Erickson receives contract to build two Aircranes for South Korea

Above: An Erickson Aircrane reloads with retardant while fighting the Beaver Fire in northern California, August 12, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 11:58 a.m. MST January 10, 2018)

Erickson Incorporated has received a contract to build two new Aircrane firefighting helicopters for the Korea Forest Service (KFS). These aircraft are in addition to a previously ordered S64E Aircrane currently under construction at Erickson and due to be delivered in the third quarter of 2018.  These two additional aircraft will be equipped with firefighting tanks, sea snorkels, foam cannons, glass cockpit, composite main rotor blades and night vision goggle capability.

In 2001 KFS became the first foreign government to purchase S-64s from Erickson. To date it has operated five Aircranes in South Korea while maintaining a contract for parts and service support.  This new contract brings the total number of orders for the KFS Aircrane fleet to eight, with the expectation of delivering the seventh and eighth aircraft by the end of 2019.

Erickson owns 20 S-64 Aircrane helicopters as part of their total fleet of 50 aircraft. The S-64 Helitanker is equipped with a 10,000 liter (2,650 gallons) tank capable of rapid snorkeling either fresh or saltwater.

NPS to hire branch chief for aviation

Above: National Park Service photo.

The National Park Service is expecting to hire a National Aviation Program Manager to fill the position vacated last month by the retirement of Jon Rollens. The GS-14 position provides leadership and direction for NPS aviation programs with specific emphasis on national aviation policy, standards and procedures.

There is only one “selective placement factor”. Applicants must have at least 90 days of wildland firefighting experience.

A pilot’s license is not required.

Skills the candidates should have include knowledge of:

  • Aircraft and associated support systems for resource management;
  • Wildland fire management, law enforcement, search and rescue, and related flying activities;
  • Evaluation and audit processes for aviation safety and risk management analysis.

Neither Mr. Rollens or his predecessor, Susie Bates, were pilots.

Before becoming NPS Branch Chief of Aviation in 2011, Mr. Rollens was the Regional Aviation Officer  for the U.S. Forest Service’s Northwest Region for nine years. From 1997 through 2002 he was a National Aerial Attack Systems Specialist for the Forest Service, and before that, a Helicopter Operations Specialist for the USFS Intermountain Region.


Our opinion:

The National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the other federal land management agencies would benefit from having qualified pilots in their top regional and national aviation positions. We have been told that the USFS National Aviation Officer is not a pilot and only one of their Regional Aviation Officers is. A person in these jobs who does not know what they don’t know can be dangerous.

For a position that leads the entire aviation program, if it comes down to two applicants, one with 90 days as a wildland firefighter and another with a pilot’s license, the pilot should get the nod. Most of the complexity in these positions is on the aviation side, not the firefighting aspect. There is a great deal of fire expertise in the organizations that the Aviation Officers can tap into. A wealth of specific and detailed aviation knowledge from a pilots perspective is more rare.

Federal hiring procedures are ridiculously complex, but these agencies should figure out a way to be able to hire at the GS-13 and 14 level, a pilot with extensive program management skills, even if they don’t have firefighting experience.

McClellan Air Field becomes Sacramento McClellan Airport

Above: Static Display March 23, 2016 at Sacramento McClellan Airport during the aerial firefighting conference.

(Originally published at 12:44 p.m. MST December 26, 2017.)

The former McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento has changed hands for the second time in the last 17 years and is now known as Sacramento McClellan Airport (KMCC). It was operated by the U.S Air Force from 1939 until 2000 when it was transferred to Sacramento County. In October of this year the 1,100-acre property was purchased by McClellan Business Park.

In addition to serving private plane owners and companies, the airport also functions as a main flight hub and home for many government agencies and emergency services operators, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento, CAL FIRE, HeliMax, and the U.S. Forest Service C-130 air tanker program. According to the new owners of the airport, it has the largest aerial fire retardant reload base in the United States.

McClellan Jet Services will continue to provide fixed-base services.

Retardant from a helicopter’s internal tank

These days it is not uncommon on a large fire to see a helicopter dropping retardant or a Chinook with an internal tank, or… both at the same time.

