Marine One pilot flies for CAL FIRE

In this first video you will meet a CAL FIRE helicopter pilot whose previous job was flying the President around in Marine One.

The bonus video below shows a very skilled pilot in Oregon quickly, very quickly, ferrying external loads of Christmas trees from the farm to trucks. It is Pilot Dan Clark flying a Northwest Helicopters, LLC 206B3 Jetranger in November of 2008.

The videos can also be seen on YouTube here and here.

A new study looks at four possible air tankers for Colorado

Colorado Air tanker study cover

In case the 11 air tanker studies since 1995 are not enough, there is now a twelfth. As you can see on the cover above, it is named Analysis of Aircraft for the Fire Fighting Mission in Colorado. It compares four different aircraft, two of which have received certification from the Interagency AirTanker Board, and two that have never been converted into air tankers:

  1. BAe-146
  2. C-130H/Q
  3. C-27J
  4. S-3B

The study is Colorado-specific in that it looks at the retardant capacities if the aircraft were to fly out of four air tanker bases in the state: Denver, Durango, Grand Junction, and Pueblo, with elevations ranging from 4,726 to 6,685 feet, and runway lengths from 9,000 to 10,502 feet.

The study primarily considered four characteristics of the aircraft:

  • Retardant tank volume (certificated or estimated)
  • Mission payload capability from USFS air tanker bases in Colorado
  • Sustainability and after sales product support
  • Mission effectiveness expressed as gallons transported per hour and per day

The C-130J/Q led the field in all four categories.

Assuming the data compiled by Conklin & de Decker Aviation Information is correct, the retardant capacities at the Colorado air tanker bases “during typical summer temperatures (ISA + 30 degrees C)” for the C-27J and S-3B are stunningly low, averaging 184 and 181 gallons, respectively. The BAe-146 would have to download from the maximum of 3,000 gallons to 1,884, while the C-130Q/H would always, according to the report, carry their maximum load of 3,500 gallons.

The tables below are from the study on page 33.

Colorado Retardant delivery by four types of aircraftWe are curious to know who paid for the study, which was “prepared for [Colorado state] Senator Steve King”. A phone call to Conklin & de Decker Aviation Information was not immediately returned. Senator King has been very interested and vocal about the possible acquisition of firefighting aircraft for his state.

Earlier this year legislation passed in Colorado that allowed for the creation of a “Colorado Firefighting Air Corps”, but it did not authorize any funding for the agency. The bill was introduced by Senators Steve King and Cheri Jahn


Forest Service not using $100,000 worth of drones

Sky Seer drone
Victor Torres of Chang Industry holds a Sky Seer drone used by the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department. It may be similar to those purchased by the USFS. Photo by Xeni Jardin April 6, 2006.

The U.S. Forest Service spent $100,000 in 2007 to buy two Sky Seer drone aircraft that they have not figured out how to use. The story was reported at Environment & Energy and was featured at a web site about forest planning. Apparently the agency purchased the drones seven years ago initially to be used for law enforcement, but FAA regulations and other problems have presented obstacles to the very expensive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) taking to the skies.

The information came to light after the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a Freedom of Information Act Request which revealed a little about how the USFS may use the drones. In 2012 the agency created an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Advisory Group within their Fire and Aviation Management division which may indicate a desire to use them to gather intelligence over fires.

An article in the Missoulian published May 26, 2013 was titled “U.S. Forest Service drops plans to use drones in Montana, north Idaho”. The reporter was told the agency had no drones. Below is an excerpt:

MISSOULA — The U.S. Forest Service says it has no drone aircraft, but plenty of other people have little UFOs buzzing over the trees in Western Montana.

Last week, Forest Service officials said they’ve dropped plans to use unmanned aerial systems — commonly known as drones — to survey forest fires because of clashes with Federal Aviation Administration rules. While some national forest firefighters in Alaska touted the remote-control planes’ ability to map forest fires in thick smoke, their legality proved a limitation.

