Petition drive organized to hire the DC-10 air tankers

DC-10 departing McClellan
DC-10, Tanker 911, departing McClellan. Photo by Nate Allen

The managers of the Facebook page for the DC-10 air tankers have organized a petition drive designed to convince the US Forest Service to award a long-term contract to 10 Tanker Air Carrier, the company that owns the aircraft.

We checked, and the way the petition works is that you complete a form at the site, submitting your name, address, and email address. You can edit the text if you want, part of which includes this:

…For the health of our forests and the safety of our citizens, I urge you to offer a long-term contract to 10 Tanker Air Carrier….

Then it is converted to an email that is sent to Tom Tidwell, Chief of the USFS at his publicly listed email address. Your name and address will appear in the signature of the message.

10 Tanker Air Carrier will retain your name and email address and may use it, according to the company, to “send an e-blast no more than once/month with news, updates etc. Supporters can unsubscribe at any time. Contact information is kept strictly confidential and will NOT under any circumstances be shared or sold to any other party.”

The most recent request for proposal (RFP) for exclusive use contracts for next-generation air tankers had a response due date of November 1, 2012 and awards based on the submissions could be announced within the next few months. So while the USFS is pouring over the submissions from the air tanker companies, 10 Tanker Air Carrier hopes to influence the decisions that are being made by the federal government either on that RFP or those that may be issued in the future.

It does not appear that the USFS will award any contracts for very large air tankers (VLAT) like the DC-10 on this most recent RFP and will most likely limit the awards to smaller “next-generation” air tankers that have a capacity of 2,400 to 5,000 gallons. However the agency has issued a “request for comments” on a draft VLAT RFP for call when needed aircraft only. The two DC-10s operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier carry 11,600 gallons.

The US Forest Service has not been interested in offering long-term exclusive use contracts for very large air tankers like the DC-10 or 747, and have only made call when needed contracts available.

Air Force releases information about the cause of the C-130 MAFFS crash

MAFFS C-130 crash, US Air Force photo
MAFFS C-130 crash, July 1, 2012 in South Dakota. US Air Force photo.

The US Air Force has released information about the cause of the July 1 crash of the C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) air tanker in South Dakota. More details are at Fire Aviation, but basically it was caused by strong microburst winds out of a thunderstorm.

 

Colorado Senator calls for modernization of air tanker fleet

Air tankers at Rapid City
50-year old P2V air tankers at Rapid City, July 21, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert

A Colorado Senator has issued a press release stating that he is in favor of the modernization of the firefighting air tanker fleet. Senator Michael Bennet is quoted as saying:

After a wildfire season that has wreaked havoc in Colorado, it is clear that we need adequate resources in order to fight these fires and prevent extensive damage to our forests and surrounding communities in our state and across the country. With the average Forest Service aircraft more than 50 years old, I am committed to modernizing our aerial firefighting capacity and working with my Senate colleagues to pursue every avenue available, including possible legislation, to ensure that the necessary resources are available to fight future wildfires.

Mr. Bennet wrote a letter to Senators Jack Reed and Lisa Murkowski who serve as chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Forest Service’s appropriations. In the letter Bennet wrote, in part:

…the Secretary of Agriculture needs flexibility and options to renew a viable and effective fleet to protect the nation.”

Statements like that are very nice. Who is NOT in favor of more air tankers after learning the startling fact that the fleet has declined from 44 in 2002 to the 11 we have today. Most of us are also in favor of more apple pie and walks on the beach. But saying, like others have said over the last year, that he wants more air tankers and making a vague reference to legislation will not rebuild the fleet. Actions speak louder than words.

One of the primary reasons the number of air tankers is not scheduled to exceed 16 in the foreseeable future is that Congress and the President have cut the budget for fire suppression to the point that we can’t afford any more. When Congressmen and Senators whine about having too few air tankers, they need to look in the mirror.

Senators and Congressmen have the power to actually INTRODUCE and PASS legislation that would increase the U.S. Forest Service aviation budget that could provide funding for more air tankers. The agency only has the money now to add seven to the fleet over the next two years, and that will happen only if they can get their contracting house squared away so that they can award the contracts that have been advertised.

 

Thanks go out to Bean

More photos of firefighting aircraft on Google Earth

One of our readers has spotted what he says are three helicopters and one air tanker that show up in satellite imagery visible on Google Earth. Brian found them on satellite photos taken June 12, 2011 which show the Wallow Fire in eastern Arizona actively burning.

Last month on Wildfire Today we had information about three aircraft that showed up on Google Earth satellite photos taken October 26, 2006 during the Esperanza fire in southern California. This link is a Google Earth KLM file that has place marks for all three aircraft. On that imagery, the air tankers were clearly visible. The four reported on the Wallow fire are not as clear, partly because three of them are helicopters, which of course are smaller than air tankers.

But check it out yourself. Here is the information provided by Brian. You can copy the lat/long and paste it into the search box on Google Earth.

