2014, killing pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. The work is nearly complete on what will become Tanker 79 and will bring the number of S-2T’s in the CAL FIRE fleet back up to their traditional number, 23. For the last couple of years T-12, a Neptune Aviation BAe-146,  has temporarily replaced T-81. CAL FIRE expects T-79 to be in service later this year.

Air tanker 79
One of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted to an air tanker, becoming Tanker 79. Photo by Sergio Maraschin January 29, 2018.
Air tanker 79
One of the first flight tests of the S-2 that is being converted to an air tanker, becoming Tanker 79. Photo by Sergio Maraschin January 29, 2018.

And as a bonus, here’s a remarkable photo that Sergio took of T-80 in 2014.

Air tanker 80
Tanker 80 takes off for the last flight of the day while working the Butte Fire in 2015. Photo by Sergio Maraschin.

Using MAFFS on the Thomas Fire

Video of the MAFFS C-130’s and other air tankers in action

Above: Screen grab from the Air National Guard video.

This video features the 146th Airlift Wing’s C-130s which were activated to support CAL FIRE with suppression of the largest fire in California’s history, the Thomas Fire. The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS), which are owned by the U.S. Forest Service, can be loaded into the back of a C-130 and made ready for operations in as little as 3 hours, but it usually takes about a day and a half to get the unit fully mobilized.

Holding the Line from Airman Magazine on Vimeo.

Four minutes with USFS pilot Mary Verry

The U.S. Forest Service has produced a four-minute video featuring Mary Verry, the Fixed Wing Program Manager for the Pacific Northwest, including Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

The title sounds like a desk job but she also flies a lead plane, helping air tanker pilots get into and out of retardant drop targets safely. She describes her job and gives some tips to those who may be thinking about becoming an aerial firefighter. The video is very well done — spend four minutes with Ms. Verry.

Colorado issues analysis of nighttime aerial firefighting

Above: A Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopters drops water on the Fish Fire, June 21, 2016. LACoFD photo by Gene Blevins.

(Originally published at 5:344 p.m. MST January 24, 2018)

Colorado’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting has issued a 28-page report that analyzes nighttime aerial firefighting. Primarily it documents what several Southern California firefighting agencies are currently doing with helicopters at night.

The table below from the report presumably applies to the single helicopter that is double-crewed on the Angeles National Forest to operate both during the day and at night.

aerial firefighting at night
From the CoE report on aerial firefighting at night.

The report does not make any recommendations about flying at night, but does list seven “scenarios” that could be considered for Colorado:

  1. No night aerial firefighting operations in Colorado
  2. Night Operations statewide — wildfire only
  3. Night operations statewide — all hazards
  4. Location-specific night operations
  5. Expanded Multi-Mission fixed wing, for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance at night (the state owns two Pilatus PC‐12 fixed‐wing  aircraft currently being used for missions such as these)
  6. Extended daytime flight hours
  7. Unmanned aerial systems night operations, short-term and long-term

You can download the entire report here (large 2.6 MB file)

Below are tweets showing mostly Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopters operating at night.

Photographer captures DC-10 assisting firefighters in NSW

A post shared by Charlton Durie (@charltondurie) on

Click on the image above to start the video. Then, to see a second video, click on the arrow on the right side of the image.

Instagram user “charltondurie” grabbed this photo and video of Air Tanker 912, a DC-10, dropping retardant on a fire about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia that has burned 1,880 ha (4,645 acres) northeast of Taralga,  between Bannaby and Wombeyan Caves. The aircraft is named “Nancy Bird” after an Australian aviatrix.

A huge fire in the Pilliga Forest between Coonabarabran and Narrabri has blackened over 57,880 hectares (143,000 acres).

Lightning ignited multiple fires across the Blue Mountains and Yengo National Parks in NSW Monday evening. There are two fires burning in remote areas to the north of the Great Western Highway in the Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park and an additional six fires south of the Great Western Highway and north of Warragamba Dam in the Blue Labyrinth, Blue Mountains National Park.

