12 Questions for Kenny Chapman

This is the third in a new series of articles on FireAviation.com featuring aerial firefighters answering 12 questions about their profession. We hope to get participation from senior pilots, as well as Air Operations Branch Directors, Air Tactical Group Supervisors, and others that have worked closely with fire aviation. Our objective is to not only provide our readers with interesting articles, but these very experienced aerial firefighters may also reveal a few gems of information that could prove to be valuable to those considering or just beginning a career in fire aviation. If you have a suggestion of someone who would be a good candidate for these questions, drop us a line through our Contact Us page. And their contact information would be appreciated.

Today we hear from Kenny Chapman, a Senior Firefighting Pilot of an S-64 Aircrane, flying with Erickson Air-Crane, Inc.


Kenny ChapmanWho is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known? And why?
Sonny Morrison, Rusty Foster, Vern Shindele, Bob Forbes, Walt Darran. I flew my first fire with Sonny, my first full contract with Rusty and my last fixed-wing contract with Vern. All had the patience to teach and tolerate a beginner. Bob has been in the business longer than anyone else. That says volumes alone about his abilities. Walt has always been a force in trying to make the business safer, more modern and more professional. There are too many others to mention here, many that have given their lives in the line of duty.

One piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?
Simple. No fire is worth someone’s life. Remember your training.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Listen to the people in the field, both in the air and on the ground. They know better than anyone what we need and how we need to do it. If you are retired from another agency quit trying to turn what we are doing into what you used to do.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
Good communication and visibility when you are on the line. Mirror flashes, panel markers and quality radio calls can save a great deal of time. Visiting any of the tanker or helitack bases also helps immensely by putting faces with names and learning the other person’s job.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
How to better make use of the standby time.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?
I think the industry obsesses with the idea of converting something when there are three new production aircraft available right now. The Erickson Air-Crane S-64, the Canadair CL-415 and the 802 Air Tractor on both wheels and floats. That said I think the MD-87 and BAE/RJ that are coming out have great potential. I think later versions of the C-130 and P-3 will make fine tankers. They have already proven themselves. They just need the later airframes.

List the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?
PBY, S-2, Bell 206 Series, Sikorsky S-61 and S-64 on fires. The S-64 Skycrane is my favorite by far because of the amazing capabilities it has and because it is the one I have the most experience in. The PBY would be my second choice.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
Flattening a chicken coop on the island of Othonoi Greece with a drop and watching the chickens shoot out unharmed.

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?
Around 4500 out of 16200.

Your favorite book about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?
The Pine Tree Shield, Stephen Pyne’s Fire on the Rim, [Steve Smith’s] Fly the Biggest Piece Back, Tall Timber Pilots.

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
Co-pilot on a PBY for Hemet Valley Flying Service 1971.

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
iPad with ForeFlight and OzRunways


Photos: aerial firefighting in New South Wales

Air-Crane Camille drops on the Badgerys Lookout Fire
Air-Crane Camille drops on the Badgerys Lookout Fire. Photo: Kerry Lawrence, NWS RFS

While the wildfire season in most of the United States is in hiatus, our friends down under in New South Wales are busy — VERY busy, during one of their busiest bush fire seasons in years. We want to thank the Rural Fire Service for these photos of some of their aircraft that have been working on the fires.

Firebird 211 drops at Camerons Creek
Firebird 211 drops at Camerons Creek. Photo: NWS RFS
SEATs line up to reload at Narrabri
Single Engine Air Tankers line up at Narrabri. Photo: NSW RFS
Supplies are loaded into a helicopter to assist flooding victims
Supplies are loaded into a helicopter to assist flooding victims earlier in 2012. Photo: NWS RFS

(More photos are below)

Continue reading “Photos: aerial firefighting in New South Wales”

Columbia helicopter crashes in Peru (updated)

(Scroll down for an update)

A helicopter operated by Columbia Helicopters crashed in Peru’s Amazon jungle on Monday, according to Rueters, killing all that were aboard. Corpac, Peru’s air transport agency, said the helicopter was operated by the local unit of Columbia Helicopters. According to the agency five U.S. citizens and two Peruvians were on the helicopter and that rescue crews were recovering their bodies.

Local media reports said the people on board worked for Petrominerales Ltd, a Canadian-based oil exploration firm focused on Latin America.

In 2012 Columbia had four Type 1 helicopters on wildland fire contracts with the U.S. Forest Service, two KV-107s, one BCHI-234, and one CHI-107.

Our condolences go out to the families and coworkers.


UPDATE: January 9, 2013

The National Transportation Safety Board made this announcement today:


Jan. 9, 2013

WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team of investigators to Pucallpa, Peru, to assist the Government of Peru with its investigation of yesterday’s crash involving a Boeing helicopter. According to the U.S. Department of State, the accident claimed the lives of five American citizens.

On Monday afternoon, in Pucallpa, Peru, a Boeing-Vertol 234 helicopter, operated by the U.S. operator Columbia Helicopters, crashed shortly after takeoff. The helicopter had departed from FAP Captain David Abenzur Rengifo International Airport, Pullcapa, Peru enroute to Tarapoto, Peru. It has been reported that all seven persons aboard the aircraft sustained fatal injuries.

