Air Force to buy seven retardant tanks for C-130Hs

The U.S. Air Force has announced that they will soon be soliciting bids for retardant tank systems for seven C-130H aircraft. These would presumably be installed in the C-130Hs the Coast Guard disposed of and “gave” to the U.S. Forest Service to be converted into air tankers. The Air Force is responsible for the retrofitting and maintenance that must be completed before the aircraft are finally turned over to the USFS, expected to occur in 2018 or later.

More information is at the link above, but below are some details:

This constitutes notice that WRALC has a requirement for design, manufacture, and installation of a 3,500 gallon Retardant Delivery System (RDS) for seven (7) HC-130H aircraft. There will be a basic contract with one (1) trial kit/install, one (1) verification kit/install, and three (3) production kits/install. There will be an option for two (2) additional production kits/installs. Effort includes but is not limited to: RDS development, manufacture and installation, structural modifications, and maintenance and inspection plans.

The successful offeror will be chosen using the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) source selection procedure.

Based on market research, the Government is not using the policies contained in Part 12, Acquisition of Commercial Items, in its solicitation for the described supplies or services.

The estimated release date is 25 Aug 14 with a required response date of 30 days after issuance.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Bean


Fighter jets at the Oregon Gulch Fire

Here is something you don’t see every day. Fighter jets cruising around a convection column. Of course, it’s hard to tell how high they were. Maybe…. the column was VERY high and the aircraft were above the TFR. Or, maybe they were patrolling for drones filming the fire, operated by locals.

  Fighter Jet At Oregon Gulch FireThe photos are by the Oregon National Guard.



Video of a MAFFS drop on the Day Fire

The C-130 Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS) crews are great about filming what they do. This in-cockpit footage of them dropping on the Day Fire in northern California a few days ago shows the pilots and the ground, while you listen to their radio and intercom traffic. If you look carefully at about 1:20, you will see the lead plane producing smoke to mark the target area a few seconds before the drop.

It appears that as promised, Lockeed fixed the automatic “LANDING GEAR, LANDING GEAR” audible warning that in the past plagued them for several minutes during the approach to each drop. I just heard some “ALTITUDE” warnings right as they were dropping this time.

After getting confirmation that it was a good drop, the pilot, who I believe is actually the actor Alec Baldwin ;) , smiles, laughs and says, “Good job! Isn’t that fun?”, and another voice says, “Oh, man, it’s awesome!”.


Updates on RJ-85s, CV-580s, CL-215/415s

In addition to the news about the MD-87 and DC-10 air tankers we posted on Sunday (and updated today), there is also news about four or five other models of air tankers.


Aero Flite’s two RJ-85s are now fully qualified and on contract. They are tankers 160 and 161, both piloted by initial attack qualified crews.


Three CV-580s are in the lower 48 on loan from the state of Alaska. There was one more and a birdog that was borrowed from Canada, but they returned last week.


Last week the two C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) at the Channel Islands National Guard base in California were activated by the governor of California to help deal with wildfires in the northern part of the state. Two MAFFS from Cheyenne, Wyoming (MAFFS 1 & 3) had previously been activated and have mostly been working out of Boise, but last weekend their temporary home was the tanker base at Helena Regional Airport in Montana.

MAFFS at Helena

MAFFS 1 and 3 at Helena Regional Airport last weekend. Photo by Jeff Wadekamper.

On August 1, 17 California National Guard helicopters were also activated to assist with the fires in the state.


The CL-415 and the two CL-215s late last week were working out of Deer Park Washington.


Updated: MD-87 and DC-10 back in the air

(Originally published at 11:24 a.m. MDT, August 3, 2014; revised August 4, 2014)

The issues that kept one of the DC-10s and all three of the MD-87 air tankers grounded for a while have been partially mitigated for the MD-87s, and totally fixed in the case of the DC-10.


Tanker 910, a DC-10 operated by 10 Tanker Air Carrier, suffered some damage to a wing on July 19 as it was taxiing at the air tanker base at Moses Lake, Washington. While relocating in the loading pit area the aircraft struck a portable “air stair”, a structure that can be pushed up to the aircraft door. Two people on the ground were marshaling the DC-10 as it slowly moved, directing it where to go and supposedly watching for obstructions. Rick Hatton, President of 10 Tanker, told us that the air tanker was back in service on July 28.

Mr. Hatton said their second DC-10, Tanker 911, has been busy on fires. The third one being built now, Tanker 912, was test flown on August 2. It will enter service later this month, perhaps as early as August 11.


