Air Spray gears up (so to speak) for the fire season

(About half of Air Spray’s fleet of air tankers do not have conventional landing gear — they are on floats.)

Above: An Air Spray AT-802F Fire Boss at Omak, Washington in 2016. Photo by Air Spray.

Air Spray has exclusive use (EU) contracts for seven of their air tankers this year.  The company has eight Air Tractor Single Engine Air Tankers. Five are on floats, AT-802F Fire Bosses, and three AT-802F’s have conventional wheeled landing gear.

Around the middle of May two of the Fire Bosses will start their contracts in Alaska. In the first part of June three more will begin working with the Washington DNR. And in early July two of the “wheelies”, AT-802F’s, will be on duty in Oregon, one with the state DNR and the other with the U.S. Forest Service.

air tanker wildfire
Training at New Hogan Lake in California, February, 2018. Photo by Air Spray.

That accounts for all of the SEATs except one. Ravi Saip, the company’s Director of Maintenance/General Manager, said he had hoped that the BLM would pick it up along with 32 other SEATs on their National EU contract.

SEAT practice drop air tanker
A practice drop during training in 2016 at Black Butte Lake in California. Air Spray photo.

Randy Eardley, spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, told us today that no EU contracts for Single Engine Air Tankers have been awarded yet this year, but there is an existing CWN contract for SEATs which will be used. He said it is unlikely that there will be an EU contract, for the second year in a row. Before 2017 there were typically 33 SEATs on EU. Approximately 10 have been working on a CWN basis in Texas and the Southwest during the last month or two.

So now, Mr. Saip is hoping that their remaining wheeled SEAT can find work on a CWN basis.

air tanker support unit
Air Tanker 825 and its maintenance support unit July 2, 2014. Photo by Air Spray.

Like other air tanker operators, Air Spray has ground-based mobile maintenance units that are dispatched with their aircraft. But in addition to carrying tools and spare parts, they also bring pumps and tanks for mixing retardant before it is loaded onto the aircraft.

Air tanker 481 Lockheed Electra L188
Air Spray’s Air Tanker 481, a Lockheed Electra L188 on static display at McClellan, March 12, 2018.

Air Spray also has a Lockheed L-188 that will be available to CAL FIRE on a CWN contract again this year.

Air tanker 170 BAe-146
Air tanker 170 makes a demonstration drop at MCC March 12, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The BAe-146 that the company started converting in 2014 has come a long way as you can see in the photo above. It will soon be doing some static testing for the Interagency Airtanker Board and at some point a grid test, dropping retardant into a grid of cups on the ground.

At congressional briefing, questions are asked about the number of air tankers on contract

In 2017 there were 20 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. This year there are 13.

congressional briefing wildfires
Washington Senator Maria Cantwell asks a question about expanding the use of drones on wildfires. Screenshot from the video below.

(This article first appeared at Wildfire Today)

On Thursday the Departments of Interior and Agriculture briefed members of Congress about the outlook for wildfires in 2018.

There was a lot of talk about being more aggressive about attacking fires, forest health, firefighting aircraft,  dead trees, logging, and reducing fuels in forests.

In response to a question by Washington Senator Maria Cantwell about expanding the use of drones on fires, the Secretaries of the two Departments announced that they would sign an agreement to more easily share resources and technology between the two Departments, including drones.

congressional briefing wildfires
Interim Chief of the Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen, briefs members of Congress about the 2018 wildfire season. Screenshot from the video below.

During her prepared remarks, Interim Chief of the Forest Service Vicki Christiansen said the Forest Service had “hundreds of aircraft ready to respond” to fires. The fact is, in addition to helicopters, in 2017 there were 20 large air tankers on exclusive use (EU) contracts. This year there are 13, with another 11 on call when needed (CWN) agreements plus one HC-130H Coast Guard aircraft outfitted with a temporary MAFFS tank. The Forest Service wants to get rid of the Coast Guard HC-130H currently being used and the other six that Congress directed them and the Air Force to convert to air tankers.

Randy Eardley, spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management, told us today that no EU contracts for Single Engine Air Tankers have been awarded yet this year, but there is an existing CWN contract for SEATs which will be used. It is unlikely that an EU contract will be awarded, for the second year in a row. Before 2017 there were typically 33 SEATs on EU contracts every year. Approximately 10 have been working on a CWN basis in Texas and the Southwest during the last month or two.

A few of the politicians at the briefing criticized the reduction in the number of air tankers. At 16:00 in the video, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden expressed his concern.

Last week we were hearing in rural Oregon that there wouldn’t be enough air tankers on exclusive use contracts at the Forest Service…. What is the Service doing to ensure that the all call when needed air tankers are going to be there in terms of these fires.

Ms. Christiansen responded to the Senator:

Senator Wyden, I can assure you we will have the same number of large air tankers, 25, available to us on contract or agency operated. That’s in addition to the specialty that the Department of Interior provides in Single Engine Air Tankers and then we all have a selection of rotary helicopter resources. So we are confident in our ability to field the large air tankers and the other aviation assets. As I said before, we are always evaluating the mix of exclusive use and call when needed. Call when needed can be available within 30 minutes but often certainly within a couple of hours. And our predictive services I have great confidence in that we will bring those call when needed resources on as we anticipate the need expanding. It all happens out of our Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

Call when needed contracts for large air tankers specify that the aircraft should be able to be activated within 48 hours. And it is not as simple as a dispatcher making a phone call to the vendor, it must be handled by a contracting officer. But after being activated, they can remain in that status for an extended period of time, even if it is raining, and be subject to the same dispatch standards as exclusive use aircraft.

