Tanker 73’s incident upon landing at Hemet

Tanker 73Tanker 73, one of CAL FIRE’s 23 S-2Ts, had a problem while landing at Hemet-Ryan Airport Friday evening in southern California. Thankfully there were no injuries. The air tanker with one person on board made a retardant drop earlier in the evening on the Rose fire near Perris. It returned to Hemet to reload, and took off again for the same fire but was canceled before dropping the second load according to CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson. Upon landing at 5:40 p.m. there was an “incident”, she said. The Chief did not know if it landed on its wheels.

“I’m not sure if they kept the whole load or not,” she said. “Normally they will jettison the load in situations like that. But there was an unknown amount of retardant still on board. How much and how much it weighed, that’s something investigators will be looking at.”

Congratulations to the pilot for keeping the aircraft on the runway.

These first three photos were supplied by the Hemet Police Department.

Tanker 73
This photo, supplied by the Hemet Police Department, appears to be distorted — stretched sideways.

Tanker 73

The airport was closed Friday night because the air tanker was still on a runway, but the other two air tankers at Hemet-Ryan were relocated to the Ramona Air Attack Base east of San Diego.

Tanker 73
Tanker 73, October, 2012. Photo by Iwan.

 

Thanks go out to Johnny

USFS issues RFI for high-tech lead plane/ASM aircraft — eliminating lead planes?

In August the U.S. Forest Service issued a Request for Information (RFI) asking for potential vendors that could supply aircraft which could be used as Aerial Supervision Modules. Their intention was to contract for 7 and later up to 15 aircraft outfitted with high-tech sensors including sophisticated video capability and infrared. The planes would have a duplicate aft crew station with 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.

Friday, before the government shut down, the USFS issued another RFI that is similar to the other one in many ways. The details are HERE in a Word document.

In this new one they are looking for “up to 15″…

…Aerial Supervision/ Lead Plane aircraft to perform initial attack, extended attack, and lead plane operations in support of nationwide wildland firefighting operations.

They are expecting to contract for groups of five aircraft on each line item, with the five being the same make/model and near-identical configuration.

The RFI in August did not mention lead plane and was looking for turboprop dual-engine or single engine. The new one specifies turboprop or jet, and dual-engine. There are some differences in speed requirements, but the Infrared/Electro-Optical sensing systems with color camera and FLIR systems are similar.

At first glance the August RFI seemed to be seeking aircraft to be used as air attack, especially since it did not mention lead plane anywhere in the document. However both RFIs require a “FAA approved smoke generating system”, which would be used in a lead plane role.

The Forest Service seems to be moving away from separate Air Attack and Lead Planes, and wants to combine the two jobs into one aircraft. This, in spite of the deaths of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on the Yarnell Hill Fire June 30.

The report from that fire on Page 43 includes this:

The ASM working the fire was very busy fulfilling leadplane duties, which limited their ability to perform full Air Attack responsibilities over the fire at the same time.

The ASM did not hear some of the radio calls from the Granite Mountain Hotshots saying they were in trouble and needed air support.

Our opinion:

If there is any chance in hell that combining the Air Attack and Lead Plane roles into one aircraft had ANY part to play in the deaths of the Granite Mountain 19, then this move by the USFS to eliminate lead planes is misguided and will make fighting wildland fires even more dangerous than it is already. This decision, if it has been made, must be reconsidered. The wildland fire agencies need to solicit input from not just the pencil-pushers and accountants who may be trying to fight fire on the cheap, but actual ground and air-based firefighters need to have a chance to provide their input.

LA Times writes about aging air tankers

The LA Times has an interesting article about our aging air tanker fleet.

Air tankers Rapid City
Two of Neptune’s air tankers at Rapid City during the Myrtle Fire, July 21, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

W.J. Hennigan, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, describes himself on Twitter as an “aerospace writer intrigued with the military-industrial complex. If it soars, shoots, or explodes, I cover it.” But he had never written about fire aviation until he began researching a story about air tankers a couple of months ago. The product of his work appeared on the front page of Sunday’s LA Times, an article that revolves around the small, aging fleet of aircraft that drop retardant on wildland fires.

If you follow fire aviation closely, you will not find much new information in the article, but the fact that it appeared on the front page of a nationally respected newspaper makes this an important step toward educating the public and our elected representatives about the deteriorating air tanker fleet.

There are a couple of videos in the article that are worth watching, and be sure and check out the map showing USFS-contracted air tanker crashes since 1994 that have killed 34 aviators.

We’ve said repeatedly that you can’t fight fire on the cheap (here, here, and here), but that’s exactly what the federal government is trying to do. Below are some excerpts from the article:

Aviation companies have to keep bids low to win government contracts, and old military aircraft come cheap. Neptune Aviation Services Inc. of Missoula, Mont., has a Forest Service contract to operate eight large air tankers, the most of any company. It flies Lockheed P-2Vs, an aircraft first built in 1946 to hunt for Soviet submarines.

[…]

“We’re doing the best we can, realizing we can’t do it on the cheap,” said Tom Harbour, the Forest Service’s director of fire and aviation management. “When you look forward, by golly, do we have a problem. We need more aircraft and much more capability.”

 

Thanks go out to Jim, Doug, and Tony.

