Air Spray to begin converting a second BAe-146

Air Spray's Tanker 482
Air Spray’s Tanker 482 At their Chico, California facility, September 11, 2013. Air Spray photo.

Following up on the development that Air Spray has received a Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra, we checked with Ravi Saip, Air Spray’s Director of Maintenance and General Manager at their new Chico facility in California to get an update on their conversion of a BAe-146 into an air tanker. Like some of the aviation companies, they are keeping their cards close to the vest, but he told us that the project is “moving along well”, and they “anticipate being available for the 2014 fire season”. They have a second BAe-146 that will be “arriving soon” which will also will be converted.

Mr. Saip said, “The long term goal for Air Spray is to facilitate the needs of both the US and Canadian wildfire management teams with as many tools as they need.”

Air Spray signs contract with CAL FIRE

Air Spray Tanker 482, an L-188, at Chico, California. September 13, 2013.
Air Spray Tanker 482, an L-188, at Chico, California. September 13, 2013.

Air Spray, an air tanker company with headquarters in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, has received a Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra “Long Liner” air tanker. The company flew Tanker 482 down to California last week, Chico and later McClennan, to get the aircraft and pilots carded by CAL FIRE. The flight crew will be evaluated by CAL FIRE this week.

Air Spray will leave the L-188 at Chico until the weather turns, and when activated on the CWN contract, they will fly a crew down from Red Deer. They may add up to three more L-188s to the contract when the air tankers are released from their Canadian contracts.

Air Spray also operates Turbo Commander 690 “Bird Dogs” or lead planes, as well as some charter aircraft.

The L-188’s air frame is virtually the same as the P-3, a maritime patrol aircraft which has also seen service in its later years as an air tanker; the L-188 has been called a P-3 with windows. Both of them carry about 3,000 gallons of retardant.

Last year Air Spray established a new United States base at Chico and announced that they had acquired a BAe-146 airliner which they would convert into an air tanker in the new facility.

They hired several workers who had previously worked for the now bankrupt Aero Union. Seven of Aero Union’s P-3 air tankers have been parked at McClellan for over a year, with an eighth in Canada. They are still owned by the bank, unsold, due to the very high cost of putting them back into flyable shape. The rumors that the P-3s have been scrapped are not true.

 

Thanks go out to Johnny, Walt, and Jerome.

Helicopter assists in rescue of climber on El Capitan in Yosemite NP

From the National Park Service:

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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Climber Rescued From El Capitan

Park dispatch received an emergency call from a climber on the 22nd pitch of the Nose Route on El Capitan on the morning of September 10th. The caller reported that a climber from another climbing team, a three-person group from Spain, had fallen 50 feet while leading the Great Roof Pitch (21st pitch) and had been seriously injured.

A Yosemite rescue team, including Yosemite helitak, was immediately assembled and flown to the summit of El Capitan via Helicopter 551, the park’s contract helicopter. Ranger/medics Ed Visnovske and Chris Bellino were lowered approximately a thousand feet to the injured climber and found that he was in need of medical attention. They also found that he’d landed on his belayer, who’d been injured as well.

The lead climber was packaged in a litter and lowered approximately 2,000 feet with Bellino to the base of El Capitan, where he received further medical care. The team at the summit of El Capitan then began lowering the injured belayer, the third member of the climbing team, and Visnovske approximately 2,000 feet to the base of El Capitan.

During the rescue operations, a thunderstorm developed, making rescue operations difficult. Because of smoke impacts from the nearby Rim Fire, helicopter operations also could not be carried out after 7 p.m. The rescue team at the summit of El Capitan was therefore forced to bivouac overnight and return to the Valley floor in the morning.”

Coulson’s C-130Q reports for duty

air tanker 131 at San Bernardino
T -131 at San Bernardino, August 24, 2013. Photo by Dan Megna

(UPDATED at 1:47 p.m. PDT, September 20, 2012)

Tanker 131 was dispatched to its first fire today, September 20, near Santa Maria, California.

