New paint for Tanker 66

T-66 new paint

New paint for Tanker 66. Photo on March 19, 2015 at Medford, Oregon. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Tim Crippin sent us the photo above of Erickson’s Tanker 66, saying it just returned to Medford, Oregon after getting a new paint job at Phoenix Goodyear Airport.

The photo below is what it looked like a year ago. It is our understanding that Tanker 60 will get the same paint scheme very soon.

DC-7 air tankers at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base

Two DC-7 air tankers and an S-2T air tanker at Paso Robles Air Tanker Base, January 19, 2014. CAL FIRE photo.

The paint is similar to the three Erickson MD-87s:

Tanker 101, an MD-87

Tanker 101, an MD-87, during the grid retardant test, January 15, 2014. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman. (click to enlarge)


Revisiting a 2003 congressional hearing about air tankers

One of our loyal readers pointed out to us that the same issue of Skies magazine that had an article about the two large air tankers spending the Australian summer down under, also had something written by Tony Kern, but he said that he was unable to view it. At first we were going to link to it and wanted to be sure we got Mr. Kern’s title right for when he worked for the U.S. Forest Service. It turned out that the piece he wrote was not terribly interesting, to me anyway — it is a short article about “selflessness”. But in the research for his title, we found the transcript of a March 26, 2003 hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Mr. Kern was a Deputy Director of the Forest Service’s Fire and Aviation program, and was sometimes referred to as the USFS Aviation Director. His bio states that he was selected for the USFS job after retiring from the Air Force in June, 2000. There is no mention of him having any experience with air tankers or fire management before he took over the air tanker and helicopter program in the USFS. A piece he wrote in 2002 (along with a rebuttal by John Watt) leads one to think that at one time he believed that a lead plane preceding an air tanker on a drop was not absolutely necessary, or could be handled by helicopters, such as the AH-1 Cobra, which later came to be called Firewatch when the USFS got a couple of them up and running. Currently Mr. Kern is the CEO of Convergent Performance, a company based in Colorado Springs, Colorado that campaigned for the state’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting to be located in Colorado Springs.

But, back to the Congressional hearing, in which Mr. Kern was one of six witnesses in the room testifying before the Senate Committee. The others were:

  • William R. Broadwell, Executive Director, Aerial Firefighters Industry Association.
  • Larry Hamilton, National Director, Department of the Interior Office of Fire and Aviation, NIFC, BLM.
  • Jim Hull, State Forester and Director, Texas State Forest Service.
  • Jim Hall, President, Hall and Associates, former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board
  • Duane A. Powers, Director of Operations, Hawkins & Powers Aviation, Inc., Greybull, WY

Mr. Hull and Mr. Hall were co-chairs of the Blue Ribbon Fact Finding Panel on Aviation that was formed after the wings fell off two air tankers in 2002, completely shutting down, temporarily, the large air tanker program in the United States, grounding the remaining 42 air tankers. The Blue Ribbon Panel completed their report three months before the hearing. When it convened, inspections, evaluations, and recommendations were being completed and written, to try to find ways to safely reconstitute a large air tanker program.

One thing that impressed me about the hearing was the quality of the questions by the Senators. Most of them were intelligent, insightful, and showed a surprising understanding of the fire aviation program. Of course it is possible, or probable, that the staff of the Senators and the Committee prepared the questions which were then simply read. But some of their comments seemed to be extemporaneous, and perhaps not composed in advance. And Chair of the Committee, Senator Larry Craig, in spite of his misadventure four years later in the restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, led a productive hearing and also asked excellent questions.

Many of the topics discussed during the hearing are still contentious today, having not been acted upon or resolved. Some of the answers to the Senators’ questions could be heard now if a similar hearing was underway on Capitol Hill.

The transcript from the hearing is long, but if you’re a fire aviation geek you may find it fascinating — and infuriating.

Here are some excerpts and highlights:

Continue reading


Drones may assist lifeguards in Chile and Iran

It is impressive to see the various uses innovators are developing for drones. Above, a Chilean company is hoping drone technology can help save lives. Drones fitted with a float, camera, microphone and speaker are being tested on the beaches of Algarrobo to help lifeguards rescue bathers who get into difficulties in the sea.

In the video below Iran’s RTS Labs’ Pars drone carries a payload of life preservers to a drowning swimmer far faster than a lifeguard. They found after testing in the Caspian Sea that the drone can also work at night using bright lights, biothermal sensors, and a built-in camera to stream video to rescuers on shore.

It seems to be inevitable that eventually government agencies will develop rules and procedures to enable drones to safely provide to fire managers real time situational awareness of wildfires and prescribed fires.


Colorado selects Rifle-Garfield County Airport for site of Center of Excellence

Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) today presented its recommendations and selection of Rifle-Garfield County Airport to Gov. John Hickenlooper as host community for the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting.

“We were fortunate to have a number of outstanding candidates to consider for the Center of Excellence and it was a difficult decision with both urban and rural applicants, but Rifle and Garfield County stood out as the best choice,” said Hickenlooper.

“As home to the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management Facility and with its proximity to the Colorado Army National Guard High Altitude Aviation training site, we know the Center will be better positioned for success in Rifle which will benefit all of Colorado. This decision will serve as the best way forward to meet our shared goal of protecting lives, property and our natural environment from devastating wildfires,” Hickenlooper said.