“Getting FAA approval to fly one is a lengthy process,” Forest Service Northern Region spokesman Phil Sammon said Friday. “It takes too long to make it practical for a two- or three-week occurrence.”

FAA rules require a drone in U.S. airspace to be in visual range of its pilot at all times. That sets up a Catch-22 problem where if you want to remote-control fly a drone into a smoke column too thick for human pilots to see through, you must still send up a human pilot to keep an eye on the drone.

More information about the USFS drone program is at the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility website:

Photos of classic air tankers

S2, Tanker 70, at Hemet
Tanker 70 an S-2, at Hemet. Photo by Steve Whitby.

Steve Whitby was kind enough to send us another batch of photos that he took of air tankers. (These first five photos are his; the other five were taken by Bill Gabbert.) This time Steve’s are from 1979 and 1980 at Hemet in southern California. Earlier we posted some photos he took last summer at the Mountain Fire in southern California. Thanks again Steve!

S-2s at Hemet
S-2s at Hemet. Photo by Steve Whitby.
T-86, a C-119, makes a drop in 1979
T-86, a C-119, makes a drop in 1979. Photo by Steve Whitby.
C-119 at Hemet. Photo by Steve Whitby.
C-119 at Hemet. Photo by Steve Whitby.
C-119 at Hemet
Tanker 82, a C-119, at Hemet. Photo by Steve Whitby.

Speaking of C-119s, the five photos below were taken by Bill Gabbert between 1970 and 1972. The gentleman in the first photo is Ron Campbell, Superintendent of the El Cariso Hot Shots.
Continue reading “Photos of classic air tankers”

“It’s not your average video game”

A reporter for Shaw TV in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada conducted two interviews with Perry Dancause, Director of Flight Operations for Air Spray about their air tanker business. The first one covers general information about the company and their operations at the Red Deer facility.

The second video is about their flight simulators. The reporter who looks like he is about 14 years old begins by saying “You know, it’s not your average video game”.

Air Spray has a fleet of Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprop air tankers and has established a US base at Chico, California. They are converting two BAe 146s into air tankers and in September received a Call When Needed contract from CAL FIRE for an L-188 Electra.

Photos of aircraft on the Mountain Fire

Air tanker 07,  a P2V
Air tanker 07, a P2V, July 15 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.

These photos were graciously sent to us by Steve Whitby who took them on the Mountain Fire in July. The fire burned over 20,000 acres in and near the San Bernardino National Forest in southern California. Thanks Steve — great pictures!

Air tanker 73, an S2T
Air tanker 73, an S2T, flown by Mike Venable, July 15 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.
Tanker 910, a DC-10, July 16
Tanker 910, a DC-10, July 16 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.
CAL FIRE Helicopter 301 July 16
CAL FIRE Helicopter 301 July 16 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.
Erickson Air-Crane July 16 on the Mountain Fire
Erickson Air-Crane, July 16 on the Mountain Fire in southern California. USFS photo by Steve Whitby.

Legislation introduced to transfer 7 C-130Hs to US Forest Service

The U.S. Coast Guard’s idea to give some C-130s to the U.S. Forest Service if the Coast Guard can get at least 14 of the Air Force’s C-27Js is gaining some traction.

Of the 507 amendments that have been introduced to modify the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (Senate Bill 1197), 8 of them are sponsored by Senator John McCain. All of the Senator’s lengthy amendments, covering many topics, have nearly identical language requiring the Department of Homeland Security, referring to the Coast Guard in this case, to transfer seven C-130H aircraft to the Air Force without reimbursement. Then the Air Force will be required to :

…perform center and outer wingbox replacement modifications, progressive fuselage structural inspections, and configuration modifications necessary to convert each HC-130H aircraft as large air tanker wildfire suppression aircraft.

The aircraft will then be transferred to the Forest Service to be used as air tankers, again without reimbursement.

