Type 1 helicopters on contract

Below is a list of the 34 Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use contract this year. They all expire in April, 2016.

Helicopter contracts, Type 1, Exclusive Use

The list was extremely hard to get. We first asked for it on April 16, 2013, hoping to receive it well before the western wildfire season got underway. We were told that the list was only available if we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which we did. After many delays, uncounted emails, excuses, and receiving incorrect information, we finally got it yesterday, September 26, five months after asking for it.

It is absurd that this information about how taxpayers’ money is being spent is not easily available to citizens. It is especially stupid, since similar data about air tankers has been available for years on the National Interagency Fire Center web site. We asked the U.S. Forest Service yesterday why the information about helicopters requires a FOIA request to obtain. The spokesperson in Boise we talked to said they would check and get back to us. If we receive an answer, we will post it here.

President Obama’s written policy on open government is very different from that being demonstrated by the U.S. Forest Service.

White House, open government

Tanker 131 drops on its first fire

Air Tanker 131, Coulson’s C-130Q, made its first drop on a wildfire Friday, September 20. It split one load, dropping on both flanks of the Sanctuary Fire on the Los Padres National Forest near the Hopper Mountain Condor Sanctuary where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service raises the Condors.

The video above is the first drop for T-131 ever on a wildfire. The second video, below, is the second drop on the other flank.

Tanker 131 and T-44, a P2V, worked the fire with lead plane Bravo-52. The fire was contained at 27 acres.

A big thanks go out to Gary Monday of Ventura County Fire Department who shot the video.

Pilot killed in logging helicopter crash in Oregon

Logging helicopter crash Oregon
Logging helicopter crash in Oregon. Photo by Linn County Sheriff’s Office.

A helicopter hauling logs for a logging contractor on the Willamette National Forest crashed Monday afternoon, killing the pilot, William Bart Colantuono, 54, of Indialantic, Florida. The incident occurred in a remote area near Idanha, Oregon southeast of Salem. Mr. Colantuono had appeared in the History Channel’s series, “Ax Men”.

From KATU:

The sheriff’s office said witnesses of the crash gave deputies the following account: The helicopter, a 1962 Bell UH1B, was being used to transport logs from the cutting area to a log deck in Idanha. It had just returned after the pilot had taken a 45 minute break.

The helicopter had picked up a load when witnesses reported hearing a loud snapping sound which was followed by logs hitting the ground and it appeared the pilot had released the logs electronically, indicating the pilot knew of a problem prior to the crash.

Witnesses then saw a rotor separate from the helicopter followed by it turning upside down and falling to the ground.

The helicopter is owned by Umatilla Lift Services in Florida. Photo of of Mr. Colantuono.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Colantuono’s family and co-workers.

 

Thanks go out to Ken

Park Police helicopter responds to D.C. shooting

During the law enforcement response to the tragic shooting at the Naval Yard in Washington, DC yesterday one of the the U.S. Park Police helicopters got a lot of air time on the television coverage.

According to reports the helicopter was used to insert snipers onto roof tops, serve as an observation platform, and to remove some non-law enforcement personnel from roofs or other areas. At times an armed officer was seen sitting in the open door. In addition to the video above, photos of the helicopter at the scene can be found at Yahoo and the New York Post.

The National Park Service has the helicopters organized within their Homeland Security Division, Icon Protection Branch, Aviation Unit which was created in 1973 with the acquisition of one Bell 206B Jet Ranger. Now they have multiple ships providing 24-hour coverage, including some twin-engine Bell 412EPs.

Last December we first wrote about the Park Police helicopters and included some photos taken during the response to Hurricane Sandy in the New York City area.

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.