Australians gear up for bushfire season

"Elvis", an Erickson Air-Crane
“Elvis”, an Erickson Air-Crane. Credit: Erickson

At the beginning of the bushfire season in Australia, Peter Ryan, the Deputy Premier of Victoria, held a press conference to announce that “Elvis is back in the building”. The Premier was referring to an Erickson Air-Crane, a Type 1 helicopter which can carry 2,650 gallons of water. The Australians have a special fondness for the Air-Cranes, and especially for the one named “Elvis”, which is credited for helping to protect almost 300 homes near Sydney in 2001 and also for helping save the lives of 14 firefighters in the Burragorang Valley in New South Wales.

CFA air resources 2012-2013
Country Fire Authority air resources to be available beginning December 26 in Victoria for the  2012-2013 bushfire season. Credit: The Age

In addition to “Elvis” (N179AC), Victoria’s Country Fire Authority has contracted for a second Air-Crane, “Gypsy Lady” (N189AC).

Through contracts with various state and territory governments in Australia, Air-Cranes and Skycranes have been helping the Australians during their fire seasons since  “Millie” (N223AC) was deployed there in 1997. One of the more notable missions was the 2001-2002 bushfire season when “Georgia Peach” (N154AC) and “Incredible Hulk” (N164AC), were rushed out from the U.S.A on board a Russian Antonov An-124 air freighter to assist with bushfires near Sydney, working with “Elvis” which was already “in the building”.

US Park Police helicopter

USPP helicopter
National Park Service Director Jarvis arrives at Fort Wadsworth on the northeastern shore of Staten Island during the recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Fort Wadsworth was the location of the Incident Command Post for the National Park Service Incident Management Team after the hurricane. It is in Gateway National Recreation Area near New York City. NPS Photo.

Most people don’t know the U.S. Park Police exists, but the organization, created by President George Washington in 1791, is one of the oldest uniformed federal law enforcement agencies in the United States. Today they provide law enforcement services to designated areas within the National Park Service system, primarily the Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

Here are some recent photos of one of their helicopters.

USPP helicopter
US Park Police helicopter at the Statue of Liberty. The structures and piers at the site suffered substantial damage during Hurricane Sandy.

A description of the USPP’s aviation unit, from Wikipedia:

=============================================================

The Aviation Unit of the United States Park Police began in April 1973 and was placed under the command of Lt. Richard T. Chittick. It started with one Bell 206B JetRanger and a staff of three pilots and three rescue technicians based at the Anacostia Naval Air Station in a shared space with the MPD Aviation Branch. A second helicopter, a Bell 206B-3 JetRanger, was added in 1975 and the unit relocated to Andrews AFB.

The Aviation Unit moved to its present facility in Anacostia Park, the “Eagle’s Nest,” in 1976. In 1983, the 206B-3 was upgraded to a Bell206L-3 LongRanger. Their first twin-engine helicopter, a Bell 412SP, and the third helicopter to carry the designation “Eagle One,” was placed in service in January 1991. The unit grew to its current staff, and began providing 24-hour coverage in January 1994.

In August 1999, the unit took delivery of its second twin-engine helicopter, a Bell 412EP. It became the fourth helicopter in the unit’s history to carry the designation “Eagle One” and the same registration number as that of an earlier aircraft whose crew effected the rescue of victims after the crash of Air Florida Flight 90.

The missions of the United States Park Police Aviation Unit include aviation support for law enforcement, medevac, search and rescue, high-risk prisoner transport and presidential and dignitary security. The Aviation Unit has provided accident-free, professional aviation services for over 28 years. This is due to the dedication of the flight crews, the support from within and outside the Force, and the state-of-art equipment used in the performance of its missions.

Non-profit organization provides rescue helicopter

Flathead Emergency Aviation ResourcesA non-profit organization is providing a helicopter for rescue services in the Flathead Valley of Montana. Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources (FEAR) is a non-profit, volunteer organization which provides air support to emergency service providers in the greater northwest region of Montana.

According to DailyInterLake.com, venture capitalist Michael Goguen has provided funding as well as a Bell 407 which belongs to Mr. Goguen’s company, Two Bear Management. FEAR has ordered a new $5 million twin-engine Bell 429 which will include a hoist, making it possible to more easily extract injured members of the public. The Bell 429 is being built now and should be available in the Spring.

Former Flathead County Undersheriff Jordan White, who now works for Two Bear Management, said:

To have met someone like Mike Goguen, with the unprecedented level of philanthropy he’s contributed to this program to make sure it not only happened but was a world-class program, is mind-blowing to me to imagine that it would ever get to this point.

One year ago we hoped that maybe in five years we’d have raised half a million dollars to buy an aircraft, and within a few months I had quit my job in order to make this whole thing happen and then was able to begin searching for a brand new twin-engine rescue-class helicopter.

The Bell 407 has been used for about eight missions since August.

