While the wildfire season in most of the United States is in hiatus, our friends down under in New South Wales are busy — VERY busy, during one of their busiest bush fire seasons in years. We want to thank the Rural Fire Service for these photos of some of their aircraft that have been working on the fires.
A helicopter operated by Columbia Helicopters crashed in Peru’s Amazon jungle on Monday, according to Rueters, killing all that were aboard. Corpac, Peru’s air transport agency, said the helicopter was operated by the local unit of Columbia Helicopters. According to the agency five U.S. citizens and two Peruvians were on the helicopter and that rescue crews were recovering their bodies.
Local media reports said the people on board worked for Petrominerales Ltd, a Canadian-based oil exploration firm focused on Latin America.
In 2012 Columbia had four Type 1 helicopters on wildland fire contracts with the U.S. Forest Service, two KV-107s, one BCHI-234, and one CHI-107.
Our condolences go out to the families and coworkers.
UPDATE: January 9, 2013
The National Transportation Safety Board made this announcement today:
“NTSB TO ASSIST WITH INVESTIGATION OF HELICOPTER CRASH IN PERU
Jan. 9, 2013
WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team of investigators to Pucallpa, Peru, to assist the Government of Peru with its investigation of yesterday’s crash involving a Boeing helicopter. According to the U.S. Department of State, the accident claimed the lives of five American citizens.
On Monday afternoon, in Pucallpa, Peru, a Boeing-Vertol 234 helicopter, operated by the U.S. operator Columbia Helicopters, crashed shortly after takeoff. The helicopter had departed from FAP Captain David Abenzur Rengifo International Airport, Pullcapa, Peru enroute to Tarapoto, Peru. It has been reported that all seven persons aboard the aircraft sustained fatal injuries.
The NTSB has designated senior air safety investigator, Paul Cox, as the U.S. Accredited Representative. He will be accompanied by two NTSB investigators with expertise in helicopter systems and operations, a representative from the Federal Aviation Administration, and a representative from Columbia Helicopters. The team is expected to arrive in Peru tonight.
The Comision de Investigacion de Accidentes de Aviacion (CIAA) Ministerio de Transportes y Comunicaciones – MTC of Peru will release all information concerning the investigation. They can be reached at: Tel: 51-1-6157488 (website: http://www.mtc.gob.pe) “
Coulson Aviation has modified two helicopters so that they can be flown at night. The company, according to Vertical Magazine, took one of their four Sikorsky S61s and a Bell 206B Jet Ranger to Boise, Idaho to get Aviation Specialties Unlimited to make the modifications necessary to be compatible with night vision goggles (NVG).
Coulson also installed a hoist and a medivac interior on the S61, similar to the systems on Los Angeles County’s SH-3 Sea King helicopters, so that it could be used to extract injured personnel from remote areas day or night. This capability could save the lives of firefighters who are victims of accidents after sunset.
Two of the company’s S61s, including the NVG-equipped ship, are in Australia now working on a fire contract. Night flying is not part of the agreement but Coulson hopes to demonstrate to the authorities the benefits of fighting fire at night, when fires move more slowly and firefighting can be more effective.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has posted solicitations for firefighting helicopters at their bases in Cloquet, Princeton and Roseau. Here is an excerpt from their web site:
Service of a helicopter that is fully operated by qualified personnel, and equipped to meet specifications for use in administration, management and protection of lands from wildfire in Minnesota. The types of services which aircraft would generally be required to perform, but not restricted to are: Transportation of personnel, Equipment and supplies, Reconnaissance flights, Fire detection flights, Photography work involving, prolonged slow flight, Helicopter–bucket and fire missions, Administrative flying, Incident Support. Project Technical information contact: Bill Schuster at 218-327-4573.
Four students studying journalism at Washington State University have written an article that summarizes the state of the federal air tanker program. It is interesting in that it quotes several knowledgeable people who have close ties to management of the fleet, including Jim Hall, former Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Ron Hanks, head of aviation safety with the U.S. Forest Service. They also interviewed Dick Mangan, past president of the International Association of Wildland Fire.
Mr. Hall, who chaired the 2002 Blue Ribbon Panel following the crashes of two air tankers that killed five aviators that year, continues to lament the current state of the air tanker program, much as he did earlier this summer.
