Three Neptune air tankers activated

On March 9 and 10 the U.S. Forest Service activated three large air tankers, apparently in response to the wildfire situation in the central plains and Colorado.

A wildfire siege involving hundreds of thousands of acres began March 6 in Kansas, Oklahoma, and the northern part of the Texas panhandle. Shortly thereafter fires started popping up in northwest Colorado and the state’s very dry front range. On March 8 when a fire began in the Black Hills of South Dakota that threatened structures and eventually burned 249 acres of timber, the Incident Commander requested an air tanker but was told it would take 24 hours to get one to the fire.

Neptune Aviation announced that three of their BAe-146’s have been deployed. Tanker 12 went to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (Jeffco) at Broomfield, Colorado, and Tankers 03 and 02 will be working in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Of course they could be moved around from those locations as needed.

The video below is about the Santa Fe fire on Friday near Idaho Springs, Colorado and includes a good view of T-12 making a drop.

Neptune’s T-03 that had been working in Chile for a month began its return flight home on March 5.

Neptune's T-03 Chile
Neptune’s T-03 before departing from Chile. Neptune photo.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.
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20 large air tankers to be on exclusive use contracts this year

We also have updates on the MD-87’s, as well as the HC-130H aircraft the USFS is receiving from the Coast Guard.

Above: Air Tanker 162 at Redmond, Oregon June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The U.S. Forest Service will have 20 privately owned large and very large air tankers on exclusive use (EU) contracts this year, which is the same number as in 2016. This is somewhat surprising since the agency is reducing by 18 percent the number of large Type 1 helicopters that are on exclusive use (EU) wildland firefighting contracts.

The USFS will also be operating as an air tanker one of the HC-130H aircraft that they are in the process of receiving from the Coast Guard.

The air tanker mix is a little different this year, with Neptune Aviation trading out two of their old radial engine P2V’s for somewhat newer jet-powered BAe-146’s. Other than that there were no significant changes in the information provided by the USFS.

air tankers contract wildfire 2017
This does not include Call When Needed, Single Engine, or scooper air tankers.

In 2017 the list of large and very large air tankers on Call When Needed (CWN) contracts is the same as in 2016. (UPDATED 3-17-2017)

2016 call when needed wildfire air tankers

There is no guarantee that fixed wing and rotor wing aircraft on CWN contracts will ever be available, and if they are, the daily and hourly costs are much higher than EU aircraft.

Future contracts

Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, told us that they expect to issue a new CWN airtanker solicitation in the near future intended for use in 2017.

The EU contract issued in 2013 for what the USFS called “Legacy” air tankers, six P2V’s and one BAe-146, expires December 31, 2017. The Next-Gen V1.0 contract that was initiated in 2013 is valid until December 31, 2022 if all options are exercised.

Some of the large air tanker vendors have been led to believe that the USFS will issue a solicitation for Next-Gen air tankers in the fairly near future, but Ms. Jones did not confirm this.

MD-87’s

Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87
An Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87. Photo by Paul Carter.

Kevin McLoughlin, the Director of Air Tanker Operations for Erickson Aero Air, told us that they have fixed the problem with their recently converted MD-87 air tankers and expect to have five of them available this summer. Two are on EU contracts and they hope to have the others on CWN contracts. The issue involved retardant dispersing over the wing which left open the possibility of it being ingested into the engines. They had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, which lowers the release point by 46 inches, mitigating the problem, Mr. McLoughlin said. In November the aircraft took and passed the grid test again, certifying it for coverage levels one through eight.

Coast Guard HC-130H’s

One of the seven HC-130H aircraft that the USFS is receiving from the Coast Guard will be available as an air tanker this year. Ms. Jones said aircraft 1708 (Tanker 116) will be the primary air tanker and aircraft 1721 (Tanker 118) will be used for training missions and as a back-up airtanker this year.

The two aircraft will be based at McClellan Air Field in Sacramento at what the Forest Service calls Air Station McClellan (FSAS MCC). Initially they will operate only within a 500 nautical mile radius (almost half of which is over the Pacific Ocean), but by the end of the season the USFS expects to remove that limitation.

500 nautical mile radius
500 nautical mile radius from Sacramento, California. Fire Aviation graphic.

None of the HC-130H’s have received the conversion to a removable internal gravity Retardant Delivery System (RDS). The one operating as an air tanker this year will again use a Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) tank. The U.S. Air Force, which is arranging for all of the work on the aircraft, plans to deliver the first fully completed air tanker in 2019, and the other six by 2020, dates that keep slipping.

Tanker 116 Mather California
Tanker 116, an HC-130H, landing at Mather Airport east of Sacramento, February 28, 2017. Photo by Jon Wright.

None of the current contracted HC-130H pilots are initial attack qualified, but the USFS goal is to have them qualified after the RDS are installed.

