A-10 Warthog proposed, again, as an air tanker

A-10 Thunderbolt II

An A-10 Thunderbolt II from the 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. USAF photo by SRA Greg L. Davis.

We thought the concept of using the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt as an air tanker had finally been given a dignified burial after the “Firehog” was discussed, cussed, and debated to death in the 1990s.

Affectionately known as the Warthog, the A-10 is a low-altitude close air support aircraft that is built around its awesome, 20-foot long, seven-barrel GAU-8 Avenger 30mm gatling gun designed to fire armor-piercing depleted uranium and high explosive incendiary rounds. The projectiles, each weighting almost a pound, are fired at 3,900 rounds per minute. The recoil from the gun, which is usually fired in one or two-second bursts, is equal to the forward thrust of one of the two engines on the aircraft.

If the 620-pound gun is removed for maintenance, the plane will tip over backward unless a jack stand is placed under the tail. That weight and balance issue would be a significant obstacle to overcome when converting it to an air tanker.

On September 10 a group calling itself USA Firefighting Air Corps made a presentation to the Colorado legislature’s Wildfire Matters Review Committee. The company proposes to have state fire organizations acquire military surplus A-10s and then through a public-private partnership, convert and operate the air tankers.

The name chosen by the new Denver company, USA Firefighting Air Corps (USAFAC), is very similar to the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps which was recently organized within the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control. The individuals listed on the USAFAC website are Chris Olson, Gerry Fitzgerald, and John Simmons. Mr. Simmons until recently was a Special Aide to Colorado state Senator Steve King who has been extremely active in pushing the state to acquire a fleet of firefighting aircraft. In March Senator King introduced a bill in the legislature, Senate Bill 164, to authorize the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) to acquire helicopters and air tankers for the newly created agency.

Mr. Simmons told us that his role in the USAFAC is a media contact and “work incidental to the formation of this company”.

Using the designs of Edward Herlik from the 1990s, the organization claims “the [A-10 air tanker] could fly very low, fly night missions, see through smoke, drop retardant with pinpoint accuracy, and even reload its 2,000-gallon retardant tank in mid-air”. Their proposal uses arguments mentioned by other companies that have little to no experience in aerial firefighting — they emphasize electronics and technology that they claim will make their concept much better than existing air tankers. While there is room for improvement in constant flow retardant delivery systems, the A-10’s bomb sights and infrared sensors are not game changers.

The Air Force has been trying off and on to retire the A-10 which was designed during the Vietnam War. It was almost heading to the boneyard until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan broke out. They still want to get rid of it but there is new opposition from Congress, including from Senator John McCain who jumped into the fray this summer. The Air Force estimates it will save $3.7 billion over five years by retiring the almost 300 A-10s that remain in the inventory. A few lawmakers claim it is essential for protecting ground troops. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is destined to replace the A-10 and other aircraft beginning in 2016, but the program has had repeated cost overruns and schedule delays due to hardware and software problems.

There are 172 A-10s listed in the inventory of the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group’s aircraft boneyard in Tucson, but it is unknown if or when the Air Force will make those available for transfer to other organizations.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Bean.

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San Diego County to add third firefighting helicopter

San Diego County helicopter

One of San Diego County’s two Bell 205 A1++ helicopters used for rescue and firefighting.

San Diego County will be adding a third firefighting helicopter to their fleet, implementing one of the recommendations in a report on the 14 fires that broke out in May in the northern part of the county. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday allocated $5.2 million for another helicopter to become part of the County Sheriff’s stable of aircraft.

The Supervisors also approved contracting with the city of San Diego to use its night-flying helicopters for fighting fires or making rescues at night.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s office Astrea unit (Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies) currently operates the following helicopters:

  • One MD500D. This is the oldest in the fleet, the workhorse of ASTREA since the late 1980s. The “D” model will eventually be replaced with a more powerful helicopter.
  • Three MD500F, better suited for high altitude and high temperatures than the MD500D.
  • Two Bell 205 A1++, for fire and rescue
  • One Bell 407 equipped with a data-link antenna and associated hardware which makes it possible to pass a live video feed to ground personnel. It  is also equipped with a FLIR 8500 thermal imager with laser designator.
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Helicopter pilot honored for assisting entrapped fire crew

Gary Dahlen award

A helicopter pilot was honored Tuesday for assisting a hand crew that deployed fire shelters on the King Fire east of Placerville, California. This is the way it was described on CAL FIRE’s Facebook page:

Pilot Gray Dahlen received an award from the USFS, for his heroic actions on the King Fire. The pilot rescued a CAL FIRE Hand Crew and a CAL FIRE Dozer Operator from harm’s way.

The hand crew and dozer operator were constructing fire line when they were overrun by the fire. The pilot flew down to a lower level to direct the hand crew and dozer operator down a road. Once Pilot Dahlen found an open area to land he and another helicopter pilot landed and flew the crew out to a safe area.

These photos that accompanied the brief report did not have any descriptions, nor were the individuals in the photos identified. (Very unprofessional, CAL FIRE.)

We listened to the live radio traffic during the incident-within-an-incident on September 15 and live blogged about it as the emergency developed. Later we found out that the crew was a CAL FIRE inmate crew.

