We took these photos at Coulson’s hangar at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, March 21, 2014 after the Aerial Firefighting conference (except for one photo that was taken a couple of days earlier). We appreciate the fact that Wayne and Britt Coulson feel confident to talk about and show others their firefighting operation.
We took these photos last week, March 20, at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento. There were about 90 minutes set aside for displays of firefighting aircraft at McClellan Air Force base, as well as live demonstrations of water and water pellet drops from a helicopter, and the use of the AirTEP Airborne Tactical Extraction Platform marketed by Aerial Machine Tool. We have photos of Coulson’s C-130Q in another article.
Two state senators in Colorado have introduced a bill in the legislature, Senate Bill 164, that would authorize the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) to acquire helicopters and air tankers for the newly created agency.
For the 2014 fire season the bill authorizes the acquisition by lease or contract of up to three helicopters, and in 2015 up to four “large aircraft”, presumably fixed wing air tankers. If they obtain three helicopters, one must be capable of “command and control” and another would be a Type 1 heavy ship that would have rappel ability and could carry up to 18 passengers. The air tankers must be capable of night flying operations.
The bill was introduced by President of the Senate Morgan Carroll and Senator Steve King on March 21, 11 days before the CFAC Director Paul Cooke is due to release a report on April Fools Day that would recommend the direction the new agency should take.
The bill that created the CFAC last year did not appropriate funds to operate the agency or acquire aircraft. The new bill just introduced does not yet specify a monetary amount, but it will be referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a fiscal note attachment and then sent to the Joint Budget Committee for recommendations on funding.
If the final version of the bill includes funding, getting it past Governor John Hickenlooper could be a challenge. He was quoted by the Durango Herald as expressing the belief that farmers and ranchers should be the first line of defense in fighting wildfires. However, the fact that one of the cosponsors of the bill is the President of the Senate is a sign that it has a chance of passing the legislature, and perhaps even overriding a veto.
A company in Israel has developed a system for fighting wildfires by dropping small bags of liquid from a helicopter or cargo plane. The idea is that the bags would break upon impact. Elbit Systems demonstrated their “HyDrop” system at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento, California last week, when small bags of water holding less than one liter were dropped from a Type 1 helicopter operated by Croman. Shlomo Alkaher, Vice President of the company, told Fire Aviation that other liquids could be used in the bags, such as water enhancement products or conventional long term fire retardant.
At their exhibit in the conference center we asked Mr. Alkaher if we could see one of the bags, but were surprised to hear that none were available. Later at the live demonstration at McClellan Air Force Base, we found a person who had somehow acquired a bag and allowed us to photograph it.
In a video of a test drop the company was showing in the exhibit area at the conference, it was clear that some of the bags did not break when hitting the ground, and in fact bounced. Mr. Alkaher said that the fire would eventually burn the plastic and the water would escape.
The advantage of the bags, he explained, is that the water delivery would be less susceptible to being blown off target by winds, which would also allow the helicopter to drop from a greater height if necessary.
We asked if they had conducted any tests where the product would be dropped onto a standard grid of cups, a test that is used to determine the distribution of water and retardant dropped by helicopters and air tankers. He told us no, explaining that the bags would most likely destroy the cups.
Mr. Alkaher said tests on crash test dummies determined that if a bag hit a person it would not cause an injury. The plastic bags will easily biodegrade, he said. The company has developed equipment that fills the bags near the site where they would be loaded onto the helicopter.
The company has also designed a container system that could be used by cargo planes with a rear door, such as a C-130. The containers would have a conveyer belt that would feed the bags out the door.
The video below, which has been converted to slow motion, shows the March 20 demonstration at McClellan. The camera was pretty far away so you can’t see a great deal (it helps to put it on “full screen”), but the spectators could tell that some of the bags bounced. We were not allowed to walk over and get a closer look at the drop site to see what the effects were or how many bags broke.
These photos were taken in the exhibit area of the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento, March 19-20, 2014.
The folks at Air Spray continue to work on the two BAe-146 aircraft that they are converting into air tankers. I found myself at the Chico, California airport yesterday and stopped by their hangar and talked with Ravi Saip (Director of Maintenance/General Manager) and Paul Lane (Vice President and Chief Financial Officer). The tanks they will install will employ some of the same principles as the gravity-based Aero Union RADS I tanks. They are being built now by Air Spray’s staff, which includes some former Aero Union employees. Mr. Saip also worked for Aero Union before they went out of business.
I looked inside one of the BAe-146s and observed some of the work that has been completed, including the gutting of the flight deck and the former passenger area. Before they install the tank in the interior they will cut a hole in the belly through which the retardant will exit.
They hope to have most of the work done by the end of the summer, then they will begin the testing, tweaking, improving, and certification phases.
They don’t have a contract for the BAe-146s, but are hopeful that they will find work for the air tankers after they are ready to fight fire.
These videos, showing mostly helicopter operations, were shot at a wildfire in Austria, March 20. There were about 250 personnel fighting the fire in very step terrain, along with 7 helicopters, including one Black Hawk.
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Georg.
Wednesday night at the Aerial Firefighting conference during a dinner at the California Aerospace Museum in Sacramento, George Petterson received an award named after Walt Darran, a legend in aerial firefighting, who passed away November 15, 2013.
Mr. Petterson was instrumental in determining the cause of two fatal crashes of air tankers. Below is an excerpt from an article in Aviation Week and Space Technology, February 21, 2005, (which is more accurate than the information which we received and posted earlier).
“George Petterson of the Los Angeles office of the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the 2002 inflight wing failure of a U.S. Forest Service Lockheed C-130, which led to the grounding of the firefighting fleet. Finding that metal fatigue hidden by a doubler was the cause, Petterson expedited the dissemination of this information to operators so there would be the least interruption to firefighting services. The investigation stirred his curiosity about a 1994 crash of a C-130 in which the wing also came apart during firefighting. The NTSB had attributed that accident to a fuel explosion. At considerable personal effort, Pettterson retrieved evidence from that crash in mountainous terrain, showing how a fatigue crack had grown unseen beneath a doubler in a manner similar to that experienced by the 2002 crash aircraft. Due to Petterson’s initiative, the NTSB changed the probable cause of the 1994 accident to fatigue cracking (AW&ST May 10, 2004 p. 69).”