Australians impatient to get Air-Cranes into the air

Erickson Elvis in Victoria
File photo of Elvis in Victoria. Erickson photo.

The Australian government has been contracting for Erickson Air-Crane helicopters during their down-under fire seasons since ”Millie” (N223AC) was deployed there in 1997. They seem to have a special fondness for the ships which can carry 2,650 gallons of water, especially since 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”.

Their fire season this year has caught the Aussies by surprise, starting in New South Wales weeks earlier than usual — before the contract for the Sky-Cranes begins. While at least two Air-Cranes had already been shipped to the country from Greece by air freighter, not all of the flight crews had arrived when dozens of very large bush fires broke out that so far have burned about 200 homes and caused the death of one person. There is a bit of a controversy going on with some residents not able to understand why the huge helicopters can’t be used to fight fires without a flight crew.

One headline shouted the news:

Critical US water bomber grounded during NSW bushfire crisis

Reports say that by this weekend both Air-Cranes were actively fighting the fires.

Erickson Air-Crane

Commemorating air tanker pilots in Spain

43 GrupoAnother video has been produced about the 43rd Grupo (Group) Firefighting Squadron of the Spanish Air Force commissioned in 1971 when the first Canadair CL-215 arrived in the country. During four decades and 150,000 flight hours, the Squadron has suffered 9 fatal accidents, with a total of 15 casualties and the loss of 25% of its fleet. War-fighting in peace time. Ten years have passed since that last accident, and this video honors those young aviators who gave it all.

Other 43 Grupo videos can be found at Wildfire Today.

2011 was an especially bad year for aerial firefighters in Spain. At least 11 firefighters died in accidents involving helicopters and a single engine air tanker.

 

Thanks go out to Hidros

Video of Aero Flite’s RJ85 dropping water

Aeroflite T-160
Aero Flite’s Tanker 160 at Abbotsford, B.C.

The RJ85 (similar to a BAe-146) that Conair is converting into an air tanker for Aero Flite made a test drop recently at the Abbotsford airport in British Columbia, and the video showed up on YouTube:

On September 11 we wrote about Tanker 160 and included a couple of photographs.

 

Thanks go out to Walter.

United Aeronautical buys Aero Union P-3 air tankers

Aero Union P-3
Aero Union P-3 taking off from Fox Field in 2007. Photo by Alan Radecki.

Fire Aviation has learned that the eight P-3 Orion air tankers formerly owned by Aero Union have been purchased by a company that primarily deals in supplying and overhauling spare parts for aircraft. United Aeronautical Corporation (UAC), headquartered in North Hollywood, California, bought the aircraft from Comerica Bank which acquired Aero Union’s assets following the company financial problems. 

The first attempt to sell Aero Union’s assets occurred February 28, 2012, at an auction. While some of the spare parts and other equipment sold, the eight aircraft did not.

It is not clear what UAC is going to do with the P-3s, but being a spare parts and manufacturing facility, it is doubtful they will be operating them as air tankers. UAC owns and operates an active aircraft yard next to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon (at 32.147513° -110.855944°), so the aircraft could be parted out or preserved in long term storage like dozens of S2 aircraft at UAC’s facility. CAL FIRE has 23 S2 air tankers in their air tanker fleet. Davis-Monthan is the facility where thousands of military aircraft go to die become mothballed. Or, in the case of the almost new C-27Js that have been flown there recently, they can be stored until they are transferred to another government agency.

UAC bought other inventory formerly owned by Aero Union, including spare parts packages and ground support items. They also acquired at least some of the intellectual property rights for the Mobile Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS), a self contained aerial firefighting system that can be loaded into the cargo holds of C-130 aircraft. Aero Union built both generations of the MAFFS under contract for the U.S. Forest Service, beginning with the first ones in the early 1970s and the second generation, called MAFFS2, first used on a fire July 15, 2010.

MAFFS unit in Cheyenne
MAFFS2 unit in a C-130 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, showing the two-person loadmaster crew. May 7, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Eight of the MAFFS2s are used by Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units when needed and called up by the USFS in a surge capacity when the small remaining fleet of large air tankers under contract to the agency are overwhelmed by wildfire activity.

P-3s at McClellan AFB
P-3s at McClellan AFB, Oct. 6, 2012. Google Earth.

Aero Union began in Redding, California in 1960 as Western Air Industries, changed the name to Aero Union, and moved to Chico in 1964. They began acquiring military surplus P-3 Orion aircraft in 1990, beginning with two and later increasing the total to eight. In 2005 a group of investors in the Seattle area bought the company and moved it to the former McClellan Air Force Base at Sacramento in 2010.

Under the new management Aero Union began laying off their staff, which degraded the organizational structure necessary for maintaining the aircraft, built between 1962 and 1965. The U.S. Forest Service canceled their air tanker contract with Aero Union in July of 2011, saying safety inspections were not being completed, and shortly after that the company laid off most of their employees. At the time of the cancellation six of the P-3s were still under contract and being used regularly on wildfires. Today, seven of them are at McClellan and an eighth is in Canada where it was undergoing maintenance when the company shut down.

Video of DC-10 drop on the Jojo Fire in Washington

A video of a DC-10 air tanker dropping on a fire in Washington, August, 2013.