If the bill passes and Senator McCain’s amendment remains intact, two big IFs, we assume that the USFS would use the C-130H air tankers as Government-Owned/Contractor-Operated assets, a new type of venture for the agency. CAL FIRE has been using this model for years with their fleet of 23 S-2T air tankers and it seems to work well for them.

(UPDATE 1-7-2014: The bill passed. Here is a link to the text.)

In addition, the McCain amendments require the Army to transfer, in FY 2014 without reimbursement, up to 15 Short C-23B+ Sherpa aircraft to the Forest Service to be used in fire management.

Apparently Senator McCain has given up on his previous proposal. In July of 2012, with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) he introduced legislation known as the Wildfire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act of 2012 (S. 3441) ”to help replenish the agency’s aging airtanker fleet”. It would have required the transfer of 14 C-27Js to the Forest Service. The bill died, and since then the USFS has said they want 7 of the aircraft.

The Coast Guard would like to have all 21 of the C-27Js that the Air Force is giving away, but since Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made the October 28 decision to give seven of them to the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that left the USFS and the Coast Guard to fight over the remaining 14. In an interview we posted November 13, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp said they wanted all 21, but  ”…we are going to press ahead and get as many of those [remaining 14] as we can.” Then he floated the idea of trading their old C-130Hs for the seven C-27Js that appeared to be heading to the USFS.

The upgraded C-130H with the wingbox replacement and an Aero Union RADS 3,500-gallon constant-flow GPS-regulated retardant tank could be an excellent air tanker for the USFS. This is basically what Coulson has done with their Tanker 131, a C-130Q which is nearly identical to the C-130H.

Redding smokejumpers' Shorts 330 Sherpa
Redding smokejumpers’ Shorts 330 Sherpa. USFS photo.

If they receive them, the USFS could use the Short C-23B+ Sherpa aircraft for smokejumping and for hauling cargo. In 1991 the agency acquired six Shorts 330 Sherpa’s and has used them as smokejumper platforms. The 330s are similar to the C-23B+ Sherpa but have smaller engines and a lower cruising speed.

New owners of Aero Union’s assets intend to sell or lease the P-3s

P-3 Orion air tanker
A P-3 Orion drops on a fire near Cedar City, Utah in 2006. From

When we wrote on October 15 that the eight P-3 Orion air tankers formerly owned by Aero Union had been purchased by a company that primarily deals in supplying and overhauling spare parts for aircraft, it was unknown what the fate of the planes was going to be. The company that bought them and the other assets, United Aeronautical (UAC), was not disclosing their plans and there was concern among those who would like to see the big four-engine turboprops back in the air that they would be parted out or scrapped. While that still could happen, a new development raises the possibility of a continued life for the P-3 air tankers.

Aero Union logoUAC has partnered with a second company, Blue Aerospace, in an effort to sell or lease the eight aircraft. Blue Aerospace made a presentation last month at the Hercules Operators Council in Atlanta promoting the air tankers, and proudly displayed the Aero Union logo. They intend to:

  • Work with the customer community to ensure that the appropriate maintenance is conducted;
  • Provide legacy support for older systems, RADS II and Mobile Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS I); and,
  • Regenerate the capability to supply new fully operational MAFFS II units.

Blue Aerospace said in their presentation, “we are not an operator, but seek to make the highly effective assets of UAC available to those who are”.

A pdf of their presentation can be found HERE.

Over the last few years we have received calls from a variety of people asking where they could buy new MAFFS units or arrange for maintenance or parts for existing systems. So there may be a market for new MAFFS and even the Aero Union P-3s.

There are varying reports of how much work and how many dollars would be needed to bring the eight aircraft back into flyable shape. Six of them were still being used on fires when the U.S. Forest Service cancelled their air tanker contract with Aero Union in July of 2011, saying safety inspections were not being completed. Shortly after that the company laid off most of their employees and eventually sold all of their assets to a bank.