On June 27 Erickson Aero Tanker recalled the three MD-87s they were operating, tanker numbers 101, 103, and 105, “due to intermittent engine surges when dropping [retardant at] high coverage levels”, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The Oregonian later reported that retardant was being ingested into the engines. On June 30 Tanker 101 returned to service, but with restrictions. Tanker 105 should be in service the week of August 4, but with same restrictions.

We have confirmed that the air tanker is limited to no more than coverage level four, which is four gallons per 100 square feet — about half of the maximum coverage level for fully capable air tankers. Our understanding of the issue is that the MD-87s have two retardant openings on the belly. On most air tankers they are called “doors”, since they operate much like a door on a hinge, swinging down on some air tankers. But the MD-87 has two “spades”, which function like a stopper in a bathtub. The spade in the aircraft normally plugs the hole, but raises, in a constant-flow manner, to allow retardant to flow around it and exit the aircraft.

Tanker 101 is using just the left spade instead of both. That spade now has half a funnel at the leading edge to get the retardant moving backwards as it comes out. There is a report that a slight mist was still contacting the wing but it appears that retardant is no longer going into the engines. The leading edge slats make that small amount of retardant that touches the wing look worse than it is.

One of the MD-87 pilots is qualified for initial attack.

Phone calls to Erickson Aero Tanker requesting comments on this issue were not returned.


National Guard MAFFS and helicopters activated in California


California National Guard helicopters

Chief Brockly is interviewed as the California National Guard helicopters are activated. CNG photo.

The two C-130 MAFFS at the Channel Islands National Guard base in California are being activated to help deal with wildfires in the northern part of the state. Earlier today 17 California National Guard helicopters were also activated. More details are at Wildfire Today.


Colorado acquires firefighting helicopters

Bell 206L4 N538TD

Bell 206L4, N538TD, working on a fire in Miguel County, Colorado, July 21, 2014. CDFPC photo.

For the first time, firefighting helicopters are now under contract and have been working on fires for the state of Colorado. After a couple of years of planning, debating, and legislating, the funds for the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC) that the legislature appropriated earlier this year became officially available on July 1. On that date they had their contracts ready to go and on July 9 and 11 awarded them to private companies for one Type 2 and two Type 3 helicopters. The CFAC is within the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC).

The Type 2 helicopter is provided by Trans Aero Helicopters out of Loveland, Colorado. It is a UH1H built in 1970, registration #N60901 and is known as Helicopter 901. It is based at Jeffco Tanker Base in Broomfield, but is currently in Grand Junction on standby for initial attack. It was previously under a Call When Needed contract with the U.S. Department of the Interior.

One of the Type 3 ships is a Bell 206L4, N538TD, operated by Homestead Helicopters out of Missoula, Montana and is designated Helicopter 8TD. It is based in Montrose, Colorado. Homestead has at least three 206s and has had firefighting contracts since 2001.

The other Type 3 is an AStar B3, owned and operated by Brainerd and Firehawk Helicopters out of Florida. It is stationed at Alamosa Airport, but right now is positioned in Craig for initial attack. The company also operates at least one Blackhawk helicopter, which they call a Firehawk.

H-901, N60901

H-901, N60901, on the Radio Fire, July 25, 2014 in Garfield County, Colorado. CDFPC photo.

The DFPC positions all assets, including aviation assets, strategically based on preparedness levels, interagency situational awareness of fire activity, weather, National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) indices, location of other aerial assets, etc.

Colorado issued the Invitations to Bid on the helicopter contracts just last month, in early June. Those of us familiar with the lengthy process for awarding federal aviation contracts will find it refreshing that it does not have to take 523 days, as in the case of the contracts the U.S. Forest Service awarded for next-generation air tankers. But, that is a very low bar for comparison.

The CFAC’s earlier plan was to contract for three or four helicopters in 2014 and up to four large air tankers in 2015 and beyond. We asked DFPC Director Paul Cooke if they still planned to contract for large air tankers next year, and he said:

DFPC has no plans to acquire or contract for large air tankers. If the situation ever warrants reconsideration, DFPC must go back to the Governor and General Assembly for additional funding.

The DFPC has awarded two 120-day contracts for Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs).

They will also purchase two PC-12 multi-purpose fixed wing aircraft. The final provisions of the transaction are currently being negotiated. They expect to have a loaner PC-12 in use by August 15, 2014. More details about the PC-12s are in another article.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Bean.


Colorado to buy two high-tech multi-mission aircraft for aerial firefighting

Pilatus PC-12

Pilatus PC-12. Immigration and Customs Enforcement photo.

The state of Colorado is working on the final paperwork to purchase two multi-mission, high-tech, single-engine, fixed wing aircraft that can be used in a variety of roles for fighting and managing wildfires. The Colorado Firefighting Air Corp, working under the Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC), is buying two Pilatus PC-12 airplanes that will be configured and outfitted by the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) which is expected to receive the contract to provide and operate the PC-12s.