Below is an excerpt from our live reporting that day:

At 1:27 we wrote:

At about 1 p.m. PDT on Monday there was a fire shelter deployment on the King Fire, which is burning 11 miles east of Placerville, California north of the community of Pollock Pines. In listening to the radio traffic, a Division Supervisor talking to Air Attack said a Task Force was overrun by fire — they were in a safety zone, but they were safe. He requested air support, but there was too much smoke for fixed wing air tankers to get in to the area.

Air Attack, as of 1:15 p.m. PDT was checking to see if helicopters could work the area, but when the incident unfolded they were all on the ground getting fuel. Later at about 1:25 p.m. PDT at least one helicopter with water was over the incident watching firefighters running, carrying fire shelters. The pilot was holding on to his water in case there was a major need for it later. He was giving the firefighters directions, saying “keep moving”.

One alternative considered was to extract the firefighters using a water bucket carried by a helicopter.

Someone else on the fire said they had five vehicles that were available to rescue the trapped firefighters, but the road to the area had just been overrun by a very intense fire and they were advised by a pilot to not try it.

There was also a report on the radio of a dozer that burned up, but there was “accountability for the operator”.

We continued providing live updates until the crew had been extracted by helicopters.

After the above, most of the radio communications we heard that was with the hand crew, was from the Helicopter Coordinator (HLCO). Only rarely could we hear the crew on the ground. The HLCO was escorting the crew as they ran and walked to a safe area, giving them frequent encouragement and directions about where to go. He arranged for drinking water to be delivered to the crew before they reached a spot where they could be extracted by helicopters.

From the first report of the emergency until they were in the helicopters, about two hours elapsed.

Gary Dahlen award

Helicopter King Fire

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Victoria testing new method of dispatching aircraft to bushfires

Firefighting aircraft in Victoria, Australia could be dispatched to bushfires much more quickly if a new system being tested works out the way the state government hopes.

The final report on the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires recommended that a better system be developed for dispatching aircraft. Here is an excerpt from an article at Itnews:

…The Commission discovered a three-layered approvals process was required in the request-based dispatch system before an aircraft was able to launch.

It meant the average dispatch time for aircraft was around 34 minutes, due to approval needing to pass three layers in what amounted to a “cumbersome system”, the Commission found.

A trial of “enhanced dispatch” was undertaken in the 2012-13 fire season at Bendigo airport over 106 days and 44 fires, and found that aircraft were dispatched and in position over the fire “significantly more quickly” than those dispatched via the existing system. The trial reported an average dispatch time of eight minutes, compared to the previous 34 minutes.

“Ground crews consistently reported that the early arrival of aircraft was a significant factor in enabling them to control fires,” the Commission reported in its annual report for 2014.

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Two military MAFFS air tankers activated

MAFFS Cheyenne

File photo of MAFFS C-130s and crews during training in Cheyenne, Wyoming, April 30, 2014. Shown are MAFFS 0, 1, and 3. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The U.S. Forest Service has activated two military air tankers, Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS), out of the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Station in southern California. Eight National Guard or Air Force Reserve C-130s can be called up when privately owned contracted air tankers are committed on fires or initial attack. Presently there are about 17 large air tankers on exclusive use contract with the U.S. Forest Service, down from 44 in 2002.

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It took three aircraft to extract man in wilderness area with medical problem

It took three aircraft, two helicopters and a jet-powered fixed wing plane, to locate and extract a man in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana on Wednesday. The man was not feeling well and used a GPS-enabled personal locator beacon to send a distress call. The first helicopter, unsure exactly where the man was, landed near some hunters to ask if they knew where the man might be. Upon trying to take off, it would not start. A MercyFlight jet was dispatched to look for the helicopter, which apparently could not communicate from the remote area, and located it. The problem was diagnosed by radio as a starter generator issue.

A second helicopter was dispatched which found the man in distress, off loaded two crew members, then transported the man with the medical problem to a hospital. From there it took a mechanic with the needed parts to the broken helicopter, then picked up the two crew members and the man’s dog and flew back to their base. The broken helicopter was repaired and flew back home safely.

The first helicopter was a MercyFlight EuroCopter 135 P2. The second was the Two Bear Air Bell 429, which is funded by Whitefish, MT philanthropist Mike Goguen who supports all costs of the operation with zero cost to taxpayers, with the mission of ultimately saving lives.

In 2012 we first wrote about Two Bear Air, which was initially called Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources (FEAR).

More details about the rescue are at dailyinterlake.

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DC-10 dropping downhill on the Silverado Fire

This video was shot on September 12 and is tagged Silverado Fire at LiveLeak. It may be the same drop made by Tanker 912, a DC-10, shown in the photo below which was taken on the fire the same day. We posted the photo and more information about the Silverado fire on Wildfire Today.

T-912 Silverado Fire

Tanker 912, a DC-10, drops on the Silverado Fire September 12, 2014. Photo by Initial Attack Fire Media. (click to enlarge)

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McClellan sets record for retardant pumped in one day

On September 16 the air tanker base at McClellan Airfield near Sacramento set a record for the amount of retardant the base has loaded onto air tankers in one day, putting 187,761 gallons into the aircraft, according to William Appleton, Operations Manager for McClellan Jet Services.  For most of the day the base loaded from one reload pit, Mr. Appleton said.

All of the retardant was used on the King Fire 43 miles east of McClellan near Placerville, California.

Two DC-10s, Tankers 911 and 912, each made eight trips to the King Fire, and smaller air tankers took a total of seven loads. 10 Tanker Air Carrier which operates the DC-10s that usually carry 11,600 gallons, said that was “by far the busiest day our company has ever had.”

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