FEAR’s web site lists the following types of missions for which they expect to use the helicopter:

  • Search and Rescue – Conducting hasty searches in both urban and rural environments.
  • Tactical operations – Providing tactical teams with overhead security during high risk operations.
  • Body recoveries – Hauling deceased victims from remote locations back to their loved ones.
  • Evidence transportation
  • Environmental protection
  • Border security
  • Education
  • Aerial surveillance and search
  • Aerial photography
  • Transportation of personnel andequipment
  • Flying divers outside of Flathead County for a more expedient response.
  • Long Line operations
  • Transporting ground search personnel to and from remote loctations.
  • Mobile remote radio repeater services

****

UPDATE November 8, 2013: The company changed their name from Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources (FEAR) to Two Bear Air.

Helicopter Association meets in Boise

The Aerial Firefighting and Natural Resources Committee of the Helicopter Association International (HAI) held a meeting Monday through Wednesday of this week in Boise, Idaho. According to the HAI, 75 members attended, with much of the group’s time devoted to helicopter operations under contract to the federal government for wildland firefighting support.

Presentations were made by Dennis Pratte, manager of the FAA’s General Aviation/Commercial Division, on public operations conducted by commercial operators on contract to a government agency; and by Frank Gladics, former senior staff member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on legislative issues relative to aerial firefighting.

Other agenda items included unmanned aviation vehicles (UAV), governmental economic crises, and wildfire aircraft operations.

The next meeting of the committee will be on March 5, at HELI-EXPO 2013 in Las Vegas.

 

How the fiscal cliff might affect firefighting aircraft

An organization that represents some of the companies that provide firefighting helicopters and air tankers to the government has issued a press release explaining how the looming “fiscal cliff”, which Wildfire Today wrote about in October, might affect the availability of aerial resources in the suppression of wildfires:

=============================================================

Washington, DC (PRWEB) November 27, 2012

The aerial firefighting industry is citing the risk of significant cutbacks in its ability to respond to wildland fires, if automatic Federal spending cuts become effective at year end.

“Should Congress and the Administration fail to reach a deficit reduction agreement, our fear is that funding for forest protection will be severely reduced, making it that much more difficult for some of our members to maintain the assets and manpower needed for wildland firefighting,” said Tom Eversole, Executive Director of the American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA) in Washington. “The possibility of going over the fiscal cliff is a major concern of our members.”

Todd Petersen, Vice President Marketing, for Portland, Oregon-based Columbia Helicopters, warned that if Congress and the administration are unable to resolve their differences over cutting the deficit, it could lead to cutbacks in the number–and duration of– exclusive use agreements with the US Forest Service (USFS), as well as call when needed contracts. Exclusive use contracts, Peterson explained, are a bread and butter item, usually running anywhere from 90 to 180 days per year–per aircraft. Normally, they are in effect over four years, based on three, one-year renewable options after the first year.

“If the contracts are cut, it could mean that we would have to take some of the helicopters that we have used for firefighting and redeploy them to other kinds of jobs,” Petersen noted. “Those helicopters and crews would no longer be available for firefighting, if they were needed.”

Stuart Taft, Chief Pilot for Lewiston, Idaho-based Hillcrest Aircraft Company, echoed this concern. “For us, the big question is whether the USFS would be forced to cut some of its exclusive use contracts, and rely more on call when needed aircraft in the event of a major wildfire,” he said. “We will have the opportunity to discuss this with the USFS at a meeting with the agency in Boise, Idaho, at the end of this month, and hopefully, we’ll get a clearer picture of what they might do.” A major issue, said Taft, is whether there will be immediate, across the board cuts by the Forest Service, or whether they would defer cuts to certain programs to a later date. “It’s very difficult to predict what might happen,” he remarked.

Taft pointed out that since the USFS is a major Hillcrest Aircraft Company customer, any contract funding reductions directly impacting the operator will mandate scaling back on staffing levels, as well as purchases from vendors. “If we fly less, we will not buy as much fuel; and we won’t have to purchase as many repair parts. It could have a very big impact on a lot of operators and vendors.”

At Intermountain Helicopter in Sonora, California, Chief Pilot Pete Gookin, stated that budget cutbacks could cause the government to consider greater use of military assets for wildland fire protection.

“It’s only my opinion, but in an effort to appear that it’s saving money, the government could try to replace at least some of the private contractors with the military,” Gookin said. “While that might look good to the taxpayers, military crews are (generally) not trained to fight fires, and their aircraft were not designed to be used for firefighting as their primary mission. Aerial firefighting was designed by civilian operators working with the US Forest Service, over the past 40 years. It’s a civilian operation and it should stay that way.”

Columbia Helicopters, Hillcrest Aircraft Company, and Intermountain Helicopter are members of the American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association (AHSAFA), the Washington-based trade association representing the commercial operators of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft engaged in aerial wildland firefighting.

Thanks go out to Dick

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.