A fourth DC-10 air tanker nearing completion

The conversion of the fourth DC-10 into a Very Large Air Tanker is nearing completion. Rick Hatton, the President and CEO of 10 Tanker Air Carrier, said he expects Tanker 914 to be finished with the modification process in June, including the incorporation of their Next Gen tank controller.

Tanker 914 will join the other three DC-10’s that can each hold up to 11,600 gallons of fire retardant.

air tanker 914, DC-10
Tanker 914 undergoing conversion. 10 Tanker photo.

Nevada Forestry and National Guard helicopter bucket training

Personnel from Nevada this week conducted aerial fire suppression and water bucket training on the heels of a wet winter and ahead of what could quickly turn into a very active summer for area firefighters.

Training throughout the week included several scenarios that mirrored real situations.

“In advance of what promises to be a challenging fire suppression season, this training aims to improve interagency crew cooperation and interaction, especially communication between ground and air crews,” National Guard spokesman Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka said, according to the Record-Courier newspaper. 

A bucket drop test during training with the Nevada Division of Forestry and Nevada National Guard. Courtesy photo.
A bucket drop test during training with the Nevada Division of Forestry and Nevada National Guard. Courtesy photo.

Drones being added to Grand Canyon-area wildfire toolbox

Above: An example of one type of drone that can be used to assist in wildfire operations. 

Wildland firefighters at Grand Canyon National Park have added drones to their toolkits, marking the latest iteration of unmanned aircraft systems’ love-hate relationship when it comes to wildfire. 

Rangers have started using drones to scout fires from above, the Grand Canyon News reported. From the article published Tuesday:

Justin Jager, interagency aviation officer for Grand Canyon National Park, Kaibab and Coconino National Forests and Flagstaff and Verde Valley Area National Monuments, said the drones are utilized in conjunction with traditional methods. Operators use the devices to scout fire lines, or communicate information to other personnel in the area.

The unmanned systems aren’t replacing fixed-wing scouting planes. Rather, they’re being used to search a fire’s outer edges and providing intelligence that can help establish stronger fire lines.

Also from the Grand Canyon News: 

“We’re taking what we’re learning and creating a guide for other agencies, like BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or other national parks to create their own programs,” Jager said. “I think they can all benefit from adding this tool.”

Drones and the Grand Canyon have been in the news for other reasons of late, most recently in assisting search and rescue operations for LouAnn Merrell and her step-grandson Jackson Standefer. Both went missing in April while on a hike — the boy’s body has since been recovered, though the woman has not yet been located.

Grand Canyon National Park is the only park with its own fleet of unmanned aircraft that can be used for locating people who have gotten lost, stranded, injured or killed. Under a program that began last fall, it has five drones and four certified operators, the Associated Press reported. 

The drones are about 18 inches across and 10 inches high, with a battery life of about 20 minutes. Drone operators watch the video in real time and then analyze it again at the end of the day.

As fire season revs up, so will conversations about the crossroads of the devices and wildfire. While crews have successfully used drones for recon and to aid in igniting prescribed burns, it’s only a matter of time until a curious hobbyist — once again — flies too close to firefighting operations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has come out in the past supporting the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service in their simple message to drone operators: If you fly; we can’t.

“Flying a drone near aerial firefighting aircraft doesn’t just pose a hazard to the pilots,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “When aircraft are grounded because an unmanned aircraft is in the vicinity, lives are put at greater risk.”

That didn’t matter. After a string of incidents last year, the FAA warned in a mass email to recreational drone operators that those “who interfere with wildfire suppression efforts are subject to civil penalties of up to $27,500 and possible criminal prosecution.”

Looking for more about the intersection of drones and wildfire? This dated, yet relevant, Smithsonian video below documents the use of the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator Drone in the August, 2013, Rim Fire in California.

Scoopers on Lake Chatuge

Mark Carr sent us these photos he took November 18, 2016 of CL-415 water-scooping air tankers refilling at Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee, Georgia. That was a busy time for firefighters in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and other areas in the southeast United States.

