K-MAX helicopter converted to unmanned aircraft system

K-MAX, side
K-MAX at Custer, SD, July 10, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Of the 38 K-MAX helicopters that were built, eight are on exclusive use contract with the federal government for wildland firefighting. The U.S. Forest Service likes them because they feel like they can claim they are contracting with Type 1 helicopters even though they almost but not quite meet the minimum standards for Type 1 status, and for the fact that they are much less expensive than fully qualified Type 1 helicopters. The eight ships are operated by Central Copters, Heliqwest, Mountain West Helicopters, Rainier Heli International, Swanson, and Timberline.

Two other K-MAX helicopters have been converted for the military by Lockheed Martin Corporation and Kaman Aerospace Corporation into an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) capable of autonomous or remote controlled cargo delivery. Its mission: battlefield cargo resupply for the U.S. military. The two ships have flown more than 1,000 missions in Afghanistan and hauled more than 3 million pounds of cargo that would have otherwise been transported by trucks, which are vulnerable to roadside bomb attacks. One goal is to save lives by reducing Marines’ exposure to improvised explosive devices on cargo convoys.

The helicopters were sent to Afghanistan in November, 2011 for an initial, limited deployment, but have been extended several times. Naval Air Systems Command has decided to continue using the aircraft there indefinitely.

Unlike Predator drones, which are remotely piloted, K-MAX helicopters follow a pre-programmed route using Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates, and require human intervention only to get started.

It remains to be seen if UAS or UAV aircraft could feasibly be used on fires to drop water or deliver external loads.

K-MAX, front

Slow-motion video of Lockheed Electra L-188 retardant drops

A Lockheed Electra L-188 air tanker, #489, dropping in slow motion on a wildfire. The date, location, and videographer (other than the logo at bottom-right) are unknown.

The wake turbulence as the aircraft passes through the smoke at 2:45 is very interesting, as is the precision drop at 1:45, keeping the retardant off the rocks in an area that is highly visible to recreationists on the nearby lake.

In August of 2012 Wildfire Today ran a photo of Tanker 489 dropping on the Taylor Bridge Fire.

Thanks go out to Chris

10 Tanker Air Carrier moves to Albuquerque, begins converting a third DC-10

Tanker 910 Rapid City
Tanker 910 landing at Rapid City, April 23, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

10 Tanker Air Carrier, the company that operates the two DC-10 air tankers, has moved their corporate headquarters from Victorville, California to the airport at Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Rick Hatton, the CEO of the company, said yesterday about the relocation that occurred in September:

We surveyed a number of sites in the Rocky Mountain West, wanting to have more of a national presence versus being perceived as a “California Only” or Region 5 resource. Albuquerque topped the list due to a combination of off-season weather, business environment, and airport facilities.

The company moved into on-airport space with additional nearby offices and a warehouse. One of the facilities is a 7,600-square-foot building previously owned by Eclipse Aviation Corp, who’s business plan was to produce and sell small jets for $1 million each, a concept that failed.

In May Mr. Hatton announced that they were moving to Casper, Wyoming but by July cancelled those plans.

10 Tanker has evaluated airports that could serve as air tanker bases for their DC-10s and identified 30 that could handle the jumbo jets either with the existing infrastructure or with the addition of a temporary mobile retardant base.

DC-10 potential reload bases
DC-10 actual and potential retardant reload bases, as determined by 10 Tanker Air Carrier. The red circles represent permanent air tanker bases at which they could reload. The blue circles are airports at which they could reload from a mobile retardant base. (click to enlarge)

Mr. Hatton said their two DC-10s, Tankers 910 and 911, so far in 2013 have delivered 4.4 million gallons of retardant on 386 flights.

They have started converting a third DC-10, speculating that it will be used in 2014.

 

Thanks go out to Jared.

Two aircraft crashes in Australia connected to bushfires

Dromader M-18 air tanker
File photo of Dromader M-18 in Prineville, Oregon. Photo by Ted Quackenbush.

Two pilots were killed in Australia Wednesday and Thursday in separate crashes while they were fighting or supporting bushfires in New South Wales.