While the purchase contract is being finalized and the two aircraft are being configured to Colorado’s specifications, one loner PC-12 is being prepared which should be available in Colorado around August 15.

Ralph Pollitt,  the vice president of business development for SNC’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance division, said:

The PC-12 is an ideal multi-mission platform to support the State of Colorado’s firefighting efforts this year. The aircraft is affordable, fast, can stay airborne for a long time, and can be operated from almost any airfield. The suite of sensors and communications equipment provides a capability that can greatly improve the firefighter safety and efficiency in handling an incident.

We asked DFPC Director Paul Cooke about the role of the PC-12s. Besides collecting intelligence about fires, what other roles will they fill, such serving as a Lead Plane or Aerial Supervision Module? Will they be used for non-fire tasks, such as transporting VIPs, cargo, or prisoners? He replied:

When presented to the Governor and Legislature other potential uses of the multi-mission aircraft were discussed, including:

• Transportation of critical medical personnel, supplies, and equipment
• Insect damage and forest assessments for the Colorado State Forest Service
• Office of Emergency Management: disaster assessments/reconnaissance
• Department of Mineral and Geology: mine assessment/compliance
• Dam safety and inspections
• Environmental monitoring and compliance
• Search and rescue missions
• Avalanche control

VIP and prisoner transport are performed by the Colorado State Patrol.

The aircraft will be Part 135 Certified and we expect they will also be ATGS platform carded. However, it will not perform Lead Plane functions and it is not currently planned to serve as an ASM.

According to the Pilatus Corporation, the PC-12 has a maximum cruise speed of 280 KTAS, a maximum operating altitude of 30,000 feet, and a stall speed (MTOW) of 67 KIAS. The U.S. Air Force has been using a variant of the PC-12, the U-28A, for intra-theater support of special operations forces, but they will be replacing them with King Airs.

SNC is not a mom and pop operation, but is multi-billion dollar corporation involved in high-tech electronics, engineering, and manufacturing ventures. One of their most visible projects is the “Dream Chaser”, one of the vehicles that will replace the Space Shuttle. It will launch on a rocket, dock with the International Space Station or perform other tasks in space, and then land on any 8,000-foot runway. The video below shows a Dream Chaser being lifted by an Air-Crane helicopter and then dropped to test its landing capabilities. Unfortunately, the video stops just before the aircraft skidded off the runway and landed sideways when its left landing gear failed to deploy at the last second during touchdown on runway 22L at Edwards Air Force Base in California. SNC said they were going to be able to repair the ship.

A suite of advanced sensors and technology is being installed in the Colorado PC-12s that will enable the aircraft to detect and map wildfires. Additionally, the aircraft will have a communications system that allows the air crew to send collected information to all wildfire response personnel using the Colorado Wildfire Information Management System (CO-WIMS).

CO-WIMS, developed by SNC’s team member, Intterra, Inc. of Castle Rock, Colorado, is a web-based collaborative information sharing tool that allows any firefighter immediate access to fire location, fire behavior, and other critical pieces of information. CO-WIMS is accessible from tablets, computers, and smartphones and is built specifically to address the needs of the wildfire response personnel. This appears to be a significant step toward the Holy Grail of Firefighter Safety we have written about at Wildfire Today, which would provide real time information about the location of firefighters AND the location of the fire.

In 2012 Ryan Maye Handy wrote an excellent article for the Colorado Springs Gazette for which she interviewed a co-founder of Intterra, David Blankinship, who at that time was working on a high-tech intelligence gathering system for the National Interagency Fire Center. Here is an excerpt:

From any computer or smart phone, Blankinship can access the software with a password, and it opens a world of cost charts, topographical maps and resource lists for fires in any region in the United States. He relies on satellite images provided by Digital Globe, a satellite imagining company, to track fire behavior. During the Waldo Canyon fire, for instance, the satellites took images of the fire every morning at 11 a.m., giving Blankinship updates on fire growth that weren’t reliant on an infrared NIROPS flight, which can only capture images at night.

Blankinship describes the software as “cutting edge” for the fire service — very different from a less tech-oriented “boots on the ground” fire fighting approach.

“It’s a geeky thing but it’s revolutionary,” he said.

Newcomers to the fire world — anyone who has been in the business for less than 10 years — are favoring more technology in fire fighting, Blankinship said.

“If you’ve been around for longer than that you’re a ground pounder, and looking at things on the back of a truck,” Blankinship said.

The DFPC has also awarded contracts for three firefighting helicopters.

SNC’s Dream Chaser: