Scoopers operating on a fire near Berango, Spain

Luis Calabor shot this video of Bombardier 215/415 air tankers scooping water and dropping on a fire near Berango in the Spanish province of Biscay. It was uploaded to YouTube on December 28, 2015.

We believe we identified the bay where the aircraft were scooping the water.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean.

Two SEATs in Oregon dropped almost 200K gallons of retardant in 2015

Two Single Engine Air Tankers operated by Air Spray and contracted to the state of Oregon dropped 195,906 gallons of retardant in 2015. That is about a fourth of the 838,000 gallons dropped by all air tankers working for the state this year. The two SEATs were primarily based in Prineville.

Air Spray Air Tractor
A new Air Tractor 802 that was added to the Air Spray fleet earlier in 2015. It worked under contract for the state of Oregon. Air Spray photo.

Below is an excerpt from an article in The Bulletin:

…The planes were part of a $5 million program to beef up the firefighting fleet in Oregon this past year. The agency was able to move the small tankers around the state when needed. Over the course of the fire season, they reloaded in John Day, Medford, Roseburg and The Dalles. But primarily they flew in and out of Prineville and Redmond, carrying 71,784 gallons of retardant from Prineville and 48,977 from Redmond.

Contracted with the state, the planes that flew out of Prineville belong to Air Spray, a Chico, California, company. Built by Texas-based Air Tractor, they cost $1.7 million each.

Video of RJ85 dropping on a fire in Australia

The video shows an Avro RJ85 air tanker taking off from Avalon, Victoria, flying along the Great Ocean Road, over Lorne, dropping retardant on the Lorne-Jamieson Track Bushfire in Victoria, and flying out over the coast at Wye River. Video courtesy RJ85 Australia.

More about the Lorne-Jamieson Track Bushfire that burned 116 homes.

Helicopter pilot killed while fighting fire in Spain

A helicopter pilot was killed on Wednesday December 23 while fighting a fire in Spain. According to the AFP the helicopter caught fire after it crashed in a rural area in the Asturias region.

When rescuers arrived the pilot, the sole occupant, was already deceased, local emergency services personnel reported.

Looking at the 2015 and 2016 fire seasons for some fire aviation companies

Air tanker 02 03 12
Air Tanker 03, Neptune’s newest BAe-146 conversion, is parked with Tankers 02 and 12 in Missoula December 17, 2015. Photo by Bill Moss.

The American Helicopter Services and Aerial Firefighting Association provided a roundup of their clients’ activities during the 2015 wildfire season and an an outlook for next year.


The 2015 fire season could be seen as an industry landmark, in which privately owned operators undertook major equipment upgrades and fleet modernization.  Helimax Aviation, Inc., for example, put its three former US Army Boeing CH 47D Chinook heavy helicopters in service for the first time last year.  Of those, two operated some 400 hours, under US Forest Service (USFS) and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CALFIRE) contracts.  The Sacramento-based company also commenced a development program for a 2,800 gallon internal tank for CH 47D retrofit.  The tank system, which will disperse water or fire retardant, is slated for approval by the FAA under a supplemental type certificate (STC) by February 2016, according to Larry Kelley, Helimax Aviation’s Director of Fire Operations.  With one of the Chinooks currently deployed to Australia, the remaining two, said Kelley, are being bid for USFS exclusive use contracts in 2016.

In addition to the Chinooks, the Helimax fleet includes a heavy Sikorski S-61, a Bell 212, and five Bell 205A1++ medium helicopters.  Kelley reported that the company has further expanded the fleet with a leased Eurocopter AS350B-3E light helicopter for operation under USFS and CALFIRE call when needed contracts.

Also deploying the CH-47D for the first time was Portland, Oregon-based Columbia Helicopters, which completed certification work on the one-time military helicopter last year, and placed it under a USFS exclusive use contract.  “Along with the Chinook,Columbia had six additional aircraft working fires across the Western US and in Alaska–four Columbia Vertol 107-IIs and two Columbia Model 234s,” said Dan Sweet Columbia Helicopters Public Relations Manager.  “Several of our aircraft were extended on their contracts, including one Model 234 Chinook that was picked up by the California Department of Forestry. During the course of our fire season, the fleet was deployed on 73 wildland fires, dropping over 21 million gallons of water.

Andrew Mills, Vice-President, Commercial Services for Erickson Incorporated, reported that the Portland, Oregon-headquartered company set a company record for flight hours—for its US operations—in August, using its S-64 Aircrane heavy lift helicopters.  Mills reported that Erickson deployed 17 Aircranes, supported by more than 160 personnel, including pilots and ground crews, as the fire season reached historic proportions inCalifornia, Oregon, Washington and Idaho throughout the summer.  Mills also pointed out that Erickson supplied four additional aircraft consisting of a combination of light and medium helicopters, for fire suppression missions in Alaska.