There is also one fire in the Yengo National Park, east of the Putty Road in the Hawkesbury.

These lightning fires are burning in remote areas. NSW  Rural Fire Service and  National Parks and Wildlife Remote Area Firefighters have worked to establish and consolidate containment lines with the support of air tankers.

CAL FIRE considering acquiring larger air tankers

The agency is looking at a range of alternatives, including the C-130, but no decisions have been made

Above: C-130’s in the aircraft boneyard at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. Google Earth.

(Originally published at 10:19 a.m. MST January 20, 2018)

After hearing rumors that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, is considering acquiring C-130’s to use as air tankers, we talked with Dennis Brown, the agency’s Chief of Flight Operations. He confirmed that they are exploring the idea of obtaining some larger air tankers and said the C-130 is on the list of aircraft they are looking at, but emphasized that no decisions have been made. The source of the C-130’s, if that is the direction they choose to go, would be the same as their S-2’s, military surplus, such as the 70+ seen in the photo above in mothballs at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.

CAL FIRE has successfully used S-2 air tankers for about 40 years. The aircraft have served the agency well, but since they started acquiring them from the Department of Defense through the U.S. Forest Service in the 1970s the air tanker state of the art has advanced significantly in spite of converting the S-2A and S-2E/G aircraft to modern turboprop engines.

S-2T air tanker CAL FIRE
CAL FIRE S-2T air tankers at Sacramento McClellan Airport, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Last year the 1,200-gallon tankers, now known as S-2T’s, worked alongside the 19,000-gallon 747 which holds 15 times more retardant, about the same as three-quarters of CAL FIRE’s entire fleet of 23 S-2t’s.

The agency also had on CWN contract in 2017 a C-130 from Coulson (T-133) and an MD-87 (T-105) from Erickson AeroTanker. A Neptune BAe-146 from Neptune (T-12), was on an exclusive use contract. Those three tankers each have a capacity of at least 3,000 gallons.

Perhaps looking at an S-2T parked on the same ramp as the 747 at Sacramento McClellan Airport last year got people thinking.

Since the reborn 747, which came back in a slightly different configuration after a several-year hiatus, is relatively new to the air tanker world, we asked Mr. Brown how it performed while under a Call When Needed contract with the agency in 2017. He said that in the environments where it was assigned it did very well. Like many aircraft, especially new versions, he said they noticed a few things that needed to be worked on.

For the last several years CAL FIRE has been refurbishing and converting an S-2 into an air tanker to replace Tanker 81 that crashed near Yosemite National Park in 2014, killing pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. The work is nearly complete on what will become Tanker 79 and they expect to begin flight tests in the next week or two. This will bring the number of S-2T’s in the CAL FIRE fleet back up to their traditional number, 23. The Neptune BAe-146 on contract has temporarily replaced T-81 for the last couple of years.

New CAL FIRE helicopters

As we reported in December, CAL FIRE’s intended contract  to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR), survived the protest. An administrative law judge ruled against a protest filed by AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation (AWPC, part of Leonardo Helicopters) clearing the way for the acquisition.

We asked Mr. Brown how many CAL FIRE intends to purchase, and he said at least one. In a perfect world they would like to buy one a year for 12 years (or possibly more quickly than that) but it is dependant on the helicopters being available at the right times, and more importantly, the state funds.

Los Angeles County Fire Department is acquiring similar helicopters.

firehawk helicopter LA County FD CAL FIRE
A Los Angeles County Fire Department Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter demonstrates water suppression during a 2013 airshow. Photo credit: Trent Bell.

Videos of a DC-10 working a fire in New South Wales

Above: A DC-10 drops on the Masonite Road Fire in New South Wales. Screengrab from video by Raymond Terrace Fire & Rescue.

Check out these videos of a DC-10 dropping on the Masonite Road Fire near the Newcastle Airport in New South Wales. The fire burned 2,300 hectares (5,683 acres). The airport was closed at times due to degraded visibility caused by the smoke.

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UPDATE January 20, 2018: I found another video, of the DC-10 working the Pilliga fire.