Air attack plane goes off the runway at Grass Valley, CA

N700PQ Rockwell International 690B

File photo of N700PQ, a Rockwell International 690B. Flightaware photo.

The Union is reporting that an air attack plane went off the runway Saturday, October 4 at Nevada County Airport near Grass Valley, California (map). There were no reports of injuries or serious damage.

Photos at The Union show that the aircraft is Air Attack 17, N700PQ, a Rockwell International 690B. It is registered to Rogers Helicopters out of Fresno, California.

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


Drones may be used over wildfires in Oregon and Washington next year

ScanEagle drone

Boeing’s ScanEagle. Boeing photo.

From KPLU:

State forestry departments in Washington and Oregon had hoped to try out drones this summer to provide reconnaissance at wildfire scenes. But neither firefighting agency managed to pull it off. Now both plan to try again next year.

State foresters in southern Oregon acquired a remote-controlled helicopter at the beginning of fire season, but discovered they couldn’t legally fly it without pilot’s licenses. The training and paperwork are now in progress.

Meanwhile, a leader in the Northwest’s unmanned aircraft industry has launched a separate project to develop a nighttime wildfire reconnaissance capability. Eric Simpkins of Bend, Oregon, said he’s lined up four drone providers willing to donate flight time to demonstrate the new technology for wildfires.

“Fires do change during the night. Winds come up, move the fires a lot,” Simpkins said at an industry conference in Warm Springs, Oregon. “It is very hard for fire managers to know what is going on during hours of darkness and it inhibits their ability to get a quick start the next morning.”

This past July, Washington’s Department of Natural Resources got emergency approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to deploy a drone at a wildfire north of Wenatchee. Boeing subsidiary Insitu provided one of its ScanEagle unmanned aircraft to use for free. But the experiment was scrubbed at the last minute.

A state spokesman says they want to try again next summer on a tamer wildfire.


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


One USFS infrared aircraft possibly on season-ending Injured Reserve

USFS infrared aircraft N149Z

USFS infrared aircraft N149Z at Phoenix in 2013

One of the two U.S. Forest Service infrared line-scanning aircraft, N149Z, has a serious maintenance issue that may take it out of service for the rest of the season. If it were an NFL player, it would be called season-ending Injured Reserve.

The Beechcraft Super King Air 200 (twin-turboprop) has a problem with the right engine mounting, which has not been completely evaluated yet, so it is difficult to estimate when it will be back in the air. But it could be out for the rest of the western wildfire season.

There are presently no privately owned infrared line-scanner aircraft on call when needed status.  If necessary, contract infrared services could be hired through an Emergency Equipment Rental Agreement by the local unit or the Geographic Area Coordination Center, as was done by the Lassen National Forest in 2012 on the Ponderosa Fire in northern California.

The other USFS IR plane is a twin-engine jet, N144Z, a Cessna Citation II. It continues to be in the starting lineup. Occasionally in past years they have outfitted a King Air B-90 with IR equipment.


New agreement to produce US-built Be-200 amphibious air tanker

Beriev Be-200 air tanker

Beriev Be-200 air tanker. Beriev photo.

The Colorado company that proposes to convert the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt into an air tanker announced on September 26 that they signed an agreement to produce the until now Russian-built amphibious water-scooping Beriev Be-200 in the United States. USA Firefighting Air Corps (USAFAC) said they signed a collaboration agreement with California-based International Emergency Services, Inc. (IES) to develop a U.S.-built Beriev Be-200 in Colorado.

USAFAC co-founder Chris Olson made the announcement before the Colorado Wildfire Matters Review Committee saying the company was in discussions with international financiers to back the initiative’s $500 million proposition.

David Baskett of IES has been campaigning for years to import the 3,000-gallon Be-200 air tanker, and in 2010 arranged for one of the aircraft to visit the United States. It was on display at Santa Maria, California and made a demonstration water drop. Mr. Baskett said then that his plan was to purchase 10 of the aircraft and lease them to air tanker operators in the United States.

A couple of years ago some U.S. Forest Service employees traveled to Taganro, Russia the home base of the Beriev company, to conduct tests to determine if the Be-200 met the criteria established by the Interagency Air Tanker Board (IATB). At the time, we heard unofficial reports that it met the criteria for water-scooping air tankers, but tests were not completed for dropping fire retardant.

There are quite a few videos of Be-200s dropping water, but the four-second one below is my favorite.

