Tanker 116 at Mather

Jon Wright took this photo of Air Tanker 116, which is one of the first of the seven HC-130H aircraft the U.S. Forest Service acquired from the U.S. Coast Guard to be converted to an air tanker.

Mr. Wright said it spent several hours on February 27 and 28 conducting approaches at Mather Airport east of Sacramento.

Russian IL-76 completes its assignment in Chile

The aircraft was in the country for 29 days.

Above: The Russian IL-76 very large air tanker taxis at Santiago, Chile, January 30, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The Russian IL-76 air tanker has completed its assignment in Chile, dropping water to assist the firefighters on the ground who were dealing with a fire season much busier than usual. The aircraft arrived in Santiago on January 30, 2017 and left today, February 27. It can hold up to 11,574 gallons of water that with the assistance of gravity pours through two huge flapper valves into two large tubes on the rear cargo ramp.

While in the country it conducted 41 sorties and made 80 drops for a total of 449,092 gallons, according to the Russian agency EMERCOM. That organization provided the video below which includes some interesting shots inside the aircraft while dropping and of the water delivery system.

Contract possibilities for U.S. air tankers in the southern hemisphere

Above: Neptune’s Tanker 03 parked near several portable water tanks at Concepción, Chile February 4, 2017. Neptune Aviation photo.

Air tankers in the United States and Canada usually spend four to seven months each year parked, not turning a wheel, prop, or turbine. While they sit idle, there can be wildfires raging in South America and Australia, where their fire seasons are opposite of the those in the northern hemisphere. Of course the air tanker operators know this and in some cases are pursuing those opportunities.

Three companies have a total of four air tankers on the second year of a two-year “trial” contract in Australia — Conair, 10 Tanker, and Coulson. Word on the street ramp is that Victoria and New South Wales will issue more contracts for large air tankers before the 2017-2018 summer fire season arrives in September or October.

The first time use of large and very large air tankers in Chile over the last 30 days may have opened another market, as the 747, BAe-146, and a Russian IL-76 all demonstrated that they can be effective even without a supporting air tanker infrastructure in the country.

When we saw an article on a Chilean website inferring that their government had reached an agreement with Global Supertanker to facilitate the use of the 747 Supertanker in the country, it got our attention. Wondering if it was fake news, we checked with Jim Wheeler the CEO and President of the company, who told us that while they have been in talks with government officials, nothing yet is final or signed, and used the term “pending contract”. One of the objectives of an agreement, if reached, would be to ensure a fairly fast arrival after being mobilized. Following wheels up at Colorado Springs, the home base of the aircraft, it can fly non-stop to Santiago in 10 hours.

Clouding the issue in Chile is the contracting and political climate. In recent weeks high-ranking government officials there have issued conflicting statements about the effectiveness of the air tankers, at times saying they are valuable and at other times the opposite. All of this has to be analyzed knowing some background information about aerial firefighting in Chile.

Most of the firefighting aircraft that have been used for years in Chile, the single engine air tankers (SEATs) and helicopters, have been made available through contracts with private companies based in Europe. Officials from two of the companies were accused in Spain of contract collusion and international bribery among other crimes, according to a report by Ahora Noticias, a Chilean publication. In light of those problems, there has been pressure in Chile to investigate their contracting procedures for aircraft.

The publication interviewed a consultant in disaster management, Rodrigo Reveco, who implied that a cozy relationship between the companies and the Chilean non-profit organization that has a hand in managing emergency operations, may help explain why there was a reluctance to bring in aerial firefighting assets from other companies evan as the disastrous wildfire conditions worsened in December.

With this issue fermenting in the background, it can be difficult to predict the future of large, expensive firefighting aircraft in the country.

 

Firefighters are still busy in Chile

Above: Tanker 03, a BAe-146, in Chile. Neptune photo.

(This article first appeared on WildfireToday.com)

The number of active wildfires in Chile has varied from week to week depending on the weather, but the drought-driven situation that has plagued Chile since December is still of great concern to the residents of the country —  especially since more than 1,000 homes burned in Santa Olga on January 25.

The tweet below refers to a fire in the Maule Region.

The 747 Supertanker returned to Colorado Springs on February 13 after being in Chile for three weeks. The Russian IL-76 is still there but is expected to depart on February 25.

Neptune’s Tanker 03, a BAe-146, arrived in the country February 4. It has completed 20 missions dropping on fires, but a spokesperson for the company told us today it has not flown since February 14. It is committed to remain in Chile through the end of this month.

IL-76 747 Supertanker air tanker chile
The Russian IL-76 (in the foreground) taxis past the 747, January 30, ,2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
IL-76 air tanker chile Santiago
The Russian IL-76 at Santiago, Chile January 30 shortly after it arrived in the country. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Drone used to burn debris on power line

drone power line fire debris
A drone uses fire to remove debris from a power line in China. Screen grab from the video below.

Drones are slowly, very slowly, becoming firefighting (and fire-starting) tools. A company in China is using one to burn debris on power lines.

In this video a flame-throwing drone uses fire to remove what appears to be plastic on a high-voltage line.

Earlier we have written about an experimental drone that drops plastic spheres which ignite a prescribed fire after hitting the ground. And the Lockheed Martin and K-Max Corporations have modified a Type 1 helicopter that can be remotely-piloted to drop water on a fire and haul cargo in an external load.

Retardant stops wildfire in New South Wales

Above: The Carwoola Fire in New South Wales, Australia. Photo by NSW Rural Fire Service.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service sent out this Tweet February 17 (U.S. time):

NSW RFS Carwoola Fire

The photo at the top of this article is an enlargement of the one in the tweet. It is interesting to see how the fire in some areas apparently burned into the retardant and stopped. However when this photo was taken it may have been creeping through a gap in the retardant. But since the RFS wrote that the fire was effectively stopped, the aircraft probably continued working on the fire after this photo was taken.

Four large and very large air tankers from North America have been on contract in New South Wales and Victoria during their down under summer — two C-130’s, an RJ85, and a DC-10. Australia also has numerous helicopters and single engine air tankers.

The map below shows lightning strikes and fires in NSW.

Video from the 747 as it drops on wildfires in Chile

Above: A screen capture from a video shot from the cockpit of the 747 SuperTanker.

This video is a compilation of scenes recorded from the cockpit of the 747 SuperTanker as it dropped on fires in Chile between February 5 and 12, 2017. It was shot from a camera set up by Tom Parsons, one of the pilots on the air tanker.

If you enlarge the video to full screen you might be able to see the lead plane in the first two of the three shots.