San Bernardino Tanker Base pumped a quarter million gallons of retardant July 19

San Bernardino air tanker base

Below is how the U.S. Forest Service describes a record-setting day for pumping retardant into air tankers on July 19 during the Mountain Fire west of Palm Springs:

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“On July 19th 2013, there were 6 airtankers assigned to the Mountain Fire working out of the San Bernardino Airtanker Base. The day started at 6am and we were load and return until 9pm. Everything ran as smoothly as it could have. The retardant contractors never stopped mixing and loading retardant, the airport control tower made sure our airtankers had priority over other aircraft and the fuelers on the airport only left the base to fill up the trucks and come right back. The air crews followed direction and supported the base operations. In addition to this, the Forest Service crew performed flawlessly, the Ramp Manager never missed a beat and choreographed a very complex operation safely and efficiently, the Parking Tenders remained on point, knew their jobs and performed them well, the Aircraft Time Keeper never missed a radio or telephone call. Contractors, cooperators, permanent employees, temporary employees and AD’s side by side made this day the biggest single day in history and it could not have come together more perfectly.

The Ramp resembled that of a busy aircraft carrier with moving aircraft, vehicles and personnel. There were many opportunities for things to go wrong, but everyone had great situational awareness and was looking out for each other. Without the hard work of each individual involved at SBD on July 19th, we couldn’t have made such a mark in history. Just a little perspective, last year we pumped 400,020 gallons all year. During the Mountain fire we not only had a historic day of 260,036 gallons, but we also hit the million gallon mark for the year. We pumped 1 million gallons in one week which is unprecedented.

There were news crews, sound recorders, VIP tours and many other visitors looking to get as close as they could to these remarkable aircraft and crews. A special thank you to Johnny Rangel, Marc Durocher, Brian Nuno, Angel Soria, Stewart Miller, Katie Kangas, Dustin Bryant, Lance Dominguez, Steve Fortier, Mike Reza and Matt Bashaw. SBD would not have been as successful without the hard work and dedication of these 11 people. – Leslie Casavan”

 

Thanks go out to Ken

Identify this air tanker

Identify this air tanker

Does anyone know what air tanker is shown in the image above? It is a screen grab from a new USDA video that can be viewed at Wildfire Today. This scene is from 1:06 to 1:16, lasting about 8 to 10 seconds. The retardant may not be coming from the belly of the aircraft, so it could be a MAFFS C-130. Also, the retardant appears to broken up into tiny droplets rather than having a few scattered chunks, indicative of a pressurized system as seen in the MAFFS. Those guys shoot tons of in-flight video.

The aircraft part on the left seems odd, since there’s nothing similar on the right side. But that could be because of the placement of the camera, possibly being off-center.

Tanker 131 drops on its first fire

Air Tanker 131, Coulson’s C-130Q, made its first drop on a wildfire Friday, September 20. It split one load, dropping on both flanks of the Sanctuary Fire on the Los Padres National Forest near the Hopper Mountain Condor Sanctuary where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raises the Condors.

The video above is the first drop for T-131 ever on a wildfire. The second video, below, is the second drop on the other flank.

Tanker 131 and T-44, a P2V, worked the fire with lead plane Bravo-52. The fire was contained at 27 acres.

A big thanks go out to Gary Monday of Ventura County Fire Department who shot the video.

Air Spray to begin converting a second BAe-146

Air Spray's Tanker 482
Air Spray’s Tanker 482 At their Chico, California facility, September 11, 2013. Air Spray photo.

Following up on the development that Air Spray has received a Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra, we checked with Ravi Saip, Air Spray’s Director of Maintenance and General Manager at their new Chico facility in California to get an update on their conversion of a BAe-146 into an air tanker. Like some of the aviation companies, they are keeping their cards close to the vest, but he told us that the project is “moving along well”, and they “anticipate being available for the 2014 fire season”. They have a second BAe-146 that will be “arriving soon” which will also will be converted.

Mr. Saip said, “The long term goal for Air Spray is to facilitate the needs of both the US and Canadian wildfire management teams with as many tools as they need.”

Air Spray signs contract with CAL FIRE

Air Spray Tanker 482, an L-188, at Chico, California. September 13, 2013.
Air Spray Tanker 482, an L-188, at Chico, California. September 13, 2013.

Air Spray, an air tanker company with headquarters in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, has received a Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra “Long Liner” air tanker. The company flew Tanker 482 down to California last week, Chico and later McClennan, to get the aircraft and pilots carded by CAL FIRE. The flight crew will be evaluated by CAL FIRE this week.

Air Spray will leave the L-188 at Chico until the weather turns, and when activated on the CWN contract, they will fly a crew down from Red Deer. They may add up to three more L-188s to the contract when the air tankers are released from their Canadian contracts.

Air Spray also operates Turbo Commander 690 “Bird Dogs” or lead planes, as well as some charter aircraft.

The L-188’s air frame is virtually the same as the P-3, a maritime patrol aircraft which has also seen service in its later years as an air tanker; the L-188 has been called a P-3 with windows. Both of them carry about 3,000 gallons of retardant.

Last year Air Spray established a new United States base at Chico and announced that they had acquired a BAe-146 airliner which they would convert into an air tanker in the new facility.

They hired several workers who had previously worked for the now bankrupt Aero Union. Seven of Aero Union’s P-3 air tankers have been parked at McClellan for over a year, with an eighth in Canada. They are still owned by the bank, unsold, due to the very high cost of putting them back into flyable shape. The rumors that the P-3s have been scrapped are not true.

 

Thanks go out to Johnny, Walt, and Jerome.