Tony Duprey uploaded this video to YouTube August 11, 2013. His description

T-911, Jojo fire, Yakima Agency, Wa. Coverage level 3, start stop. This is the 2nd split .. 8000 gallons. With Lead 41 – (great job). Dozers were able to walk through the black and build dozer line in the retardant..Nice job fella’s!! Total team effort.

Be sure you watch the last few seconds, showing where the retardant landed.

Air Force transfers C-27Js to boneyard

C-27JThe Dayton Daily News is reporting that twelve C-27J aircraft have been taken out of service, some of them at Mansfield Air Force Base in Ohio, and flown to the aircraft boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. At least 21 were scheduled to be retired by October 1, 2013. There have been 15 C-27Js stationed at Air National Guard bases and another two at an L-3 Communications plant in Waco Texas. Four more are still being built by Alenia Aermacchi in Italy which will be sent directly to the boneyard.

The U.S. Forest Service has expressed an interest in acquiring seven of them and converting them into air tankers, smokejumper planes, or using them to haul passengers and cargo. They recently paid $54,000 to have a report prepared which details how the aircraft could be used if the agency is successful in obtaining them from the Air Force.

The report concluded the C-27J could carry 1,850 gallons of retardant if 3,200 pounds of unneeded equipment were removed, including flight deck armor (approximately 1,100 lbs), miscellaneous mission equipment such as litter stanchions, tie-down chains, ladders etc. (approximately 1,000 lbs), and the cargo loading system (approximately 1,200 lbs).

Smokejumpers could exit the C-27J through the two side doors or the aft ramp. Depending on how the aircraft was configured, it could transport between 24 and 46 jumpers. According to the report, the aircraft configuration can be changed and fitted with standard outer and center seating to accommodate 68 passengers with limited personal equipment plus 2 loadmasters.

 

Thanks go out to Dave and Glenn

Tanker 73’s incident upon landing at Hemet

Tanker 73Tanker 73, one of CAL FIRE’s 23 S-2Ts, had a problem while landing at Hemet-Ryan Airport Friday evening in southern California. Thankfully there were no injuries. The air tanker with one person on board made a retardant drop earlier in the evening on the Rose fire near Perris. It returned to Hemet to reload, and took off again for the same fire but was canceled before dropping the second load according to CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Julie Hutchinson. Upon landing at 5:40 p.m. there was an “incident”, she said. The Chief did not know if it landed on its wheels.

“I’m not sure if they kept the whole load or not,” she said. “Normally they will jettison the load in situations like that. But there was an unknown amount of retardant still on board. How much and how much it weighed, that’s something investigators will be looking at.”

Congratulations to the pilot for keeping the aircraft on the runway.

These first three photos were supplied by the Hemet Police Department.

Tanker 73
This photo, supplied by the Hemet Police Department, appears to be distorted — stretched sideways.

Tanker 73

The airport was closed Friday night because the air tanker was still on a runway, but the other two air tankers at Hemet-Ryan were relocated to the Ramona Air Attack Base east of San Diego.

Tanker 73
Tanker 73, October, 2012. Photo by Iwan.

 

Thanks go out to Johnny

USFS issues RFI for high-tech lead plane/ASM aircraft — eliminating lead planes?

In August the U.S. Forest Service issued a Request for Information (RFI) asking for potential vendors that could supply aircraft which could be used as Aerial Supervision Modules. Their intention was to contract for 7 and later up to 15 aircraft outfitted with high-tech sensors including sophisticated video capability and infrared. The planes would have a duplicate aft crew station with the capability to manage aerial supervision operations in its entirety. The airplanes would be able to carry one pilot, an aerial supervisor, a trainee aerial supervisor, and an instructor.

Friday, before the government shut down, the USFS issued another RFI that is similar to the other one in many ways. The details are HERE in a Word document.

In this new one they are looking for “up to 15″…

…Aerial Supervision/ Lead Plane aircraft to perform initial attack, extended attack, and lead plane operations in support of nationwide wildland firefighting operations.

They are expecting to contract for groups of five aircraft on each line item, with the five being the same make/model and near-identical configuration.

The RFI in August did not mention lead plane and was looking for turboprop dual-engine or single engine. The new one specifies turboprop or jet, and dual-engine. There are some differences in speed requirements, but the Infrared/Electro-Optical sensing systems with color camera and FLIR systems are similar.

At first glance the August RFI seemed to be seeking aircraft to be used as air attack, especially since it did not mention lead plane anywhere in the document. However both RFIs require a “FAA approved smoke generating system”, which would be used in a lead plane role.

The Forest Service seems to be moving away from separate Air Attack and Lead Planes, and wants to combine the two jobs into one aircraft. This, in spite of the deaths of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots on the Yarnell Hill Fire June 30.

The report from that fire on Page 43 includes this:

The ASM working the fire was very busy fulfilling leadplane duties, which limited their ability to perform full Air Attack responsibilities over the fire at the same time.

The ASM did not hear some of the radio calls from the Granite Mountain Hotshots saying they were in trouble and needed air support.

Our opinion:

If there is any chance in hell that combining the Air Attack and Lead Plane roles into one aircraft had ANY part to play in the deaths of the Granite Mountain 19, then this move by the USFS to eliminate lead planes is misguided and will make fighting wildland fires even more dangerous than it is already. This decision, if it has been made, must be reconsidered. The wildland fire agencies need to solicit input from not just the pencil-pushers and accountants who may be trying to fight fire on the cheap, but actual ground and air-based firefighters need to have a chance to provide their input.