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(Originally published September 13, 2013)

Coulson’s Air Tanker 131, a converted C-130Q, has been fully certified by the FAA, the Interagency AirTanker Board, and the U.S. Forest Service. The 3,500-gallon aircraft was carded on Tuesday and the pilot check rides occurred Wednesday. Its first assignment was to report to the San Bernardino airport, which ironically is where it spent the last several months while going through the conversion process.

Wayne Coulson, President and CEO of Coulson Aviation USA Inc., said, “This C-130Q has been outfitted with a Coulson RADS-XL Constant Flow tank and a state-of-the-art drop controller system that will enhance the accuracy of retardant drops by using GPS speed and other inputs.”

T-131 becomes the second air tanker to be certified and activated, of the original seven that were awarded “next generation” contracts.

As you may know, the USFS announced on May 6 that contracts were going to be awarded for seven next generation air tankers. The contracts were for exclusive use and for five years, with options for the USFS to extend them for an additional five years. Another option allows the addition of more air tankers from the vendors. The activation of the contracts was held up by two rounds of protests in 2012 and 2013 from Neptune Aviation, 10 Tanker, and Coulson, but the awards, after over 500 days of dithering, finally went to:

Only one of the five companies had their air tanker fully certified and ready to go when the awards were announced — 10 Tanker Air Carrier and their DC-10. They put Tanker 910 to work around June 1. In fact, their second DC-10, Tanker 911, was activated on a Call When Needed (CWN) contract June 14 (later changed to a 90-day exclusive use contract) and both of them have been flying fires since then. The two DC-10s, which always carry 11,600 gallons, dropped approximately 698,000 gallons of retardant in the month of June.

The mandatory availability period for the six next generation air tankers was supposed to begin in the first part of August, 2013. Other than the DC-10, none of them made that date. Minden, Aero Air, and Aero Flite are still working on their conversion projects.

Another BAe air tanker takes flight

Conair RJ85 first flight
The first flight of Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85, which is being built for Aero Flite. Conair photo by Jeff Bough.

Conair Group of Abbotsford, British Columbia has started flight testing their BAe Avro RJ85, identified as Tanker 160, which is being converted from a jet-powered airliner into an air tanker. Conair is building two of them for Aero Flite. The RJ85 is a derivative of the BAe-146, but with improved engines. The 146 first flew in 1981 while the RJ85 was first delivered in 1993. Conair is the largest air tanker operator in the world with a fleet of around 50 fixed-wing special mission aircraft, including Convair 580s, Conair Firecats, Douglas DC-6s, and Lockheed Electra air tankers.

Tanker 160 first flight
Conair’s Tanker 160, a BAe Avro RJ85 after first flight, August 21, 2013. Photo by Coastal Pacific Aviation.

Tanker 160 reminds me of one of the “Guppy” type aircraft heavily modified to carry large cargo items. Aero Union sold the Mini Guppy below to Erickson in 1988 who then used it to haul heavy equipment until 1995, when it was retired to the Tillamook Air Museum in Tillamook, Oregon, where it resides today.

Erickson Air Crane Mini Guppy
Erickson Air Crane’s Mini Guppy

BAE Systems Regional Aircraft is making specialist engineering contributions to Conair and three other aircraft conversion programs underway in North America.

Neptune has acquired two BAe-146s which were converted by Tronos in Canada. Tronos has four more in progress for Neptune.

Minden Air Corp. has been working on their conversion of a BAe-146 for several years and began flight testing it this summer. A second BAe is under development and eventually these aircraft will replace the venerable P2V Neptune currently in service with Minden.

Air Spray Aviation Services of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada which currently has a fleet of Lockheed Electra turboprop air tankers has established a US base at Chico, California and has acquired a BAe 146-200 for conversion.

Fire aviation briefing, September 10, 2013

Engine failure on S-2 

An S-2 air tanker working on the Clover fire southwest of Redding, California experienced a problem that caused the pilot to have to shut down one of the two engines. It occurred while the aircraft was returning to Chico to reload with retardant. The pilot landed the aircraft safely at Chico according to the Willits News.