In August, the company announced newly designed and certified enhancements for the Aircranes to improve pilot situational awareness.  “That included the installation of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) OUT (transmit) systems which are ADS-B IN (receive) systems,” Mills noted.  “They are combined with state of the art GPS units with Helicopter Terrain and Awareness System (HTAWS), providing flight crews with real time visual and audible information for terrain and obstacles in and around the helicopter.

Intermountain Helicopter president Rick Livingston reported that his single Bell 212 medium helicopter is undergoing routine winter maintenance in preparation for a third year of work under a four year USFS exclusive use contract.  Headquartered in Sonora, California, the helicopter has been flying from a base near the Gallatin National Forest inMontana for the past several years, primarily engaged in rappelling services, which transport firefighters and equipment into the fire zones.  Livingston noted that the company flew 300 hours this past year, of which most was during August and September, due to heavy fire activity in Montana.

Over the past year, air tanker operator Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula, Montana, took further steps toward transitioning its fixed wing fleet from Korean War era, twin-piston engine P2V Neptunes to its converted BAe 146 regional jets.  The company operated six of the jet tankers in 2015, along with six P2Vs.  “For the first time in the company’s history, our entire active fleet was under contract,” explained Dan Snyder, Chief Operating Officer.  “That included a BAe 146 flying on an exclusive use contract for CALFIRE—for the first time.”

In preparation for 2016, in November, Neptune Aviation completed its seventh BAe 146 tanker conversion project at its Missoula maintenance facility.  The company also secured four more next generation BAe 146 aerial tanker contracts with the USFS for the 2016 season, transitioning four aircraft from call when needed contracts.  The newly-awarded exclusive use contracts have a 10-year potential, if the USFS exercises all its options, Snyder reported.

Neptune Aviation Services fleet is currently undergoing winter maintenance, but with a propensity for earlier fire seasons, several aircraft and the personnel need to support those aircraft will be mission ready in January.  “In most years, the needed availability was by March,” said Snyder.  “But this year, our policy is to be prepared earlier than usual.”

Photos of Chinook tank under construction

As we told you on December 21, Jordan Aircraft Services is constructing internal tanks for the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter. With the horizontal configuration of the tank, 54-inch pistons at each end will push the water toward the valve in the center in order to maintain adequate head pressure and a constant flow. The tanks, designed by Eric Foy of Perideo LLC, will hold up to 2,800 gallons.

Chinook tank
Chinook tank, left side looking forward.

Tony Cabler, the Quality Director for Jordan Aircraft Service, sent us these photos he took, explaining that the tanks are far from being ready to use.

Chinook tank piston assembly
Piston assembly.
Chinook tank
Chinook tank — inside looking forward.

The personnel at Jordan Aircraft Services have been involved in constructing tanks for a number of aircraft, including S-61 Sea King helicopter, 10 Tanker’s DC-10, Erickson’s Air-Cranes and MD-87s.

Internal tank being developed for Chinook

A company in Central Point Oregon is developing an internal tank for the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Jordan Aircraft Services is constructing a tank engineered by Eric Foy of Perideo LLC in Rogue Valley Oregon that will hold up to 2,800 gallons.

CH-47 Chinook CHI Aviation
CH-47 Chinook operated by CHI Aviation working out of Medford, Oregon December 15. Photo by Tim Crippin.

It will employ an innovative method to help produce a constant flow of water or retardant, according to Ed Jordan, owner of Jordan Aircraft Services. Since the tank system is primarily horizontal in the aircraft, it could be difficult to maintain adequate head pressure at the bottom of the tank as it empties using gravity rather than a pressurized system. As the water is dispensed through a valve in the belly of the Chinook, horizontally mounted 54-inch pistons will push the liquid toward the center of the tank over the valve. This is intended to maintain an adequate head pressure ensuring that the desired flow rate is obtained.

Mr. Jordan told us that the tank itself is completed, but they are still working on the valve system. The tank has been installed in a Chinook in Medford, Oregon operated by CHI Aviation, formerly known as Construction Helicopters. They expect to be able to begin testing by early Spring.

The personnel at Jordan Aircraft Services have been involved in constructing tanks for a number of aircraft, including S-61 Sea King helicopter, 10 Tanker’s  DC-10, Erickson’s Air-Cranes and their MD-87s.

On a related note, Billings Flying Service now has six Chinooks. The company began acquiring them from the military in 2014 when they purchased two which they flew back to Billings from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. The ships were busy in 2015, Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, told Fire Aviation. He said they expect to have five of them available in 2016.

Mr. Blain said they are following the development of the internal tank closely, but so far they are having success with external buckets.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tim.

DC-3 in a museum

DC-3 Ford Tri-motor
DC-3 and Ford Tri-Motor (in the foreground)  in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Shortly after the U.S. Forest Service retired their last DC-3 from smokejumping duties, I ran across another one in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

It was displayed next to a Ford Tri-Motor.