The Center of Excellence was created in Senate Bill 14-164, which also authorized the State Fire Division to purchase or contract for aerial firefighting assets. During the legislative session, proponents of the Center explained that there is currently no mechanism for determining the efficacy of aerial firefighting, and the need exists for an innovative, science- and data-focused research entity. For this reason, the Center was held up as an integral part of ensuring the successful implementation of Colorado’s own aerial firefighting fleet.

“In short, the Center of Excellence will research, test, and evaluate existing and new technologies that support sustainable, effective, and efficient aerial firefighting techniques,” said State Fire Director Paul Cooke.

Because several jurisdictions in Colorado expressed interest in hosting the Center of Excellence, a means to gather information from interested jurisdictions had to be established. The Division elected to go through a formal Request for Information (RFI) process as a way to collect information about the various benefits of interested jurisdictions in a non-binding fashion.

The Division received six responses to the RFI from the following jurisdictions:

• Centennial
• Clear Creek County
• Colorado Springs
• Fort Collins-Loveland Airport
• Montrose County
• City of Rifle/Garfield County
• Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport/Jefferson County

Cooke said. “In the end, it really comes down to which location offers the most significant and mutual benefit to the state and the host community.”

The City of Rifle is located on the Western Slope along I-70, less than one hour from Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction.

The reasons the Division selected Rifle to host the Center include:

• The location offers proximity to open lands and uncontrolled airspace with a variety of terrain, close proximity to high-risk wildfire areas, high altitude locations, and nearby watersheds that source much of the drinking water for nearby states.
• The area is where Colorado sees the majority of its wildland fires.
• Local understanding of the needs and risks for firefighting personnel and operations.
• Small town affordability.
• Nearby Higher Education institutions willing to tailor programs to graduate students with skills to staff the Center in the future.
• The area is host to the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management facility, which houses BLM, USFS, Colorado River Fire Rescue, and DFPC resources.
• Close proximity to the Grand Junction Air Center which provides tactical aircraft resources (air tankers, smokejumpers, lead planes, and air attack) for initial attack and large incident support.
• Close proximity to the Colorado Army National Guard High-Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATS).
• Free, readily available, suitable office space for three years.
• Grant writing assistance from the city.
• Potential economic development benefits to the area.

Rifle/Garfield County also touted the willingness of its higher education institutions, government partners, and business organizations to embrace the activities of the Center of Excellence and build on their existing expertise in workforce training, curriculum development, firefighting experience, and related mutual interests to support the success of the Center of Excellence.

Further, this jurisdiction has garnered region-wide support for hosting the Center, with support from more than 21 different public and private entities throughout Colorado.
Cooke says, “The Rifle/Garfield County location offers DFPC the ability to pair its currently existing resources (Fire Management Officer and Engine Crew) with the Center of Excellence staff.” He added, “The location could easily become the Western Slope hub for DFPC programs.”

(UPDATE March 20, 2015: The Glenwood Springs Post Independent has a good article about the Center, providing more details.)


China manufacturing large amphibious air tanker


An artist’s conception of the AG600.

China is manufacturing a large air tanker that will be amphibious, able to land and takeoff from an airport or the sea. It will have a 3,000-gallon water capacity, four turboprop engines, able to handle a wave height of two meters, and will have a maximum speed of 354 mph (570 kph, 308 knots). The base model for the aircraft is the AVIC TA-600 which is designed to be used for transport, water rescue, or to carry up to 50 passengers. The air tanker version appears to have the AG-600 model name. Both aircraft are similar to what was then known as the JL-600 when we wrote about it in 2010 at Wildfire Today.

The maiden flight is expected to take place in the first half of 2016.


The nose section of the AG600.

AG600 fuselage

A large portion of the fuselarge of the air tanker was nearing completion on March 13, 2015.

Below is an excerpt from an article at ChinaDaily:

“The AG-600 will meet China’s urgent need for such equipment in forest fire control and maritime search and rescue, and it will form an important part of the country’s emergency response and rescue system,” Huang Lingcai, chief designer of the aircraft at the Zhuhai company said.

Powered by four turboprop engines, the AG-600 will become the world’s largest amphibious aircraft, surpassing Japan’s ShinMaywa US-2 and Russia’s Beriev Be-200, the designer said.

The AG-600, formerly known as the D-600, will have a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 metric tons and an operational range of about 4,500 km. It can be used for a variety of operations, such as passenger and cargo transport, resource surveys as well as marine environmental monitoring, in addition to its foremost tasks of firefighting and maritime rescue, according to Leng Yixun, director of general aviation products at AVIC.

“The seaplane’s major users will be government departments such as forestry authorities, the coast guard and maritime safety bureaus. We estimate our country will need at least 100 such seaplanes within the coming 15 years,” he said.

He added that his company has received 17 orders from domestic customers, including several private general aviation enterprises.

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


Colorado shows off new multi-mission aircraft

The state of Colorado is showing off their two recently purchased 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), bought two Pilatus PC-12 airplanes configured and outfitted by the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC).

The aircraft have three sensors, one for infrared and two for color. They can map wildfires and detect a campfire from 30 to 45 miles away.

Last July we asked DFPC Director Paul Cooke how the aircraft will be used. 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.

Colorado mulit-mission aircraftWe last wrote about the aircraft in September when the agency acquired one on a temporary basis.