Last month Tanker 910, a DC-10, lost their #2 engine just after making a drop on the Beaver Creek Fire in Idaho. They also landed safely, but at Pocotello, Idaho, their reload base.

DC-10 photos on the Morgan Fire

Claycord has three excellent photos of one of the DC-10s (or both of them?) dropping on Mt. Diablo during the Morgan Fire 18 miles east of Berkeley, California. When you visit the site, click on the photos to see larger versions. Both of the DC-10s responded to the fire but soon thereafter were diverted to the Clover Fire near Redding, California which was threatening numerous structures.

12 Questions for Wally Griffin

This is the eighth in a series of articles on FireAviation.com featuring aerial firefighters answering 12 questions about their profession. We hope to get participation from senior pilots, as well as Air Operations Branch Directors, Air Tactical Group Supervisors, and others that have worked closely with fire aviation. Our objective is to not only provide our readers with interesting articles, but these very experienced aerial firefighters may also reveal a few gems of information that could prove to be valuable to those considering or just beginning a career in fire aviation. If you have a suggestion of someone who would be a good candidate for these questions, drop us a line through our Contact Us page. And their contact information would be appreciated.

Today we hear from Wally Griffin, who has served as an air tanker pilot, lead plane pilot, and a Chief Pilot in Alaska.

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Who is one of the more memorable aerial firefighters you have known? And why?
Don Ornbaum…..he taught me to fly the DC-7 in the fire environment…..a VERY interesting experience.

Wally GriffinOne piece of advice you would give to someone before their first assignment working on a fire?
Pay attention to the objectives of the Team and IC.

Besides the obvious (funding), what is the number one thing government Fire and Aviation should focus on?
Resource value and social impact of the fire.

One suggestion you have for ground-based firefighters about fire suppression tactics, or working with aircraft?
Use aircraft for those aspects of suppression that you cannot see or anticipate.

One thing that you know now that you wish you had known early in your career?
Our best efforts are not always enough to achieve the goals we intended.

Which two aircraft manufactured within the last 20 years would make the best air tankers?
Without further information I cannot with any degree of accuracy name aircraft that I have not flown…..sorry.

List the aircraft you have flown, or flown in, on fires. Which is your favorite, and why?
C-123, DC-4, DC-6, DC-7, OV-10, Commander, Aero Commander.

The funniest thing you have seen in aerial firefighting?
While flying with Don Ornbaum (his flight), the Lead asked us to tag onto a MAFFS drop…….Don climbed to about 4,000 ft where the MAFFS drop was hanging and dropped 3,000 gallons and then asked lead how the drop looked……it might have hit the ground in a week.

How many hours have you spent in firefighting aircraft?
Maybe 2,000.

Your favorite book about fire, firefighting, or aerial firefighting?
The Bible.

The first job you had in aerial firefighting?
Co-pilot on an Airtanker.

What gadgets, electronic or other type, can’t you live without?
9MM.

Problem with the Fire Boss prevents some from being used

single engine air tanker

A problem detected on Air Tractor Fire Boss AT-802F amphibious Single Engine Air Tankers is preventing some of them from being used by federal land management agencies. Cracks in the tail support structure were found on two Fire Boss aircraft.

The Bureau of Land Management’s exclusive use contracts with the Fire Bosses have expired for this year, but the agency has made a decision not to use them on call when needed contracts until they are satisfied the problems have been corrected. However Don Smurthwaite of the BLM emphasized to us that the aircraft are not grounded and they believe the issue is not widespread. The contractor is working to solve the problem.

Since the BLM administers the single engine tanker program for all the federal agencies this has stopped the use of the Fire Boss aircraft on all fires where a federal agency has operational control.

One Fire Boss under contract to the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), Tanker 851, has been inspected and given a clean bill of health and will continue to fly on fires where the IDL has operational control.