Smokejumper transition — round canopy to square

smokejumper square canopy
Smokejumper lands under a ram-air canopy. From smokejumplers_on_ig

Change is hard.

A change being made in the U.S. Forest Service smokejumper program is not only hard, but can result in hard landings.

In early 2015 a decision made in Washington, DC started the agency on a transition from the round parachute canopy they had used for 75 years to a ram-air or “square” canopy.

The round canopy has been improved over the last three-quarters of a century evolving into the current FS-14 version. There have been no fatalities directly related to that canopy.

The ram-air is a high-performance flying wing. The two canopies have been described as comparing a race car with a minivan. The race car can do astounding things at high speed, while the minivan cruises at comfortable speeds. Driving a race car requires a great deal of training and experience, much more than a minivan. A crash in a race car will probably result in injuries more severe than a fender bender in the van.

One of the reasons for transitioning to the ram-air is the assertion that the pilot can land in stronger winds. Former smokejumper Chuck Sheley, in a February, 2016 article for Smokejumper Magazine, wrote about this ability:

The stated advantage to the square is its ability “to jump in higher winds than round parachutes.” In my eyes the ram-air is being touted because of its ability, according to the BLM Spotter Handbook, to “land comfortably in open terrain with ground winds up to 25-30 mph.” However, in the April 15th practice jumps at Black’s Creek, two jumpers were injured and the jumps stopped with winds of 15-18 mph. Two square jumpers were injured on the Sequoia with only 100 yards drift. Where did the 25-30 figure come from?

Mr. Sheley also wrote:

The ram air canopy has a 20-25 mph forward speed vs 9 mph for the FS-14 round canopy.

Malfunctions of the round canopy are extremely rare. Someone with knowledge of operations at the Missoula smokejumper base told us that jumpers at the base have not had a malfunction in about 30 years.

Since 1991 there have been three ram-air fatalities:

  • Billy Martin, May 31, 1991. That ended the first attempt by the FS to transition to the ram-air.
  • David Liston, April 29, 2000.
  • Mark Urban, September 27, 2013.

On May 1, 2017 there was a ram-air malfunction out of the Missoula jump base, and a couple of weeks earlier there was one at Boise.

Before Tom Harbour, the Forest Service National Fire Director, retired in January, 2016 he led the decision to transition to the square chute. In the video below during the December, 2015 exit interview we conducted with him he discusses the decision beginning at 9:00.

Mr. Harbour was an advocate for inserting a Type 3 Incident Management Team, comprised of jumpers, into a fire in a Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) area. This new mission for jumpers, if ever implemented, might be ammunition for smokejumper diehards against the suggestions that helicopter-borne firefighters could be the modern evolution of airborne fire personnel.

The “two-manner in the Bob” he refers to, we believe, is two smokejumpers suppressing a small fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in western Montana.

Last month we asked Mr. Harbour’s replacement, Shawna Legarza, about the round versus the square canopy:

From the best that I know, Bill, you know Tom Harbour implemented that — would have done it in June I believe of ’15 and from what I understand and I’ve talked to a lot of smokejumpers about it, it sounds like the round chute that we’ve had in the Forest Service for so long was almost a legacy chute where this new square chute evidently has more adaptability than we could progress with the round chute.
And we all know that square chutes were originally with the BLM. The land in Nevada is flat and low, not hills and terrain like in the forest. And we all know that the round chute was going like straight down into the trees or whatever and so it sounds like the new chute has more adaptability between the different types of land and topography I guess we’re going to be jumping into.
So it goes back and forth some of the folks here are excited about doing that and the others are not so much, right? And so I’ve given my leader’s intent to the jump base when I saw them last year that we don’t have to rush through this.
I want people to take their time implementing it and do it right and do it safe and and to work through it because it’s a pretty significant change as you know.

There have been unconfirmed reports that some jumpers have left the program rather than transition to the ram-air. Any smokejumper who does not want to transition to the ram-air has 10-years from the start of the transition that officially began in 2016 before they will be moved into other positions for which they qualify.

Our source told us that the typical number of rookies in the annual combined Missoula, Grangeville, and West Yellowstone class is less than 10. This year there are 27. After checking with the smokejumper program, Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the FS, told us that the class usually has 12 to 16 rookies.