The USFS still has not made a decision about the long term basing of the seven HC-130H tankers.

Tanker 131 at Avalon Air Show

Coulson’s Air Tanker 131, known as Bomber 390 in Australia, was present last weekend at the Australian International Airshow in Avalon, Victoria. Britt Coulson sent us these photos.

Their company has had two of their C-130 type air tankers working in Australia during their down under summer. I asked Mr. Coulson when they were going to return and he said both of them need maintenance before being carded by the U.S. Forest Service.

Tanker 131 air show demonstration drop
Tanker 131 making a demonstration drop at the Avalon air show.

T-132 will be departing March 11th; at that time it will have been on contract with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service for a total of 186 Days.

T-131 will leave Australia on March 14th and will have been on contract with Victoria’s Country Fire Authority for a total of 91 Days. It will be on exclusive use contract with the USFS.

Continue reading “Tanker 131 at Avalon Air Show”

Update on single engine air tankers, fire season 2017

Above: SEATs 802 and 824 at Boise, July 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

When we discovered that the number of Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use (EU) contracts has been reduced this year by 18 percent, from 34 to 28, we started looking into the numbers of fixed wing air tankers.

The solicitation for EU Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) has closed and the award decision is in progress. According to Randall Eardley, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land management, the agency that handles contracting for SEATs, the number of these aircraft on EU contracts is expected to be the same as in 2016 — 33 aircraft. Firm numbers will be available after the contracts are issued.

The Call When Needed (CWN) contracts for SEATs have already been awarded for 80 aircraft from 16 vendors, which is up from 67 aircraft in 2016. Mr. Eardley explained, “The increase in CWN aircraft available is due to increased capacity through new and existing vendors.”

We expect to have in the next few days information about large and very large air tankers on contract this year.

 

Billings Flying Service unveils new facilities

Above: One of Billings Flying Service’s CH-47D Chinooks, at Custer Airport, April 3, 2016.

On Friday Billings Flying Service unveiled their new 24,000 square-foot hangar and maintenance facility near the airport in Billings, Montana (map). It has enough room for four to five of their Chinook helicopters, depending on if rotors are installed on the aircraft.

The company has at least six Chinooks and in 2014 became the first non-military owner of CH-47D’s when they purchased two from the U.S. government. Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, and another pilot flew the two helicopters from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to the company’s facilities south of Billings, Montana near the Yellowstone River.

Anything you do with aircraft is expensive. Mr. Blain told us at the time that they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska.

KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.
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Forest Service to reduce the number of Type 1 helicopters on fire contracts

Above: Columbia BV-107 at Custer, SD July 31, 2011. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 7:12 p.m. MST March 3, 2017; updated with more details at 10:43 a.m. MST March 4, 2017)

The U.S. Forest Service is reducing from 34 to 28 the number of large Type 1 helicopters that are on exclusive use (EU) wildland firefighting contracts.

On February 26, 2016 the USFS issued exclusive use contracts to 13 companies for a total of 34 Type 1 firefighting helicopters. The contracts were initially effective for one year, through April 30, 2017, with the possibility of three one-year renewal option periods.

Six of those helicopters are not being renewed. Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said those six ships are two K-MAX BK-1200’s, two Boeing Vertol 107’s, and two CH-54A’s (Air-Crane type helicopters).

Siller Helicopters CH-54A H-781 fire
A Siller Helicopters CH-54A (H-781); a Type 1 helicopter. Photo by Siller.

This list shows the helicopters that are being cut along with the administrative base and operator for each aircraft.

  1. Prineville, Oregon (BK-1200) Swanson Group Aviation
  2. Helena, Montana (BK-1200) Central Helicopters
  3. Hamilton, Montana (BV-107) Columbia Helicopters
  4. Custer, South Dakota (BV-107) Columbia Helicopters
  5. Lancaster, California (CH-54A) Siller Helicopters
  6. Minden, Nevada (CH-54A) Helicopter Transport Services

Type 1 helicopters are frequently moved around depending on fire danger and incident activity and are often not at their home base.

Type 1 helicopters are the largest that are used for firefighting and can carry from 700 to 2,500 gallons of water. They can be extremely effective in assisting firefighters on the ground if they are prepositioned in order to be quickly available on initial attack. They are also very helpful in support of fire crews on extended attack when building line with hose lays or hand tools, allowing ground personnel to work closer to the fire’s edge. Reducing this capability could allow fires to grow larger or escape initial attack.

Continue reading “Forest Service to reduce the number of Type 1 helicopters on fire contracts”

Video from Tanker 580 in Texas

This video was probably shot February 28 from Single Engine Air Tanker 580 while it was working on the Prison Fire in Texas. If you don’t want to watch all eight minutes, check out what appears to be a drop run at 2:40. Be sure your seat belt is fastened! And, put it in full screen mode.

I’m thinking the pilot has experience flying crop dusters.