NASA test crashes a helicopter

NASA helicopter crash testToday NASA conducted a crash test of a helicopter full of instrumented crash test dummies. Researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton dropped a 45-foot long helicopter fuselage from about 30 feet to test seat belts and other crash data.

It is unfortunate that this test was not done before the 2008 crash of the Sikorsky S-61N helicopter on the Iron Complex fire near Weaverville, California in which nine firefighters died. Seat belts was one of the problems identified in the NTSB’s investigation of that crash.

For today’s test the Navy provided the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter fuselages, seats, crash test dummies and other experiments for the test. The Army contributed a litter experiment with a crash test dummy. The Federal Aviation Administration provided a side-facing specialized crash test dummy and part of the data acquisition system. Cobham Life Support-St. Petersburg, a division of CONAX Florida Corporation, also contributed an active restraint system for the cockpit.

Computers on the helicopter recorded more than 350 channels of data as the helicopter was swung by cables into a bed of soil. The helicopter hit the ground at about 30 miles per hour, which represents a severe but survivable condition.

A video of the test is below.

National Guard helicopters arrive at the Rim Fire

Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire

Robert Martinez was kind enough to send us some photos he took yesterday, August 27, at Columbia Airport (map) a few miles north of Sonora, California. Army UH-60 Blackhawks and Air Guard HH-60 Pave Hawks had arrived to be briefed and refueled before they were sent on to the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, about 10 miles southeast of the airport.Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire Blackhawk helicopters Rim Fire

Firefighters fill bucket while helicopter hovers

Over on Wildfire Today an article about some recent wildfires in central Europe had these photos that were captured from a video, of firefighters in Germany using hoses to fill a helicopter’s bucket while the aircraft hovered overhead —  a technique that was new to us.

Firefighters refill a helicopter bucket
Firefighters use two hoses to refill the bucket of a hovering helicopter.
Firefighters refill a helicopter bucket
Firefighters use two hoses to refill the bucket of a hovering helicopter.

Kamov KA-32 helicopter crashes while fighting wildfire in B.C.

Kamov 32 at Loulé heliport in Portugal
Kamov KA-32 at Loulé heliport in Portugal, similar to the one that crashed in B.C. Sunday. Photo by Bill Gabbert, August 29, 2012.

A Russian-built Kamov KA-32 helicopter made a crash landing in British Columbia Sunday, August 4. Jen Norie of VIH Aviation Group confirmed that one of their helicopters was conducting water dropping operations on a wildfire near Bella Colla, British Columbia using an external bucket when the aircraft developed an engine problem. The ship made a hard landing on uneven terrain collapsing at least one landing gear, which caused the aircraft to tip over about 30 degrees. The twin overhead counter-rotating main rotors struck the ground, which of course destroyed them.

Thankfully the two pilots walked away with no injuries, so in that sense it was a “good landing”. There were no passengers on board.

Ms. Norie said the company has been operating KA-32s since the mid-1990s, accumulating over 46,000 flight hours without a major incident, until Sunday.

AVID air tanker report released

Tanker 07 on the Myrtle Fire, 2012
Tanker 07 on the Myrtle Fire, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The U.S. Forest Service has released another study on air tankers (large 10mb file), which is one of nine commissioned by the agency on the topic since 1995. The $380,000 contract for this one was awarded to AVID, a Virginia-based company that employed a crew of retired and current aviation professionals for this project.

It would be helpful if an expensive 117-page report like this clearly stated the objectives for the study, but all we could find was this:

The purpose of this study is to build analytical data that can be used to estimate the requirement for airtankers in the future.

The report includes a huge quantity of statistics about how air tankers have been used over the last several years. I was expecting to see some concrete recommendations about how they should be used in the future, but there was little along those lines.

This study, like the RAND report, included no information about Very Large Air Tankers. But while the RAND study was favorable toward scoopers, this AVID report addresses them like this:

There is a relatively small amount of USFS background data that documents the use of scooper aircraft, making it difficult to come to conclusions regarding their use. While continued analysis of scooper usage is warranted, the focus of the current analysis is primarily on large airtanker usage, followed by heavy helicopter usage.

There was little else in the report about scoopers, reinforcing the perception that the USFS has a bias against them.

There was definitely some interesting data in the study, and below are two illustrations. Click on them to see larger versions.

Wildfire probability June 14 Unable to fill requests vs number of air tankers

Other air tanker studies

Night flying helicopter used on the Mountain Fire

The U.S. Forest Service has been using their new night flying helicopter and air attack ship on the Mountain Fire west of Palm Springs, and proudly produced this graphic.

Night flying data, Mountain Fire

And, they should be proud. It is a big step for an agency that is not known for innovation in their aerial firefighting program. The night flying helicopter concept was reintroduced in the USFS during the first part of June this year.

Martin Mars and other aircraft attack fire near Powell River

In this video the Martin Mars, a single engine air tanker, and several helicopters are seen making water drops on a fire near Powell River in British Columbia June 9.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Alberni Valley Times:

A two-hectare slash fire in Powell River is now under control, and it offered a good opportunity for the Hawaii Mars to show off the important role it can play in firefighting – an essential step given that the province has announced it will not use the bomber next fire season.

Alberni Valley resources played a big part in containing the blaze. Both the Martin Mars \water bomber and Thunderbird fire unit headed out to fight the Powell River fire on Tuesday.

“It was excellent for us,” said Wayne Coulson, CEO of the Coulson group, which owns the water bomber. “We did about four loads and whacked it out with a couple of other machines, and it was a quick one.”

According to Coastal Fire Centre fire information officer Marg Drysdale, the fire was three kilometres northeast of Powell River and the resources that took care of it were three initial attack crews, two officers and half a unit crew, which were the Thunderbirds.

“And then they brought in air tankers, including the Martin Mars,” Drysdale said. “And it knocked the fire down really well.” The fire was reported at 1: 55 p.m. and the Mars bomber began its action in Powell River at 5: 05 p.m., before finishing at 6: 16 p.m. after dropping four loads.

 

Thanks go out to John