Be-200ES strikes tree, lands safely

Be-1200ES wing damage tree strike
This is reportedly damage to the wing of a Be-200ES after striking a tree while fighting a wildfire in Portugal.

A Be-200ES struck a tree August 14 while fighting a fire in Portugal but thankfully was able to land safely at Leiria. The jet-powered amphibious water scooper sustained major damage to a pontoon, the right wing leading edge, and the right side wing flaps. There were no reports of injuries to the crew. Other photos of the damage can be seen here.

Since last week two Be-200ES air tankers have been on loan to Portugal by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations after a rash of numerous fires in the country and on Madeira Island.

This is not the first time a Russian Be-200 hit a tree in Portugal. A similar accident occurred July 6, 2006 when the aircraft was leased to the Portuguese government as a trial to evaluate its effectiveness. After scooping water on a lake the left wing hit a tree.

From the Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã at the time:

…While hitting the top of the trees, leaves and some wood entered the left engine, which didn’t blow up, but that had to be turned off and the pilot was forced to release fuel for safety reasons. The release of the fuel started small wildfires across the area, reaching some houses, which were quickly extinguished by firefighters and helitack units of the GNR’s Intervention, Protection and Rescue Group.

The airplane was able to do an emergency landing at the Monte Real Air Base.

Until this month, Be-200 air tankers had not been used in Portugal since the 2006 incident. Maybe they’ll wait another 10 years before they try again.

Be-200 scooping air tankers reportedly effective working in Portugal

File photo of a Be-200ES rolling out of the factory.

A Russian news service is reporting that the two Be-200 Russian-made amphibious scooping air tankers have been effective in Portugal. Quoting the Russian Emergencies Ministry, Sputnik News wrote:

“Overall, two Emergencies Ministry aircraft carried out 37 discharges of water, the total mass of which amounted to 444 tonnes, tackling fire in four spots and saving four settlements and two national parks,” the statement reads.


“The Russian Emergencies Ministry’s airgroup, consisting of two Be-200ES aircraft, continues to work on extinguishing large forest fires in Portugal. On August 15, [Russian pilots] extinguished two fires covering a total area of 500 hectares [over 1,200 acres],” the statement reads.

It is possible the effectiveness of the aircraft is exaggerated. Air tankers do not “extinguish” fires. Under ideal conditions they can slow them down, allowing firefighters on the ground to move in closer and put them out.

Photos of USFS Air Tanker 116

Earlier this week we posted a photo that showed a portion of Air Tanker 116. This is one of the seven HC-130H aircraft that are being transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service to be converted to air tankers. Now we have four more photos that were taken by Bill Tinney while the aircraft was at Robins Air Logistics Compound in Warner Robins,Georgia. Thanks Bill.

The expectation is that T-116 will be delivered to McClellan Air Field by September 15. Sometime after that it will be operated as an air tanker using one of the eight slip-in MAFFS retardant systems until a permanent retardant delivery system is installed.

USFS air tanker 116 HC-130H


USFS air tanker 116 HC-130H USFS air tanker 116 HC-130H

The photo above shows external fuel tanks hanging from the wings. I would be very surprised if the USFS operated the aircraft as an air tanker with the tanks. The HC-130H is designed as a long range search and rescue platform with a 5,000 mile range, longer than the typical C-130. In an air tanker role, fuel is not usually an issue, since it has to continually land to reload with retardant.

Two additional MAFFS aircraft activated

The California Governor’s office has activated two Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems aircraft. The C-130s will be supplied by the Channel Islands Air National Guard base in southern California. Earlier this month the National Interagency Fire Center activated two other MAFFS from the Wyoming Air National Guard at Cheyenne. Initially they were staged at Boise.

Governors have the authority to activate MAFFS aircraft within their states at the three Air National Guard bases that have the units at Channel Islands, Reno, and Cheyenne. The Air Force Reserve MAFFS at Colorado Springs is a different story, however.