USAFAC has made a splash recently with proposals about the A-10 and now the Be-200. The company, which first registered its web domain on August 9, 2014, has ambitious goals. It will be interesting to see if their talk translates into something flyable.

BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California

BE-200 air tanker at Santa Maria, California, April 10, 2010. Photo by Michael Lynn.

Before we created Fire Aviation, we wrote several stories about the Be-200 at Wildfire Today. Here is a link to articles there tagged Be-200.


Deviation from policy may have saved firefighter’s life

Freezeout Ridge Fire

Freezeout Ridge Fire, September 21, 2014. InciWeb photo.

Managers on the Freezeout Ridge Fire in Idaho made a conscious decision on September 21 to deviate from aviation policy in order to potentially save the life of a very seriously injured firefighter. The individual was knocked unconscious by a falling snag and suffered from severe head injuries including a skull fracture, broken jaw, lacerations to the face and head, two broken arms, dislocated thumb, and minor burns.

The aircraft, (Aerospatiale AS350B3) and pilot designated as the medivac helicopter were carded for short-haul operations, however, due to the lack of Department of Interior crew members the ship was not officially short-haul capable at the time. With sunset approaching, the decision was made to long-line the patient to a helispot where he could be transferred to the interior of a helicopter and from there transported to the helibase, and then via air ambulance to the hospital.

Because of the deviation from policy, a Safecom was filed:

At 1845 while assisting a communications tech in setting up a remote command repeater I was the helicopter manager and overheard a call to Air Attack from Div Y to advise him that a firefighter had been struck by a snag. It was identified as a serious accident with life threatening injuries. We were assigned as the medevac aircraft for the incident. Our pilot and aircraft are carded for short-haul operations, however, due to the lack of DOI crew members we were not short-haul capable at the time.

The communication tech and I began moving towards the aircraft in case we were needed. Air Attack was unable to fill an order for an extraction helicopter locally in the time frame needed, therefore we were asked to assist with the medevac. At approximately 1855 we departed the repeater site and flew to the helibase. The patient update that was relayed from the accident site was that the patient was unconscious, but breathing, and needed immediate extraction.

At 1915 we landed at the helibase to reconfigure the aircraft for a medevac and to pick up the paramedic to take with us to the accident site. The Type 1 crew with the injured crewmember began to construct a helispot immediately after the accident and Div Y informed Air Attack that the helispot was close to being finished around 1930. After a recon and a thorough risk assessment by the pilot and helicopter manager it was determined that the spot was too dangerous for landing due to snags and logs in the LZ.

The pilot and manager agreed that the only way to get the patient to definitive care before nightfall was to long line the patient to H2 and then load the patient internally to be transported to the Helibase to meet an air ambulance. We landed at H2 at approximately 1950 and configured for a long line mission, the patient was packaged in a TRS {Traverse Rescue Stretcher} with the extraction four point harness.

Personnel at the accident site had been trained and were familiar with how to rig the TRS for helicopter extraction. The aircraft lifted with a 150 ft long line and remote hook to be received by Div Y to be hooked up to the TRS with the patient. The accident location and the helispot were located 1/4 mile apart with several hundred feet of elevation gain in steep rugged terrain. The pilot lifted the patient and flew back to H2 to be received by the helicopter manager and paramedic. Due to limited daylight {“Pumpkin time“ was 2013} the patient was loaded internally immediately and flown to Helibase. We landed at 2012 and the patient was attended to by numerous EMTs and Paramedics until the air ambulance arrived at 2028. The patient was transferred to the air ambulance crew and departed for the hospital at about 2100 hrs.

This event highlights the need to expedite the development of policy to ensure agency contracted helicopters and agency personnel have the capabilities and training to perform extraction missions for injured agency personnel.

LESSONS LEARNED: Due to the lack of policy support, agency personnel worked within the Forest Service Doctrine Framework to make decisions to do what was needed to preserve life. The decision was made by subject matter experts utilizing the risk management process to assess hazards and make timely decisions based on the capabilities of the crew involved. There was support from the Incident Management Team and local unit/agency to do what was necessary to save a life despite having to deviate from policy. Many things went well on this incident that contributed to the successful outcome for the patient and others involved including: having discussions prior to the accident as to how to evacuate a seriously injured firefighter, using the right crews for the tasks at hand, supporting doctrine operations in the event of life threats, and supporting the crews involved with CISM if needed.

Here is a photo of a Traverse Rescue Stretcher.

The official “72 Hour Report” is at Wildfire Today.


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.


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.

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