P.S.: I wish the “Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting” would change their name to something that made sense.
Above: Air Tanker 163, an RJ85, drops on the Gopher Fire near Escondido, California August 8, 2016. Photo by Michael Burge.
Michael Burge shot these photos of an RJ85 air tanker and an Air-Crane helicopter August 8, 2016 on the Gopher Fire which burned 35 acres near a residential area off Interstate 15 near Escondido, California at Lawrence Welk Drive and Gopher Canyon. The interstate was closed in both directions for a while as firefighters worked to stop the blaze.
Ten additional air tankers brought on temporarily
In the last few weeks the U.S. Forest Service has brought on ten additional air tankers on a temporary basis. This includes CL-415 water-scoopers, CV-580’s, and Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130’s. Two of the aircraft were acquired through Call When Needed (CWN) agreements; four via agreements with Alaska and Canada; two MAFFS through an agreement with the Department of Defense; and two water scoopers through other contracts.
The U.S. Forest Service expects to have two HC-130H aircraft at McClellan Air Field in September. These are part of the seven aircraft fleet of HC-130H’s that the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard.
Last year one of the HC-130H’s worked out of McClellan using a MAFFS, a slip-in 3,000-gallon pressurized retardant system that pumps the liquid out the left side troop door. That was aircraft #1721 designated as Tanker 118, still painted in military colors. T-118 is now undergoing scheduled depot-level maintenance and should be replaced in September of this year by #1708 designated as Tanker 116. It will also use a slip-in MAFFS unit, one of the eight owned by the USFS, but should be sporting a new USFS air tanker paint job. After T-118 left, another former Coast Guard aircraft took its place, #1706. It is being used for training the contracted pilots and will not serve as an air tanker.
Early in 2015 the plan was to have two HC-130H’s at McClellan. One would be used as an air tanker, and the second would be used as a training platform. Below is a portion of that early 2015 plan which we covered February 9, 2015.
Eventually the USFS hopes to have all seven converted to air tankers with removable retardant tanks. A contract for the installation of the retardant delivery systems was awarded to the Coulson Group in May. There is also much other work that has to be completed on the aircraft including programmed depot maintenance, painting, and wing box replacement on most of them. The work is being done or coordinated by the U.S. Air Force. They were directed by Congressional legislation to use their own funds, up to $130 million, so it is no surprise that the schedule keeps slipping as delays continue to occur in awarding contracts and scheduling the maintenance.
In 2014 Tom Tidwell, Chief of the USFS, said all seven aircraft would be completely converted by 2018. In early 2015 the USFS changed that to 2019. Now, a year and a half later, it’s anybody’s guess when or if this project that started in December of 2013 will be finished.
The USFS has two water-scooping CL-415 air tankers on exclusive use contract. As noted above they recently temporarily brought on two more on a call when needed basis. All four are operated by AeroFlite and as seen in the photo above were together at Cody last week.
There was some discussion in the comment section of another article on Fire Aviation about the status of the BAe-146 aircraft being converted to air tankers by Air Spray. The company has five of the 146’s; two are out of the country and the other three are at the company’s Chico, California facility. Ravi Saip, their Director of Maintenance/General Manager, told Fire Aviation that they expect to begin flight testing one of them in air tanker mode around the first of the year. After they receive a supplemental type certificate from the FAA, work on the second one would shift into high gear. Then conversion of the other three would begin.
Air Spray also has eight Air Tractor 802 single engine air tankers that they have purchased since 2014. Five of them have received the amphibious conversion by adding floats, and the other three are stock, restricted to wheels.
Air Spray’s Tanker 498, an L-188 Electra, is currently in Sacramento being inspected and carded by CAL FIRE so that it can be used in a Call When Needed capacity.
Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, told us that the FAA has awarded a supplemental type certificate for their reborn 747 SuperTanker — a major and sometimes very difficult barrier to overcome. Within the next two weeks they expect to receive the airworthiness certificate.
Beginning next week representatives from the USFS will observe some additional static tests and then there will be an airborne descent test, a new test added in 2013, releasing retardant in a downhill drop. That test was not required when Version 1.0 of the 747 was certified. It may have been added after it was discovered that the first BAe-146’s that were converted and issued contracts still retained hundreds of gallons of retardant after downhill runs.
These steps should take less than two weeks, Mr. Wheeler said, after which they will submit the results to the Interagency AirTanker Board.
Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told Fire Aviation that the company was offered an opportunity to submit a proposal for a call when needed contract solicitation in 2015, along with numerous other companies, but declined to do so. Their next opportunity to obtain a contract will be when another general solicitation is issued in 2017, or perhaps sooner, Ms. Jones said. The agency issued a Request for Information a few weeks ago, which is usually followed some months later with an actual solicitation.
Judging from the list of CWN air tankers with contracts, apparently it is possible to submit a proposal and receive a USFS CWN contract even if the aircraft exists mostly on paper and could be years away from being FAA and Interagency AirTanker Board certified.
