Video from MAFFS cockpit

These in-cockpit videos by the Modular Airborne FireFighting System aircraft are great. If you look VERY closely you will see two puffs of smoke from the lead plane, marking the beginning and end of the drop.

TBT: 16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program

For ThrowBack Thursday we’re revisiting a piece we wrote in March, 2016.


The aerial firefighting program in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has grown over a couple of decades into a highly respected, professionally managed organization. After spending some time at their aviation headquarters at McClellan Air Field on Thursday  [March 24, 2016] in Sacramento, I developed as list of 16 facts that you may not know about the program:

1. CAL FIRE has 22 S-2T fixed wing air tankers that can carry up to 1,200 gallons of retardant. They are presently converting an aircraft to replace the one destroyed in the October 7, 2014 crash that killed Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. That process should be complete in 18 to 24 months.

S-2T air tanker
S-2T air tankers at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

2. They have 15 OV-10 Air Attack fixed wing aircraft.

OV-10
A lineup of OV-10 air attack ships at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

3. And 12 Super Huey helicopters.

super huey
Super Huey at McClellan Air Field, March 24, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

4. All of the above aircraft were discarded by the military.

5. The S-2T air tankers were designed to be based on aircraft carriers, and therefore have wings that fold. They still retain this feature, which makes it possible to cram more aircraft into a hangar.

S-2T folded wings
An S-2T with the wings folded. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Continue reading “TBT: 16 facts you may not know about CAL FIRE’s aerial firefighting program”

CAL FIRE receives final approval to purchase new Sikorsky S-70i helicopters

Above: A Los Angeles County Fire Department Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk helicopter demonstrates a water drop during a 2013 airshow. Photo credit: Trent Bell.

An administrative law judge ruled last week against a protest filed by a competing company clearing the way for CAL FIRE to purchase up to 12 new firefighting helicopters, Sikorsky S-70i (Firehawks), from Air Methods/United Rotorcraft (AMUR). This was in spite of the fact that their bid was $63.8 million higher than the one submitted by AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation (AWPC, part of Leonardo Helicopters). When adjustments were made after the protest, there were only two points separating the analysis of the two proposals, out of a possible 1,000 points.

AWPC intended to supply the AW189 which are popular in the offshore oil industry.

Los Angeles County Fire Department has successfully used the Firehawk for several years and just received two more. Firehawk Helicopters in Boise operates several S-70’s.

firehawk helicopter
N137BH, a Sikorsky S-70 “Firehawk” flies to refill its water bucket after dropping on the Rankin Fire in South Dakota September 13, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE will replace up to 12 of their aging Bell Super Huey helicopter with the Firehawks.

CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey helicopter
One of the few CAL FIRE Bell Super Huey helicopters that still has “CDF” painted on the tail. The photo was taken March 24, 2016 at the CAL FIRE facilities at McClellan Air Field near Sacramento, California by Bill Gabbert.

CAL FIRE began the contracting process for the new helicopters in 2015 or early 2016. There were issues with the first attempt and the solicitation and bids were all thrown out. After the second round the agency announced on August 2, 2017 that they “intended” to award the contract to AMUR for the Firehawk but there would be a period to allow protests to be filed.

Vertical Magazine has an in-depth article about the protest.

Air tankers at Rapid City

An MD-87 and an RJ85 were at Rapid City for the Legion Lake Fire in the Black Hills

Above: Air Tanker 163, an RJ85, at Rapid City December 12, 2017.

(Originally published at 12:15 p.m. MST December 13, 2017)

When the Legion Lake Fire broke out in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota December 11 it grew quickly in strong winds. The Incident Commander didn’t hesitate to order additional resources, including two large air tankers. Tankers 101, an MD-87, and 163, an RJ85, responded from Southern California, arriving late in the afternoon. They were not used that day since the lead plane did not arrive until much later. The tankers also were not used the following day. But the fire blew up the night of the 12th, expanding from 4,000 acres to over 40, 000 acres. As this is written around noon on December 13, the Incident Management Team said they will be used if needed.

On December 12 we visited the Rapid City Air Tanker base while the tankers were parked there. We talked with MD-87 pilot Brent Connor who told us Erickson Aero Tanker expects to have their fifth MD-87 in service by the 2018 fire season. Tanker 101 was the first they built; the others are 102, 103, 105, and 107.

Articles on Wildfire Today about the Legion Lake Fire are tagged “Legion Lake Fire”.

Each of the recently developed jet-powered air tankers have unique retardant delivery systems, and the MD-87 is no exception. As you can see in the photo gallery (click on the photos to see larger versions) it has two imposing tubes (for lack of a better term) in addition to a tank under the cabin floor and a pod under the plane’s belly. Those three reservoirs hold 3,000, 1,000, and 700 gallons, respectively, for a total of 4,700 gallons.

To mitigate the issue of retardant dispersing over the wing, which introduced the possibility of it being ingested into the engines, they had an external tank, or pod, fabricated and installed below the retardant tank doors, lowering the release point by 46 inches.

Mr. Connor said that at this time they are limited to dropping 3,100 gallons, and they never have to download due to density altitude. After modifications are made to the system, they expect to be cleared to carry 4,000 gallons. He said that to get to the present stage of development the FAA required 80 hours of  flight testing.

Video of 747 dropping on the Thomas Fire

(Originally published at 10:50 a.m. PST December 10, 2017)

We shot this video that was on a TV screen of the 747 SuperTanker dropping on the Thomas fire in Ventura County in Southern California. It was broadcast by ABC7 today, Sunday morning December 10, but the reporter said it was shot “earlier”. Based on the flight history of the aircraft it was probably initially recorded between December 7 and 9, 2017, since its first planned flight today is scheduled to depart McClellan at 11:05 a.m. PST.

747 SuperTanker dropping
Screenshot from ABC7 video of the 747 SuperTanker dropping on the #ThomasFire in SoCal.

Video of multiple air tankers working the Liberty Fire near Murrieta, CA

Above: The Liberty Fire east of Murrieta, California, December 7, 2017. Screengrab from the KTLA video.

(Originally published at 7 p.m. PST December 7, 2017)

KTLA shot some excellent stabilized video from a helicopter Thursday of the Liberty Fire that has burned about 300 acres northeast of Murrieta, California. This is a new fire that erupted this afternoon 17 miles north of another new fire, the Lilac Fire south of Temecula which was 3,000 acres at 7 p.m. PST.

The video, which is almost 2 hours long, has at least 8 shots of air tankers dropping. We skimmed through it quickly and noted where the drops occur, probably missing a few.

13:00 – DC-10
17:00 – BAe-146/C-130
35:30 – C-130
38:35 – BAe-146
49:15 –  S-2
1:05:00 – MAFFS
1:30:00 – 747
1:40:20 – MAFFS

CL-415’s scooping water at Castaic Lake

Above:  Air Tanker 260 scoops water at Castaic Lake December 6, 2017 . Photo by Robert Schwemmer.

(Originally published at 7:25 p.m. MST December 7, 2017)

Robert Schwemmer shot this video and the photos of water-scooping air tankers as they refilled at Castaic Lake as they were working the Creek Fire in Los Angeles, California. Thanks Robert!

Air Tanker 247
Air Tanker 247 scooping water at Castaic Lake December 6, 2017 . Photo by Robert Schwemmer.

T-247 and one other Quebec government scooper are under contract to Los Angeles County, while T-260 and two other Aero-Flite CL-415’s are working on a contract with the U.S. Forest Service.