The just-activated C-130s were expected to be available Wednesday evening and could be used on the 25,000-acre Blue Cut Fire near San Bernardino.

Video of DC-10 dropping on Chimney Fire

DC-10 Chimney Fire
Screenshot from SLOStringer’s video

@SLOStringer shot an excellent video of Tanker 911, a DC-10, getting down low to make a drop on the Chimney Fire in San Luis Obispo County in California. We can’t embed the Twitter video here, but check it out.

Drones are an increasing safety hazard at wildfires; geofencing may help

drone forest fire
A drone flying over a wildfire. Photo by the Bureau of Land Management.

By Ryan Maye Handy and Bill Gabbert

Since 2014 instances of drones shutting down air operations over wildfires has increased despite repeated warnings to the public.

While there is no formal system to track the number of times Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or drones, have invaded the airspace over wildfires, the U.S. Forest Service has managed to collect some numbers thanks to public reports. And the numbers seem to show that warnings to not fly drones over wildfires often go unheeded.

“In spite of increased and ongoing public education from the interagency fire community and incident management teams by way of the internet, social media, press conferences, news release, etc., about the risks and hazards hobby drone operators present to aerial firefighting aircraft, the public continues flying hobby drones near or over wildfires,” said Mike Ferris, a public information officer with the Forest Service.

Earlier this summer, following a spate of issues with drones flying over California wildfires, the National Interagency Fire Center issued a statement cautioning drone pilots that they could face criminal charges if caught flying drones over a fire. Then in July, CALFire made its first arrest of a drone operator, who now faces a misdemeanor charge in connection to flying the drone over a California wildfire. Ferris did not know about criminal charges against other drone pilots in connection to wildfires.

Forest Service officials say that the small aircraft pose a tremendous threat to the low-flying planes that work above firefighters. A collision of a drone and an airtanker, for instance, could be disastrous, Ferris said.

“Aerial firefighting aircraft, such as air tankers and helicopters, fly at very low altitudes, the same as UAS flown by the general public, creating the potential for mid-air collision that could be fatal for aviation and/or ground firefighters, as well as members of the public,” he said.

Nonetheless, problems have persisted. In the past two months, drones flying too close to wildfires grounded planes in New Mexico, Arizona, Minnesota, Alaska, Utah, Montana and California. This year, there have been 34 instances of drones encroaching on firefighting airspace, and 12 times planes were grounded, according to the Forest Service.  According to the June Wildfire Airspace Situations report, aircraft on three fires in Utah were grounded the span of two days in July due to drone activity.

Those numbers are up slightly from 2015, when drones were spotted near wildfires 21 times in five states–California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, Ferris said.

“This resulted in aerial firefighting operations being temporarily shut down on at least ten occasions, which may have caused wildfires to grow larger and unduly threaten lives, property, and valuable natural and cultural resources,” Ferris said.

This summer, when nearby drones forced the shutdown of air operations in Montana and California, aircraft were grounded for 30 to 45 minutes. Although drones briefly shut down air operations over the Soberanes fire in Northern California, the upset came at a crucial time—just days after the massive fire exploded and was burning with little to no containment. The fire’s incident management team has made anti-drone warnings a permanent fixture on its InciWeb site, where it posts all updates on the fire.

One of the largest manufacturers of drones, DJI, has incorporated a geofencing feature into their drone control software that prevents flying into locations where they don’t belong. The system was recently upgraded to keep the pilotless aircraft away from airports, prohibited and restricted airspace, national security sites, prisons, and power plants, among other locations. Additionally, when a user is connected to the internet, the software will provide live guidance on Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) including those relating to forest fires, major league sporting events, and other changing conditions.

The Department of Interior has implemented a prototype of a system, some might call it a beta version, that provides data allowing the drone manufacturers to add another layer of geofencing. It provides near real time information about the location of wildfires, using data collected by the Integrated Reporting of Wildland-Fire Information (IRWIN) service. During the prototype year, the data is supplied to two volunteer, commercial mapping providers that support drone operations, AirMap and Skyward. It is available on the web and as an IOS app (Airmap) that allows anyone to use the information to avoid wildfires. The fire location data is available online and in the app as soon as the local dispatcher loads the fire location data into the system. It appears on the maps as a 2-mile radius circle along with TFRs.