She said the agency’s primary reasons for transitioning to a different canopy are:

  1. Enhance the smokejumper program’s operational effectiveness by increasing the capability to staff wildfires during more severe environmental conditions (higher winds) when they are most vulnerable to escape, reducing the risk that they will become large, costly, and dangerous to other firefighters and the public.
  2. To accomplish this without increasing, and with the goal of reducing, the likelihood of serious and minor injuries attributed to parachute landings.

“Busy drop zone during our last proficiency jump of the season. #NPSB #ominecasmokejumpers #bcfs #smokejumper” 🎥: @npsb_ig

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Forest Service jumpers from Region 1 and Region 5 are entering into training season with an early refresher in Redding California. 🎥: @smkj94

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Photo of Russian firefighters mobilized for a fire in Siberia

По обращению Правительства Бурятии об оказании помощи в удержании под контролем лесопожарной обстановки, оперативный штаб Рослесхоза направил 50 авиапожарных ФБУ «Авиалесоохрана» на тушение лесных пожаров в регионе #ПДПС#парашютисты#десантники#пожарные#помощь#Бурятия#нацпарк#Тункинский#поджогисухойтравы#проблема#нарушение#Россия#Сибирь#мера#недопустить#лес#Авиалесоохрана#Avialesookhrana#Берегилес#smokejumpers#СМИ#ТВ

A post shared by Федеральная Авиалесоохрана (@avialesookhrana) on

About 50 wildland firefighter in Russia were mobilized to assist with a wildfire in Buryatia, a mountainous Russian republic in eastern Siberia.

Below is the Google translation of the image’s caption:

Avialesookhrana According to the appeal of the Government of Buryatia to assist in keeping the fire situation under control, the operational headquarters of the Federal Forestry Agency sent 50 air firefighters “Avialesoohrana” to extinguish forest fires in the region
# PAPC # paratroopers # paratroopers # firefighters # help # Buryatia # national park # Tunkinsky # arsons of dry grass # problem # violation # Russia # Siberia # measure # not # forest # Avialesookhrana # Avialesookhrana # Berehiles # smokejumpers # media # TV

And while we’re on the subject of airborne firefighters, back in America:

Smokejumper aircraft experiences problem during landing

Due to an issue with an engine on the C-23A Sherpa, the crew idled it, but during landing the engine went to takeoff power uncommanded.

Above: photo of the Sherpa’s tire failure from the Rapid Lesson Sharing document.

After an incident on April 13, 2016 while a C-23A Sherpa was transporting smokejumpers on a training mission, the Redmond, Oregon Air Group conducted an After Action Review and wrote a Rapid Lesson Sharing document. Below are excerpts:

****

“NARRATIVE

On the morning of April 13, 2016, a crew of three experienced captains performed a Smokejumper Mission Check Ride during a practice jump. The Pilot in Command of the C-23A Sherpa retarded the left power lever in preparation for the jump run and the engine did not respond appropriately. The number 1 engine would not reduce to flight idle as commanded.

We elected to discontinue the check ride and return to the airport to land.

The crew reduced the engine RMP power lever back to almost idle and the left engine stabilized at idle. We consulted the emergency checklist and decided to leave the engine running.

During line up for final the crew elected to keep the engine running due to a 90 degree crosswind condition in case a go around was required. On landing the left engine went to take-off power, un-commanded, and aircraft started to depart the runway. During subsequent actions to control the aircraft, brakes were applied and on ground contact the right main tire failed. The pilot in command ordered the left engine shut down and second in command shut the engine down. PIC was able to exit the runway and airplane was shut down on an adjacent taxiway.

LESSONS

After the mission an AAR was conducted between the crew, maintenance, leadership and the participating smokejumpers. The only possible action in hindsight the crew indicated was not bringing the power levers over the gate into ground fine range which may of influenced the rapid RPM increase. The aircraft fuel controller was removed and sent in for overhaul. Disassembly of the fuel unit revealed a small burr on the throttle shaft bushing.

