34 Type 2 helicopters awarded contracts

The contract was effective April 6.

Above: A Bell 205A-1 Type 2 helicopter lands at the Salmon, Idaho helitack base while working on wildfires in the area, July 28, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

New exclusive use contracts have been awarded for 34 Type 2 firefighting helicopters. Announced by FedBizOps on April 6, the duration is for one base year through April 30, 2019, with the possibility of 3 one-year renewal option periods. The U.S. Forest Service has shown by how they manage the air tanker and Type 1 helicopter contracts that the option periods are definitely not a sure thing after cutting those aircraft during recent optional years.

All of the Type 2 helicopters are Bell products: 205, 210, and 212. The daily availability rates range from $5,500 to $8,800 while the hourly rates are $1,884 to $2,175.

The last Type 2 exclusive use contract awarded in December, 2013 for 31 helicopters also specified one base year with three optional years. The contract before that was for 33 helicopters.

The Forest Service also has helicopters on Call When Needed contracts, on the hope that they will be available when the phone rings. CWN aircraft, both fixed and rotor wing, cost more than exclusive use ships. For example, the 2017 average daily rate for large federal call when needed air tankers was 54 percent higher than aircraft on exclusive use contracts.

Incident Command System specifications helicopters
Incident Command System specifications for helicopters. Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide, 2016.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Brian.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

After a 13-year hiatus the K-MAX is back in production

KAMAN Aerosystems has delivered 8 of the helicopters since restarting in 2016

Above: A K-MAX helicopter under production at KAMAN Aerospace’s facility in Bloomfield, Conn. KAMAN photo.

After producing 38 K-MAX helicopters between 1991 and 2003 KAMAN Aerosystems fired up the manufacturing shops again in 2016 and delivered the 46th a few days ago. The company has committed to making a total of 15 during this production phase with the possibility of adding another 10 later. The airframes are made in Florida and the final assembly is done in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

Like the Erickson Air-Crane, the K-MAX is a purpose built aircraft designed without compromises to do one thing well. Lift external loads. They don’t carry passengers or much internal cargo. In fact there is only room for one person in the K-MAX — the pilot.

K-MAX external instrument panel
K-MAX external instrument panel. KAMAN photo.

From the front it is very narrow, allowing the pilot to easily look straight down at the ground from both windows. While hovering over a target the pilot can see the external instrument panel; critical gauges and annunciators that are always visible during vertical reference flying.

The K-MAX’s on U.S. Forest Service Type 1 helicopter contracts have allowable payloads of 4,847 to 5,065 pounds. That translates to about 605 to 633 gallons of water, before the weight of the bucket is accounted for, which would reduce it by one or two dozen gallons. The Incident Command System requirement for a Type 1 helicopter is a minimum of 700 gallons, yet they continue to receive contracts as a Type 1. In 2016 10 of the 36 helicopters on the contract were K-MAX’s. After the reduction to 28 helicopters in 2017 there were 8.

The USFS contract (on page 102) carves out an exception for the K-MAX when used on initial attack:

For initial attack only, Kmax operators are authorized to use any water bucket with a capacity of over 200 us gallons. This allowance is based on the limited storage compartment capacity of the aircraft and the capability of the pilot to unload the bucket when carried. Higher capacity, compact, lightweight buckets are no longer available or no longer supported. Vendors shall switch to a bucket meeting contract specifications as soon as practical, typically after the first fuel cycle.

Lockheed has worked with KAMAN to configure at least two K-MAX helicopters to be remotely piloted or to operate autonomously. They spent months delivering cargo in Afghanistan flying pre-programed missions.

In 2015 the two companies demonstrated an optionally-piloted K-MAX near Boise, Idaho dropping water and delivering cargo.

The hour and a half demonstration included the following missions:

  • Spot drop – 100 feet
  • Spot drop – 55 feet
  • Trailing drop – 55 feet both at the demo area and at the ridge
  • Carousel delivery – 55 feet, two each to the demo area and on the ridge
  • Backhaul Cargo from the ridge – 150 feet
K-MAX Custer SD
K-MAX helicopter at Custer, South Dakota, July 8, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Roger Wassmuth, Senior Director of Business Development for KAMAN, told us that since the demonstration and the missions in Afghanistan they have improved the technology and are expecting to see the helicopter being used in the future for suppressing wildfires and inspecting or constructing power lines without a pilot in the cockpit.

Mr. Wassmuth said the K-MAX can be purchased for a little over $7 million, which he pointed out, is less than a third of what CAL FIRE expects to pay for each of their 12 new FireHawks, which are running about $24 million in the latest configuration specified by CAL FIRE.

K-MAX under production
A K-MAX under production at KAMAN Aerospace’s facility in Bloomfield, Conn. KAMAN photo.
A K-MAX helicopter drops water on the Comet Fire north of Salmon, Idaho July 28, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
K-MAX Salmon Idaho
K-MAX helicopter at Salmon, ID July 28, 2016. The open doors allow access to various systems for maintenance. The compartment is large enough to store a Bambi Bucket while ferrying. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Revised April 7, 2018 to show that the K-MAX’s on USFS Type 1 helicopter contracts have allowable payloads that are below the ICS minimum requirement for Type 1’s.