  • AE350B helicopter: 33 32 40.27 -109 24 10.21
  • B212 helicopter: 33 32 46.02 -109 24 01.06
  • S64 helicopter: 33 32 55.26 -109 23 13.25
  • P2V air tanker: 33 32 44.35 -109 26 33.99

Even if the aircraft are not super clear, it is interesting seeing the photos of the active Wallow fire which started May 29, eventually becoming the largest fire in Arizona history, burning 538,040 acres, which includes 15,407 acres after it crossed the border into New Mexico.

Australia to contract for aerial resources

NAFCThe National Aerial Firefighting Centre in Australia intends to award new contracts for helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for fighting wildfires. Over the next few months they will be accepting tenders or requests for proposals for:

  • Type 1 (High Volume) rotary wing firebombing services
  • Type 1, 2, and 3 rotary wing services
  • Type 4 fixed wing firebombing services
  • A number of other specialist aircraft services, including intelligence gathering
  • A small number of conventional light fixed wing aircraft services for reconnaissance
  • Very Large airtankers
  • Type 1 and 2 multi-engine airtankers
  • Scooping or self-filling fixed-wing aircraft
  • Proposals to supply data integration services for AFAMS – the national aircraft tracking and event logging system

The request for proposals for very large air tankers is a little surprising after their experiment during the 2009-2010 fire season. After that trial the Aussies were not entirely pleased with the overall performance of a DC-10, however most of the problems were a result of insufficient skill on the part of the crew, rather than the aircraft — for example dropping far too low or completely missing a target. The first pilots who flew the DC-10 very large air tankers had little or no previous experience flying air tankers when that program began. In the last two to three years they have gained a quite a bit more experience flying low and slow over mountainous terrain and have a good reputation in the United States. The two DC-10s have proven to be a reliable and valuable aviation asset.

Erickson Elvis in Victoria
File photo of Elvis in Victoria. Erickson photo.

Great photo of a BAe-146 dropping on Devore Fire

BAe-146 Devore Fire, air tanker,
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, drops retardant on the Devore Fire in Cajon Pass in southern California, November 5, 2012. Photo by Rick McClure

Rick McClure just sent us this excellent photo of Tanker 41, a BAe-146, dropping on the Devore Fire in Cajon Pass in southern California. He used a Nikon D5000 and shot it at f/10 and 1/400. He was not miles away using a huge telephoto lens — he used a zoom lens set at 60 mm for this photo.

Mr. McClure said: “I actually couldn’t run fast enough to get totally out of the drift.”

The fire jumped Interstate 15 eventually burning 350 acres before it was knocked down by firefighters and aircraft.

One more photo that Mr. McClure sent us is on our sister site, Wildfire Today.

C-27J used for first time on missions in the United States

C-27J assisting with recovery from Hurricane Sandy
C-27J assisting with recovery from Hurricane Sandy, delivering generators and other equipment to the New York area, November 3, 2012. National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. David Speicher.

A bill was introduced in the Senate in July to transfer 14 surplus C-27J Spartan aircraft from the Department of Defense to the U.S. Forest Service to be used as air tankers. Nothing has happened to the bill, S. 3441, except to be transferred to a committee, where only 3 percent of the bills introduced in 2009-2010 were enacted.

The Air Force no longer has any C-27Js in Afganistan, but recently they were used for the first time on a mission in the United States. Air National Guard crews from Ohio, Mississippi and Maryland flew the first-ever C-27J domestic operations missions transporting power generation equipment and Humvees to Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y., to help provide needed power resources to areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

According to 1st Lt. Ken V. McGee, a public affairs officer for the Ohio Army National Guard, the 1484th Transportation Company was convoying about 70 trucks and 118 soldiers to set up a food and water distribution point in New York City as part of Ohio’s response to assist neighboring states. An advance team was airlifted by three C-27Js: one each from Maryland, Ohio and Mississippi ANG units.

“This gets the equipment there faster than on the ground,” said Lt. Col. Gary Laubach, an aircraft commander from 135th ASQ.

The C-27J crew flew their plane to Macon, Ga., Oct. 27 – safely out of the path of Hurricane Sandy. On Wednesday, they returned and were immediately put on alert for disaster relief missions.

“It feels different when you are so close to home and closer to your state,” said Laubach while talking about the difference between this mission and past disaster relief missions. “One of our pilot’s mothers is in the affected area and will be out of power for a week. This mission was great – extremely satisfying. It feels good to get stuff to the people who need it; I only wish I could be there when the generators get plugged in where the people need the electricity. This is the best mission you could get.”

Another aircraft the military wants to stop using is the C-23 Sherpa. A Florida Army Guard C-23 transported 6,500 pounds of Meals Ready to Eat from Fort Belvoir, Va., to Farmingdale, N.Y., over the weekend. The U.S. Forest Service has at least one C-23 that they use for dropping smokejumpers.