Questions for discussion between crews:

  • When would you declare an abnormal event an emergency and roll the trucks?
  • What situations would you consider it safer for the remaining jumpers to exit the aircraft than return with it?
  • What other abnormal conditions have you encountered that are not in the abnormal procedures (Chapter 4) section and how would you handle them?
  • What discussions need to take place with the guys in the back during occurrence of unplanned events?
  • Discussions on the above topics during ground time can save valuable time in the air when abnormal conditions do occur.

Aircraft on skis

Russian smokejumper aircraft

The Avialesookhrana Instagram account frequently posts photos of Russian smokejumpers. This type of aircraft, now outfitted with skis, appears to be an air tanker and/or a jumper aircraft in the summer.

Google translated the above caption:

avialesookhrana # forest # flame # borbasognem # heroism # paratroopers # paratroopers # Avialesookhrana # lesnoypozhar # Avialesookhrana # Forest # fire # firefighter # smokejumpers # bomberos # Aviation # helicopter # plane # firefighterslife # helicopter # aviation # aviales # extreme # FFA # Media # TV ecology # # # the nature of the profession

Russian air tanker bi-wing

Russia smokejumpers

 

Through the eyes of a child: Russian Smokejumpers

Авиалесоохрана глазами детей. Рисунок «Помощь с воздуха» Борисовой Маши,14 лет.#лес#лесные_пожарные#пламя#борьбасостихией#героизм#парашютисты#десантники#Авиалесоохрана#леснойпожар#Avialesookhrana#Forest#fire#firefighter#smokejumpers#лесныепожары#bomberos#авиация#firefighterslife#helicopter#aviation#aviales#экстрим#самолет#Рослесхоз#экология#профессия#зеленыелегкиепланеты#сохранимприроду#сохраняялеса_сохраняемРоссию

A photo posted by Федеральная Авиалесоохрана (@avialesookhrana) on

According to Google Translate, the caption reads:

Avialesookhrana the eyes of children. Figure “from the air Help” Borisova Masha, 14

Smokejumpers used in Orange County California

Above: Smokejumpers descend over the Holy Fire August 31, 2016. USFS photo.

(This article first appeared on WildfireToday.com)

Until yesterday smokejumpers had never parachuted into a fire on the Cleveland National Forest. This was the only National Forest in California that had not yet inserted jumpers in this manner. Occasionally jumpers are assigned to a fire but arrive in a conventional manner, on the ground.

They were ordered for the Holy Fire just off Trabuco Creek Road 2.2 miles east of the city of Robinson Ranch in Orange County, California. The fire burned 155 acres between the road and the Bell View Trail at the top of the ridge above Trabuco Canyon. The fire ran to the top of the north-facing slope and stopped thanks to the efforts of firefighters on the ground, the change in topography and fuels, and the heavy use of helicopters and air tankers, including a DC-10.

Map Holy Fire
Map of the Holy Fire at 8 p.m. PDT August 31, 2016. Click to enlarge.

The Cleveland National Forest stretches between the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area and the outskirts of San Diego.

map Holy fire 3-d
3-D map of the Holy Fire at 8 p.m. PDT August 31, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Jason Foreman with the Redding Smokejumpers said the 16 jumpers were dispatched from Redding and Porterville using a U.S. Forest Service Sherpa and a contract Dornier aircraft, each with 8 firefighters. The arrival of the Dornier out of Porterville was delayed due to the very busy air space in southern California. The jumpers from Porterville landed on the ground at approximately 6:30 p.m. PDT, while the Redding squad all completed their jumps by 7:50 p.m Wednesday, Mr. Foreman said.

Four firefighters suffered heat-related injuries and were extracted by helicopters. The fire was managed in a unified command with the U.S. Forest Service and the Orange County Fire Authority.

Access to the base of the fire was via Trabuco Creek Road. A 3-mile hike from Robinson Ranch on the Bell Ridge Trail would take you to the top of the fire. The terrain at the fire is very steep. Hikers on the trail would have a 1,500-foot elevation change — up.

Parachute canopies Holy Fire
Parachute canopies are visible near the Bell View Trail at the Holy Fire. USFS photo.

Russian smokejumpers appear to fly in formation at sunset

Google attempted to translate the caption:

Practice jumping parachutist-firefighters Avialesookhrana. Photo Valery Korotkov, 2002