This photo of a Columbia Helicopters ship supporting a very large firing operation on the Thomas Fire was in a tweet by the Los Padres National Forest.

In July we posted the KEYT video below which originally was streamed live on YouTube, showing and explaining the activities at a facility set up at the Whittier Fire northwest of Goleta, California for mixing retardant for helicopters that could draft to refill their tanks. The 11-minute video did not show any ships with buckets — just Type 1 helicopters with internal or external tanks.

The video below shows several helicopters including the same Columbia Helicopters aircraft and the 747, supporting the Thomas Fire on December 13, 2017.

TBT: 16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program

For ThrowBack Thursday we’re revisiting a piece we wrote in March, 2016.


The aerial firefighting program in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has grown over a couple of decades into a highly respected, professionally managed organization. After spending some time at their aviation headquarters at McClellan Air Field on Thursday  [March 24, 2016] in Sacramento, I developed as list of 16 facts that you may not know about the program:

1. CAL FIRE has 22 S-2T fixed wing air tankers that can carry up to 1,200 gallons of retardant. They are presently converting an aircraft to replace the one destroyed in the October 7, 2014 crash that killed Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. That process should be complete in 18 to 24 months.

S-2T air tanker
S-2T air tankers at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

2. They have 15 OV-10 Air Attack fixed wing aircraft.

OV-10
A lineup of OV-10 air attack ships at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

3. And 12 Super Huey helicopters.

super huey
Super Huey at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

4. All of the above aircraft were discarded by the military.

5. The S-2T air tankers were designed to be based on aircraft carriers, and therefore have wings that fold. They still retain this feature, which makes it possible to cram more aircraft into a hangar.

S-2T folded wings
An S-2T with the wings folded. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Continue reading “TBT: 16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program”

CAL FIRE receives final approval to purchase new Sikorsky S-70i helicopters

Above: A Los Angeles County Fire Department Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter demonstrates a water drop during a 2013 airshow. Photo credit: Trent Bell.

An administrative law judge ruled last week against a protest filed by a competing company clearing the way for CAL FIRE to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR). This was in spite of the fact that their bid was $63.8 million higher than the one submitted by AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation (AWPC, part of Leonardo Helicopters). When adjustments were made after the protest, there were only two points separating the analysis of the two proposals, out of a possible 1,000 points.

AWPC intended to supply the AW189 which are popular in the offshore oil industry.

Los Angeles County Fire Department has successfully used the Firehawk for several years and just received two more. Firehawk Helicopters in Boise operates several S-70’s.

firehawk helicopter
N137BH, a Sikorsky S-70 “Firehawk” flies to refill its water bucket after dropping on the Rankin Fire in South Dakota September 13, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE will replace up to 12 of their aging Bell Super Huey helicopter with the Firehawks.

CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey helicopter
One of the few CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey helicopters that still has “CDF” painted on the tail. The photo was taken March 24, 2016 at the CAL FIRE facilities at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento, California by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE began the contracting process for the new helicopters in 2015 or early 2016. There were issues with the first attempt and the solicitation and bids were all thrown out. After the second round the agency announced on August 2, 2017 that they “intended” to award the contract to AMUR for the Firehawk but there would be a period to allow protests to be filed.

Vertical Magazine has an in-depth article about the protest.

Video: LA County helicopter drops on Skirball Fire

The Skirball Fire burned 475 acres early Wednesday morning in Los Angeles and forced the closure of the 405 freeway, one of the busiest highways in the nation.

Aerial firefighters on the Oak Fire

Above: An MD-87 drops on the Oak Fire near Yucaipa, California. Screen grab from EPN106 OnScene.TV video. This image and the video below are used with permission.

(Originally published December 1, 2017)

EPN106 of OnScene.TV got some excellent shots of helicopters and air tankers dropping on the Oak Fire near Yucaipa, California November 29. It burned 99 acres off Oak Glen Road and was caused by a vehicle over the side of the road.

If the video below does not start, you can see it on YouTube.

Firefighters benefited from light winds, cooler temperatures, and the fact that the San Bernardino air attack base was only 12 air miles away.

The next day Neptune’s Air Tanker 12, a BAe-146 under contract with CAL FIRE, was released for the season.