The NTSB has designated senior air safety investigator, Paul Cox, as the U.S. Accredited Representative. He will be accompanied by two NTSB investigators with expertise in helicopter systems and operations, a representative from the Federal Aviation Administration, and a representative from Columbia Helicopters. The team is expected to arrive in Peru tonight.

The Comision de Investigacion de Accidentes de Aviacion (CIAA) Ministerio de Transportes y Comunicaciones – MTC of Peru will release all information concerning the investigation. They can be reached at: Tel: 51-1-6157488 (website: http://www.mtc.gob.pe) “

Coulson modifies 2 helicopters for night flying

Coulson S61, C-FMAY.
One of Coulson’s S61s, C-FMAY. Photo by Coulson

Coulson Aviation has modified two helicopters so that they can be flown at night. The company, according to Vertical Magazine, took one of their four Sikorsky S61s and a Bell 206B Jet Ranger to Boise, Idaho to get Aviation Specialties Unlimited to make the modifications necessary to be compatible with night vision goggles (NVG).

Coulson also installed a hoist and a medivac interior on the S61, similar to the systems on Los Angeles County’s SH-3 Sea King helicopters, so that it could be used to extract injured personnel from remote areas day or night. This capability could save the lives of firefighters who are victims of accidents after sunset.

Two of the company’s S61s, including the NVG-equipped ship, are in Australia now working on a fire contract. Night flying is not part of the agreement but Coulson hopes to demonstrate to the authorities the benefits of fighting fire at night, when fires move more slowly and firefighting can be more effective.

The US Forest Service will experiment with one night-flying helicopter in 2013, even though helicopters have been fighting fire at night for decades.

Minnesota to contract for 3 helicopters

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has posted solicitations for firefighting helicopters at their bases in Cloquet, Princeton and Roseau. Here is an excerpt from their web site:

Service of a helicopter that is fully operated by qualified personnel, and equipped to meet specifications for use in administration, management and protection of lands from wildfire in Minnesota. The types of services which aircraft would generally be required to perform, but not restricted to are: Transportation of personnel, Equipment and supplies, Reconnaissance flights, Fire detection flights, Photography work involving, prolonged slow flight, Helicopter–bucket and fire missions, Administrative flying, Incident Support. Project Technical information contact: Bill Schuster at 218-327-4573.


Photos of aircraft on Fern Lake Fire

Minden's Tanker 48 dropping on the Fern Lake Fire. Photo by Paul Filmer
Minden’s Tanker 48 dropping on the Fern Lake Fire. Photo by Paul Filmer

Paul Filmer took some excellent photos of aircraft working on the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park west of Estes Park, Colorado, December 4, 2012. The photo above is the first one I can remember seeing of an air tanker dropping with snow in the background.

We thank Paul for allowing us to use his photos. You can see a couple of dozen more that photos he took December 4 at his web site. More information about the Fern Lake Fire can be found at Wildfire Today.

Air-Crane drafting water from a "pumpkin" on the Fern Lake Fire, Photo by Paul Filmer
Helicopter Transport Services’ Skycrane drafting water from a “pumpkin” on the Fern Lake Fire, Photo by Paul Filmer
HeliQuest Aviation's KMAX on the Fern Lake Fire. Photo by Paul Filmer
HeliQuest Aviation’s K-MAX on the Fern Lake Fire. Photo by Paul Filmer

Erickson buys back the Air-Crane it sold to power company

sunbird aircrane
SDG&E’s Sunbird Air-crane helicopter, scooping water at Lake Hodges, shortly after it was delivered in August, 2010. SDG&E photo.

Erickson Air-Crane has bought back an Air-Crane helicopter that it sold two years ago to a power company in California. In 2010 Erickson sold a $30 million S-64F Air-Crane to San Diego Gas and Electric which acquired it to facilitate the construction of a powerline in eastern San Diego County. The company also made it available for fighting wildfires, using the call sign Helicopter 729 when operating on a fire, and “Sunbird” when working on the powerline. The Air-Crane can carry 2,650 gallons of water when suppressing a fire.

Erickson paid SDG&E $21.75 million, according to Portland Business Journal, to purchase the Type 1 helicopter in October.

In conjunction with the aircraft transaction, Erickson entered into an agreement with SDG&E to provide an Air-Crane for fire suppression support in San Diego County this Fall. SDG&E leased the aircraft for a 3-month period from September through November 2012, with an option to renew the lease for the same period each year through 2016.

Erickson added the aircraft to its fleet which now expands to 18 Air-Cranes. The company said it will allow the Company to meet the growing demand for heavy-lift aerial services in the oil-and-gas and powerline construction sectors.

Erickson Air-Crane went public April 11, 20121, selling stock at an initial public offering. Listed as EAC on NASDAC, it sold for about $8 that day, which netted $32 million for the company, about half of what they hoped for a few months earlier. The company used the proceeds to help pay down their debt which as of December 31, 2011 was $130.6 million. Since the IPO the stock price has ranged from $5.35 to $8.50 and closed at $8.03 Friday.

In 2007, ZM Private Equity Fund bought the company, and in 2009 moved the headquarters to Portland. ZM retained 63 percent ownership after it went public with the sale of stock.