In the meantime Mr. Wheeler realizes that the USFS is not the only organization that hires air tankers and has been talking with a number of other agencies in various states and countries as well as companies involved in marine firefighting.
Global SuperTanker is in the process of finishing repairs on the 747 in Arizona after some of the composite flight control surfaces (flaps, spoilers, elevators) and engine cowlings were damaged by golf ball sized hail at Colorado Springs several weeks ago. There was no windscreen or fuselage damage.
Mr. Wheeler said that was the first severe hailstorm within the last seven years at the Colorado Springs airport. But, after the aircraft left to be repaired in Arizona a second hailstorm struck the airport that some have said was a 100-year event and did much more damage than the first one.
Permanent base for the HC-130H air tankers
On September 2, 2015 the USFS formally requested information from facilities that could support the seven-aircraft HC-130H fleet (Solicitation Number SN-2015-16), with responses due September 16. The agency was only asking for information from interested parties, and will not award a contract based on the Request for Information. A few politicians fell all over themselves arguing that the aircraft should be based in their state.
Since then no decisions have been made. Ms. Jones told Fire Aviation:
The U.S. Forest Service continues to cooperate with the Department of Defense to identify potential federal facilities, which must be considered first.
It is unlikely that more than one or two of the seven HC-130H’s would be at the new base at at any one time, except during the winter when they would not have to be dispersed around the country to be available for firefighting. While the base might not be a huge expansion of the aerial firefighting capabilities in an area, the stationing of the flight crews, maintenance, and administrative personnel would be a boost to the economy of a small or medium-sized city.
By Ed Jensen, Airport Manager, Hot Springs Municipal Airport, South Dakota
The Hot Springs Municipal Airport has been a busy place this last month. The single engine air tanker (SEAT plane) based out of the Hot Springs Airport during the summer months has been especially busy. Just in the month of July alone, the Wildland Fire Division crew operating it has flown over eighty fire missions within western South Dakota. Wildland Fire was also quite busy with the Indian Canyon Fire by Edgemont, having four planes flying out of our airport to assist in putting that fire out. We are really glad to have them based here in Hot Springs for immediate the fire protection of our area.
Switching gears from firefighting operations at our airport, we also saw an increase of recreation users this last week during the Oshkosh, WI fly-in. Many planes traveling to Oshkosh for the fly in chose to land in Hot Springs for fuel with some renting hangar space for the night. Many also stopped again on their way home to refuel their planes. Separate of the fly-in, we were lucky enough to see a 7/8 scale P-51 Mustang land here on July 30th. For those familiar with aircraft, you know this was a sight to see.
Rob Gluckman shot this video of Helitanker 731, an Erickson Air-Crane, taking off and dropping a load of water. It may have been recorded at Van Nuys Airport. Mr. Gluckman wrote this when he posted it on Facebook:
Was lucky enough to catch this monster spooling up at the same time we were. Unique perspective on the ground and in the air. Air Crane is fully loaded! Look at those blades cone!!
The amphibious air tankers will be based at Van Nuys Airport.
Above: file photo of a CL-415 “Super Scooper”. This one photographed at McClellan Air Field is operated by AeroFlite, rather than the province of Quebec like the two aircraft that will be in Los Angeles County.
The annual migration of two water-scooping air tankers from Quebec to Los Angeles County has begun. Two CL-415’s were due to arrive in Los Angeles Saturday and will be operational on Monday out of Van Nuys Airport (map).
For the last 23 wildfire seasons Los Angeles County has leased at least two water-scoopers for a portion of the second half of the calendar year. The timing is based on the assumption that the most devastating wildfires occur during the last quarter or so of the year when strong Santa Ana winds are common. Usually they come on board around the first of September and depart in November or December, but the length of the assignment can be extended if necessary.
In July of this year the County Board of Supervisors awarded a five-year contract to Quebec’s government to lease at least two of the air tankers during the southern California fire season.
In 2015 the two CL-415’s were augmented by two additional scoopers on October 9 after the county Board of Supervisors decided they were necessary because of the ongoing drought. The four aircraft that year were not needed as much as they are in an average year.
The two aircraft leased in 2013 were kept in the county well into January and were heavily used on the Colby Fire near Glendora January 16, 2014. The video below shows Tanker 241 scooping at Santa Fe Dam during the firefight.
Los Angeles County usually leases a Helitanker during the fall, an Erickson Air-Crane S-64F that can hold 2,650 gallons of water or retardant.
These leased aircraft join the Department’s own fleet of eight or nine helicopters to assist firefighters on the ground.
Above: Air Tanker 66, a DC-7
These photos were taken by Bob Martinez, a Volunteer in Prevention Photographer with CAL FIRE. They were taken on the Goose Fire near Prather, California, about 18 miles northeast of Fresno. Thanks Bob!
The Goose Fire has burned 2,241 acres and 4 homes and is approaching containment.