CAL FIRE’s acquisition of new helicopter fleet still up in the air

CAL FIRE Firehawk
Model of CAL FIRE Firehawk, by Sikorsky. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

After several false starts over several years, CAL FIRE selected a variant of the Blackhawk to replace its aging fleet of 12 Super Huey firefighting helicopters, but that acquisition is stalled. In what appeared to be the final hurdle an administrative law judge ruled in December against a protest filed by a competing company clearing the way for CAL FIRE to purchase up to 12 new Sikorsky S-70i’s (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR).

When the effort began years ago to replace the fleet of aircraft that is now at the end of its useful life, the legislature was told each new helicopter would cost around $12 million, but they realized the price could escalate. The new Firehawks will run $24 million each with the additional features recently added by CAL FIRE and the Department of General Services.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Sacramento Bee:

The Governor’s Office and Cal Fire are ready to start buying the new machines. “We believe we have provided the Legislature with all the necessary and requested information to move forward on this project,” Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jim.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

K-MAX lifts vehicles out of Grand Canyon

The two vehicles drove off the edge in 2017

Above: A K-MAX helicopter lifts a vehicle out of the Grand Canyon, March 29, 2018. NPS photo.

On March 29 a K-MAX helicopter at Grand Canyon National Park lifted two vehicles out of the inner canyon that drove off the edge in 2017. The National Park Service didn’t provide any details about how or why the vehicles ended up there, or if anyone was in them at the time, Thelma and Louise style.

K-MAX lifts vehicle grand canyon
A K-MAX helicopter lifts a vehicle out of the Grand Canyon, March 29, 2018. NPS photo.

Apparently this is a recurring project, as you can see in the video from 2009:

And in other Grand Canyon aviation news, the park’s contract helicopter has a new paint job. The MD-900/207E recently returned to the park after having all the old paint sanded off by hand. The sanding and painting took about 6 weeks.

Grand Canyon NP contract helicopter
New paint on Grand Canyon NP contract helicopter. NPS photo.

New paint on new Firehawks

helicopters firehawk
New Los Angeles County FD Firehawks, Photo by LA County FD.

This photo supplied by the Los Angeles County Fire Department shows paint jobs nearing completion on two new Sikorsky Firehawk helicopters. The next step is to add modifications which will build them into aerial firefighting machines.

Getting ready for the wildfire season at HeliMax

Helimax has six Chinook CH-47D’s

After I visited Airstrike’s hanger last week to check on the progress on their P3, Tanker 23, I stopped by the Helimax Aviation facility just down the road. Two of their CH-47D Chinooks were undergoing maintenance in the hangar.

Helimax has two Chinooks on Forest Service exclusive use contracts and two on call when needed contracts, plus two others. Their mandatory availability period begins in early May for the EU ships. Upon mobilization they travel with two pilots, a non-rated crewmember, four mechanics, and one fuel truck driver hauling up to 6,000 gallons. As shown in one of the photos below they also load into the cargo bay a four-wheeler with an attached trailer for hauling the 2,600-gallon Bambi Bucket. The Chinook can cruise at 140 knots (161 mph), pretty fast for a helicopter, and has an endurance of about three hours.

To see large versions  of the photos, click on one of the small images immediately below.

Photos of aircraft at Aerial Firefighting conference

In addition to the static display, three air tankers made demonstration drops.

Above: Air Spray’s Air Tanker 481, a Lockheed Electra L188 on static display at McClellan, March 12, 2018.

On March 12, 2018 two large busloads of attendees at the Aerial Firefighting Conference at Sacramento McClellan Airport were transported from the meeting facility to a nearby ramp where more than a dozen aircraft were on static display. At the conference two years ago the lead bus driver got lost on the three-block drive, but thankfully there were no mishaps this year.

In addition to the static display, three air tankers made demonstration drops with water, one RJ85 and two Fire Boss Single Engine Air Tankers.

Click on one of the small images immediately below to see large versions.

Here is a link to photos we took at the static display during the 2014 conference.

2017 was a busy year for air tankers

In spite of that, the numbers of air tankers and helicopters are being slashed

Above: A water-scooping air tanker, a CL-415, at Sacramento, March 12, 2018.

In our notes from the Aerial Firefighting conference HERE and HERE, we included information about how some air tankers were busier than usual in 2017:

  • Ron Hooper, CEO of Neptune Aviation, said their air tankers in 2016 averaged 180 hours while working on wildfires. In 2017 that increased to 276 hours each.
  • Rick Hatton of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, said each of their three DC-10s averaged about 300 hours on fires in 2017, which is more than usual.
  • Shawna Legarza, the USFS Director of Fire and Aviation, said the two Aero-Flite CL-415 scooping air tankers that were on exclusive use (EU) USFS contracts in 2017 each had over 400 hours of fire flight time.

After we reported the information above, Jason Robinson, the Chief CL-415 pilot for Aero-Flite contacted us to supply more details. He generally  confirmed the numbers reported  by Ms. Legarza and said their two EU and two CWN CL-415’s averaged 410 hours each. In July and August alone the four scoopers flew 1,036 hours. The company brought in extra staffing to provide seven-day coverage and manage pilot fatigue. He said that in 2017, 12 Canadian CL-415’s and CL-215’s worked in California and Montana.

Mr. Robinson said they have operated CL-415’s in Alaska for up to 12 hours a day by double-crewing the aircraft.

Due to a reduction in the federal firefighting budget by the Administration and Congress, there will be no scoopers on the EU list this year. Some are still on a CWN contract, but they may or may not be available if the USFS Calls them When Needed. The large air tankers are being cut from 20 to 13 while the large Type 1 helicopters have been reduced from 34 to 28.