On Wednesday Peter Brereton, 60, was killed when his light plane crashed on his way back from dropping off spare parts for a helicopter used in the fire fighting efforts on the south coast of NSW October 23, 2013. After he did not return as expected a search located the wreckage Thursday morning in rugged terrain near Mt Hotham in Victoria. Eight helicopters and two fixed wing planes were involved in the search for the Cessna. He had recently retired from the Country Fire Authority as an Operations Officer for District 22 that covers Shepparton.

David Black, 43, died when his Dromader single engine air tanker crashed while fighting a fire at Wirritin in Budawang National Park, 40 kilometers west of Ulladulla, around 10 a.m. on October 24, 2013.  The Australian network ABC reported that a wing snapped off the aircraft before it went down. The crash started another bushfire which, along with high winds, was hampering efforts to reach the pilot. Other firefighting aircraft were called to the area and were attempting to slow the spread of the fire.

Our sincere condolences go out to the families and coworkers of both pilots.

Stunning UAV video of bushfire

UAV video bushfire near Lithgow, NWS
Still image from a UAV video of a bushfire near Lithgow, NWS

The video below of a bushfire was shot by an unmanned helicopter near Lithgow, a city in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. While there are several issues that would need to be addressed to deploy one safely over an active wildfire, the benefits of having live aerial streaming video available to firefighters on the ground could be enormous.

The UAV was piloted by Cividrones.

Airliner painted to honor FDNY firefighters

Jet Blue - FDNY plane

Jet Blue painted an Airbus A320 in red to honor the firefighters of the Fire Department of New York City. At 7:20 a.m. Wednesday the aircraft with the FDNY logo on the tail flew at 2,000 feet over the Hudson River in New York from the Verrazano Bridge to the George Washington Bridge.

MyFoxNY has a video of the flyover; fast forward to 2:15 to get a good look at the aircraft.

Airbus begins tests of C295 air tanker

C295 test water drop
C295 test drop. Airbus photo.

Airbus Military has begun tests near Cordoba, Spain of a C295 aircraft modified as an air tanker. The flights went well, according to the company, and further tests are planned in the near future to make a more detailed analysis of the C295 as a firefighter aircraft.

The C295 looks similar to the C-27J but it has less impressive performance. According to Wikipedia (see the links above) the payload capacity of the C295 is about 5,000 pounds less and the engines have 57 percent of the horsepower of the C-27J. It would probably carry about 400 gallons less retardant than the C-27J, with a capacity of around 1,400 to 1,700 gallons is our guess.

Comparison, C-27J and C295
Comparison, C-27J and C295. Info from Wikipedia. (click to enlarge)

Rumor has it that France is considering replacing their fleet of Conair Turbocats, which are retrofitted Grumman S-2 Trackers.

A Polish Air Force CASA C-295M
A Polish Air Force CASA C-295M

 

Thanks go out to Walter

2013 Airtanker and Water Scooper Forum

The U.S. Forest Service has scheduled an “Airtanker and Water Scooper Forum” to be held in Boise November 19-20, 2013. Today they posted a notice about it at the GSA site that is normally used for solicitations about contracts and requests for proposals, fbo.gov — an odd way to advertise a conference. It even has a Solicitation Number (SN-2014-01). But, almost everything the federal government does concerning fire aviation is odd.

This is rather short notice for a meeting like this.

The topics include:

  • Questions (preferably submitted in advance) and answers.
  • Review of accidents.
  • Future strategy for airtankers, VLATs, and water scoopers: next-gen, legacy, budgets, fleet design, aerial supervision, policy and operational changes, pilot practical test standards.
  • Contracts Q&A.
  • Aviation audits.
  • Technology: ATU, AFF, AFUE.
  • Aviation program updates: FAS-AVID report, night flying, public aircraft operations, retardant avoidance areas.

More information about the “Forum”.
The agenda.
Registration form.

Speaking of aviation, I checked into air fares between Rapid City and Boise and was shocked — $858 was the lowest. Holy Crap. RAP is expensive to fly out of because of a lack of competition.

Thankfully, as far as I know there is no admission fee to attend the Forum.