Aero Flite tanker 262

Empty water bucket contributed to New Zealand helicopter crash

New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has determined that an empty water bucket contributed to the cause of a fatal helicopter crash on February 14, 2017.

David Steven Askin was piloting a helicopter for Way To go Heliservices working on a wildfire near Christchurch when it went down in the Port Hills.

Steve Askin
Steve Askin. Way To Go Heliservices photo.

The TAIC determined that a cable from the water bucket struck the tail of the Eurocopter AS350-BA.

The TAIC explained:

In the early afternoon, one of the helicopters, a Eurocopter AS350 ‘Squirrel’, registered ZK-HKW, crashed while the pilot was returning to the dipping pond to refill the firefighting ‘monsoon’ bucket. The helicopter was destroyed and the pilot was killed. Evidence shows that the likely cause of the crash was the empty monsoon bucket swung back into the tail rotor, damaging the tail rotor and causing the loss of the vertical stabiliser from the tail boom. After the loss of the vertical stabiliser, the helicopter gradually rolled to the right and descended until it struck the ground.

The TAIC’s investigation was aided by video from a camera mounted on the aircraft which showed the bucket swinging up toward the tail as the helicopter was enroute to a dip site.

Below is an excerpt from the Stuff website:

An abbreviated mayday call was heard by several pilots about 2.05pm, but it was not clear which radio frequency the call was made on.

The air attack supervisor asked for a role call of all aircraft involved. Askin did not respond.

After a brief search, another pilot found the wreckage of Askin’s helicopter on a steep slope near the head of a gully east of Sugarloaf.

According to TAIC’s report, the helicopter had struck a steep, tussock-covered slope. Main rotor strikes on the slope indicated the helicopter had tumbled further down the slope.

TAIC recommended several solutions, including using heavy ballast slings, and having someone monitor the operation from the ground.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chad.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Video: DC-10 makes drop on West Mims Fire

As firefighters on the ground continue efforts to get a handle on the West Mims Fire on the Georgia-Florida border, the attack from the air has intensified.

The Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT), a DC-10 fitted with a retardant delivery system, arrived Tuesday afternoon but was only able to make one fire retardant drop before low visibility due to settling smoke made subsequent air operations unsafe, officials said.

The aircraft made two 12,000-gallon retardant drops on Wednesday. Extreme conditions are expected to continue through the rest of the week, with temperatures approaching 100 degrees and winds gusting to 20 mph forecast — Red Flag Warnings are also expected to be issued in the area.

The blaze remains the largest and most active currently burning in the U.S., having already charred about 144,000 acres. It remains just 12 percent contained.

DC-10 tanker joins West Mims Fire efforts

Above: A helicopter makes a water drop next to the road in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge on the West Mims Fire. Photo via InciWeb.

Additional air resources arrived on Tuesday to join crews battling the 140,000-acre West Mims Fire on the Georgia-Florida border.

The Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT), a DC-10 fitted with a retardant delivery system, arrived Tuesday afternoon but was only able to make one fire retardant drop before low visibility due to settling smoke made subsequent air operations unsafe, officials said. The aircraft is capable of dumping 11,600 gallons (44,000 liters) of chemical fire retardant in a single run, and it joins more than 700 firefighters and support personnel working to contain the blaze with bulldozers, helicopters and smaller planes.

The DC-10 is stationed in Chattanooga, Tenn., hundreds of miles away from the fire. Though clear across the entire state of Georgia, that location is the closest airport rated to handle the needs of a place its size, officials said.

Crews caught a break on Tuesday — the fire wasn’t as active as it had been of late, though temperatures still hit 96 degrees with relative humidity hovering about 19 percent.

“For the first time in 3 days, the fire was not as aggressive as was anticipated,” incident commanders wrote in the Tuesday evening update, posted to InciWeb. 

Hotter conditions and gusty winds are forecast for Wednesday.

Eight heavy helicopters and six heavy air tankers will be supporting ground operations Wednesday, as conditions allow.

The lightning-sparked fire started April 6 has burned 140,400 acres and remains just 12 percent contained.

DC-10 air tanker Utah
A DC-10 on a fire in Utah. Posted on Twitter by the Alpine Hotshots September 4, 2016.