Mr. Hanks apparently told the student reporters:
Right now, we have 17 aircraft, and that includes the Canadian aircraft that we have borrowed.
That puts an extremely favorable spin on the fact that as the fire season ends there are nine large air tankers on exclusive use contracts, plus two BAe-146s that were put on temporarily as “additional equipment” on Neptune’s contract. The Canadian air tankers and lead planes that Mr. Hanks referred to were borrowed for a month or so last summer. In 2002 we had 44 large air tankers.
Here is a video that illustrates the student’s story;
Aero Air of Hillsboro, Oregon, has purchased the air tanker operations of Butler Aircraft from Travis Garnick. Aero Air acquired Butler’s three DC-7 air tankers, support equipment, and spare parts in Madras, Oregon. They will take over the lease of Butler’s new city-owned hangar at the Madras Municipal Airport (map) as well as the contracts with the state of Oregon for the three air tankers. The company did not have a contract with the US Forest Service for the DC-7s.
Kevin McCullough, now the President of Aero Air, and Jack Erickson, founder and former owner of Erickson Air-Crane, became co-owners of Aero Air in 1998 and since then have been growing the company. After Mr. Erickson sold Erickson Air-Crane to ZM Private Equity Fund in 2007, they began talking about getting into the air tanker business. A couple of years ago they decided to go with MD-87s and pulled together teams to develop a tank design and to handle obtaining the supplemental type certificate (STC) from the FAA.
They have purchased seven MD-87s, most of them from SAS airlines, and the conversion process is 99 percent complete on one of them, Mr. McCullough told Wildfire Today on Tuesday. The parts for the others are being fabricated in Hillsboro where all of the conversion work will be done. The other six MD-87s are at Hillsboro, Phoenix Goodyear Airport in Arizona (map), and Madras. Some of them have already been painted at Phoenix Goodyear prior to beginning the other modifications.
After the conversions are complete, Aero Air will conduct all of their air tanker operations out of the facilities in Madras that were formerly owned or leased by Butler. That branch of the company will be known as Erickson Aero Tanker, and that is what is being painted in large letters on the MD-87s, similar to the style of the lettering on the DC-10 and 747 very large air tankers.
The 4,000-gallon internal tanks will rely on gravity, rather than pressurized air, to force the retardant out of the tank. An MD-87 can cruise at 504 mph and is powered by two rear-mounted jet, or turbofan engines. The company has secured a block of air tanker numbers from the USFS, 101 through 112 — which is more than seven, you’re thinking. Right. Mr. McCullough told us that their long term plans are to operate 12 to 15 MD-87s.
Technicians from the USFS’ San Dimas Technology and Development Center have been at Aero Air this week checking the design of the tank system to determine if it is in compliance with the very extensive and complex requirements for federally-contracted air tankers. Aero Air has already done a static test, expelling water from the tank while the aircraft is on the ground, but more are scheduled. In the Spring they hope to pass the airborne retardant drop tests where the retardant is captured in hundreds of cups arranged in a grid pattern on the ground. If the STC and the approvals from the Interagency Air Tanker Board have positive results, there may be at least one MD-87 dropping on fires next summer.
Assuming… that the U.S. Forest Service completes the evaluation of the proposals from air tanker companies for “next generation air tankers” and awards a contract to Aero Air. The company, along with three others, was notified last Fall that they were going to receive contracts, but before the contracts were actually awarded and signed, two companies that were not slated to get contracts, 10 Tanker Air Carrier and Coulson, protested, and the USFS halted the process. Months later they started over, amending the request for proposal which then closed again in November. If the contracts had actually been awarded, Aero Air would have been expected to provide two MD-87s beginning in 2013. The other companies that almost got contracts were Neptune for BAe-146s, Minden for BAe-146s, and Aero-Flite for an Avro RJ85, a derivative of the BAe-146.
Paul Filmer took some excellent photos of aircraft working on the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park west of Estes Park, Colorado, December 4, 2012. The photo above is the first one I can remember seeing of an air tanker dropping with snow in the background.
We thank Paul for allowing us to use his photos. You can see a couple of dozen more that photos he took December 4 at his web site. More information about the Fern Lake Fire can be found at Wildfire Today.