A screenshot from the Airmap website showing the area of the Clayton Fire at Lower Lake, California August 15, 2016. The small red circle is the 2-mile radius that appears as soon as the dispatcher enters the location. The larger circle is the TFR.

As long as the DJI drone operator is connected to the internet, the system will warn the operator not to fly into the area, even before a TFR is established. However at this stage, during the prototype or beta period, it will only be a warning and can be ignored. DJI and other drone companies could change that next year, making it impossible to fly into a fire area.

It is hoped that other drone manufacturers, in addition to DJI, will begin to use the real time geofencing data available from the Department of the Interior. But, a weak link in the system is that the drone operator must be connected to the internet to obtain the near real time updates for wildfire location information. Many wildfires occur in remote settings without internet access; however, responsible pilots, whether flying manned or unmanned aircraft, will do pre-flight planning to identify potential hazards along the route prior to their flight. Drone operators are reminded if you see smoke in the vicinity, leave your drone at home. Because, if you fly, firefighting aircraft can’t.

Meanwhile, it seems that the public’s fascination with drone technology drives them to keep flying drones over wildfires. A quick search on turns up many cautionary clips warning drone operators to stay away from wildfires—but there are just as many clips of wildfire footage captured by drones.

New paint for Air Tanker 116

It should be delivered to McClellan Air Field in California by September 15.

Above: New paint for what will be Air Tanker 116, formerly Coast Guard HC-130H #1708. Photo by Brian Miller.

The HC-130H that is being transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service that will be designated as Air Tanker 116 has recently received a new paint job. The projected delivery date to McClellan Air Field in California is September 15. Sometime after that it should be in service as an air tanker, but will be using on a temporary basis one of the eight USFS slip-in MAFFS retardant systems until a permanent retardant delivery system can be installed.

Coast Guard HC-130H 1708
Coast Guard HC-130H #1708 in its previous life. Photo by Andrew Sieber 7-20-2009.

The paint design is similar what was approved over two years ago and the one on the recently acquired Sherpa C-23B aircraft, but varies a bit from the design, in that the engine cowlings are not red on the top as they are in the design and on the Sherpas.

HC-130H paint design
This is the US Forest Service approved paint design approved in January, 2014 that was to be used on the seven HC-130H air tankers acquired from the Coast Guard.

The USFS has a wide assortment of paint schemes on their firefighting aircraft fleet. This may have something to do with the power the regional aviation officers have over the programs in their regions, as opposed centralizing power in a national aviation program. We collected photos of some of the aircraft in January of 2014.

On August 11 we published a comprehensive update on the status of the transfer of the seven HC-130H Coast Guard aircraft.

Australian company maps fires down under

Above: An example of a fire map produced by the Air Affairs infrared mapping system.

A company with an unusual name, “Air Affairs”, has been mapping wildfires (or bush fires) in Australia since 1994. Not unlike the systems the U.S. Forest Service has been using since at least the 1970s, Air Affairs uses infrared line scanners to detect heat produced by the fires, even if they are apparently obscured by smoke.

That heat is then plotted on a georectified map and transmitted via a satellite link directly from the aircraft in a format compatible with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) used by the state fire authorities. The image data requires no further processing by fire personnel and is available for immediate use.

B200t line scanner
An Air Affairs Beechcraft B200T purpose modified for the infrared line scanner system.

Air Affairs has two line scanners. One is permanently mounted in the belly of a Beechcraft B200T. The other is a pod which can be attached to one of the company’s Learjets.

Interestingly, the USFS has two similar aircraft with line scanners — a Citation jet and a King Air.

lear jet line scanner
An Air Affairs Learjet outfitted with a customized pod containing infrared line scanning equipment.