George Petterson receives Walt Darran award

George Petterson

George Petterson receives the Walt Darran award. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Wednesday night at the Aerial Firefighting conference during a dinner at the California Aerospace Museum in Sacramento, George Petterson received an award named after Walt Darran, a legend in aerial firefighting, who passed away November 15, 2013.

Mr. Petterson was instrumental in determining the cause of two fatal crashes of air tankers. Below is an excerpt from an article in Aviation Week and Space Technology, February 21, 2005, (which is more accurate than the information which we received and posted earlier).


“George Petterson of the Los Angeles office of the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the 2002 inflight wing failure of a U.S. Forest Service Lockheed C-130, which led to the grounding of the firefighting fleet. Finding that metal fatigue hidden by a doubler was the cause, Petterson expedited the dissemination of this information to operators so there would be the least interruption to firefighting services. The investigation stirred his curiosity about a 1994 crash of a C-130 in which the wing also came apart during firefighting. The NTSB had attributed that accident to a fuel explosion. At considerable personal effort, Pettterson retrieved evidence from that crash in mountainous terrain, showing how a fatigue crack had grown unseen beneath a doubler in a manner similar to that experienced by the 2002 crash aircraft. Due to Petterson’s initiative, the NTSB changed the probable cause of the 1994 accident to fatigue cracking (AW&ST May 10, 2004 p. 69).”


Tom Harbour talks about air tankers

On Wednesday Tom Harbour was kind enough to make time in his busy schedule at the Aerial Firefighting Conference at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, California to give us an update on the air tanker program. He talked about the status of the C-130Hs that were recently transferred from the Coast Guard and commented on Buffalo Airways’ purchase of a P3 air tanker formerly owned by Aero Union.


DynCorp and Coulson announce cooperative venture

Tonight at the Aerial Fighting Conference DynCorp and Coulson are announcing a strategic alliance. They intend to work together to bid on aerial fighting contracts and will provide those services if selected.

Coulson has operated air tankers and helicopters in North America and Australia for years, and DynCorp currently has a contract to provide maintenance and pilots for CAL FIRE’s S2T air tankers and maintenance for their helicopters.


Buffalo purchases a P3

Buffalo P3

Ronald Guy of United Aeronautical congratulates Joe McBryan of Buffalo Airways, March 19, 2014 at McClellan Air Force Base. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Breaking news from the Aerial Firefighting conference. Buffalo Airways just purchased Tanker 22, one of the P3s formerly owned by Aero Union. They intend to use it as an air tanker. This was confirmed by Joe McBryan of Buffalo, who was pleased to say the P3 will live on.

They purchased it from Blue Aerospace/United Aeronautical Corporation.

You might recognize Mr. McBryan from the Ice Pilots reality show on the History Channel.


Sacramento aircraft

We had an opportunity to photograph some of the aircraft at McClellan Air Force base today. Click on the photos to see larger versions.


CAL FIRE S2Ts at McClellan AFB March 17, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


CAL FIRE OV-10s at McClellan AFB March 17, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


P3s at McClellan AFB March 17, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

P3 at McClellan AFB March 17, 2014. Anyone know why this aircraft has "MAFFS" painted on it? Photo by Bill Gabbert.

P3 at McClellan AFB March 17, 2014. Anyone know why this aircraft has “MAFFS Protection from Above” painted on it? Photo by Bill Gabbert.


P3s at McClellan AFB March 17, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.


The Predator UAS on the Rim Fire

Predator drone

The 163d Reconnaissance Wing, California Air National Guard prepares the Predator MQ1 for lift off on it’s maiden voyage from Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA) on 25 February 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sergeant Stanley L. Thompson)

(UPDATE at 6:41 p.m. MDT, March 17, 2014)

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has publicized information from two reports about the Unmanned Aerial System, the Predator, used on the Rim Fire. There is a report written by the LLC, and an AAR developed by one of the Incident Management Teams that was assigned to the fire.

One thing is clear. We need to decide on a name. UAS, drone, RPV, or UAV.


(Originally published at 12:49 p.m. MDT, March 14, 2014)

These videos describe the use of a California Air National Guard Predator unmanned aerial system on the Rim Fire, which burned 257,000 acres in and near Yosemite National Park last summer.

HERE is a link to a 17-second video which can’t be embedded, but it shows the operator’s screen.


Senator pushes for the conversion of the Coast Guard C-130s

C-130 paint design

C-130 paint design, by Scheme Designers

Colorado Senator Mark Udall continues to push the U.S. Forest Service and now the Air Force to expedite the retrofitting of the seven C-130Hs that will be used as air tankers. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014 that was passed in December required that the aircraft be transferred to the Air Force where they will be updated with new wing boxes as needed and receive retardant tank systems. After the conversions they will be owned by the U.S. Forest Service, but operated and maintained by private contractors while being used to help suppress wildfires.

Senator Udall wrote letters to the USFS and the Air Force “requesting assistance in expediting the necessary upgrades to the C-130H aircraft”. He also asked for reports that describe the “expected timeline for the completion of the upgrades to these C-130H aircraft and identification of possible issues that could delay this timeline”.