The quality of the video and audio below is very poor, but at least 90 percent of the audio is comprehensible.

The article was revised to clarify that while it is unlikely that an exclusive use contract will be awarded this year for SEATs, an existing call when needed contract can be used.

The only shade was under the Chinook at Sierra Vista

N949CH Chinook helicopter
Helimax’s N949CH at Sierra Vista, Arizona. Photo by Jerry Messinger.

Jerry Messinger sent us this photo of N949CH, one of HeliMax’s CH-47’s at Sierra Vista, Arizona. He said it is on an exclusive use contract and has already flown about 75 hours on fires in the Southwest this spring. It is very dry there, he said.

Those large rotor blades can provide a little shade on a hot day.

The weather prediction for Sierra Vista today, 96 degrees, 6 percent RH, with southwest winds gusting to 27 mph. For Friday, Red Flag Warning with winds gusting to 45 mph. And zero percent chance of rain.

10 Tanker is getting four DC-10’s ready for the season

Above: The four Maintenance Support units for 10 Tanker — one for each DC-10. Photo by Robert Mouck.

The crews at 10 Tanker Air Carrier are getting their four DC-10 air tankers ready for the fire season. Two of the aircraft are on exclusive use (EU) contracts with the U.S. Forest Service and the other two are on call when needed (CWN) contracts with the Forest Service.

The company just completed a two-year EU contract with New South Wales in Australia and will be submitting a bid for the next two years. 10 Tanker also has CWN contracts with Douglas County (just south of Denver) and four states: Nevada, California, Montana, and Minnesota.

They just upgraded their Maintenance Support units that follow the air tankers. Each of the four aircraft has a dedicated large goose-neck trailer full of tools and spare parts pulled by a Dodge heavy duty crew cab pickup.

John Gould, President of 10 Tanker, said they recently resolved a Supplemental Type Certificate issue with the FAA and expect to finalize some details with the Operational Load Monitoring System and the ATU soon, and then they will be carded again for this year.

10 Tanker maintenance support trucks
Some of the Maintenance Support units for 10 Tanker. Photo by RK Smithley.

Eleven CL-215’s to be converted to CL-415EAF

Above: Viking Air photo

Longview Aviation Asset Management (LAAM) of Calgary, Alberta, in cooperation with Viking Air Limited of Victoria, British Columbia, has launched the Viking CL-415EAF (“Enhanced Aerial Firefighter”) Conversion Program.

To initiate the program, LAAM will be hiring up to 150 technical and support staff members at its Calgary facilities, where eleven specially selected CL-215 aerial firefighting aircraft owned by LAAM will undergo the modification process utilizing Viking-supplied conversion kits.

To support development of the conversion kits, Viking has hired 50 employees to date and has launched a recruitment campaign to hire an additional 50 staff at its Victoria, BC location. Viking will also be reinstating its “Viking Academy” paid-training program to provide successful applicants with the targeted technical training required for these positions.

After acquiring the CL-215, CL-215T and CL-415 Type Certificates in late 2016, and based on feedback from the operator group, Viking elected to introduce an “Enhanced Aerial Firefighter” (EAF), mirroring the CL-215T conversion program and updating it with the addition of operator requested enhancements.

Both the CL-215T and CL-415EAF include the winglets, finlets, higher operating weights, increased capacity firebombing system, and foam injection system of the CL-415.  In addition to these standards, other improvements introduced with the Viking CL-415EAF conversion upgrade include:

  • Full modern Avionics package,
  • Component modernization improvements to address all fleet obsolescence issues,
  • Corrosion protection enhancements based on operator feedback,
  • Flight deck air-conditioning system,
  • Customized external paint scheme, and
  • Humanitarian relief and special mission options (e.g. stretcher rack, large cargo door, spray boom system)

The Viking CL-415EAF Conversion Program forms part of a staged approach to utilize the advancements made with the LAAM converted aircraft as the basis for the proposed Viking CL-515 new-production amphibious aerial firefighting aircraft.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Roman.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

I supersized it

I’m not sure why I have not done this before.

I have a lot of photo prints on my walls. Like other firefighters or former firefighters (is anyone ever a former firefighter?) many of them were taken at fires.

In deciding what to do with that empty space which was about six feet wide, I considered hanging two or more conventional-sized photos, 16″ x 20″ or smaller. Then I thought, why not go big — one megaphoto that would fill most of the space.

So I ordered a 48″ x 32″ canvas print of a photo I took at the Crow Peak Fire on June 27, 2016 of air tanker 161 dropping. I love seeing it on the wall.

(By the way, that photo won third place in the Professional category in the 13th annual Dahl Mountain Photo Competition in Rapid City. There were 215 entries.)

Photography Prints

Washington DNR prepares helicopter fleet for wildfire season

Above: One of Washington DNR’s UH-1H helicopters. Washington DNR photo.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources is getting their fleet of eight helicopters ready for the coming wildfire season. The agency began acquiring their military surplus UH-1H (B-205) ships in 1989.

The DNR started their helicopter program in the 1960’s with two Bell-47’s used for recon and carrying a 50-gallon water bucket which was designed by one of their pilots, Harold Clark. By the mid-1970’s the Kaman Husky, which could carry up to 450 gallons, replaced the Bell-47’s. Those six Kaman’s were phased out in the late 1970’s due to a shortage of spare rotor blades and the availability of the more reliable and faster Huey UH-1B, which were replaced by the UH-1H about 10 years later.

Kaman Husky
A Washington DNR Kaman Husky from the 1970’s. It had interlocking rotors, not unlike the present day Kaman K-MAX. DNR photo.

The agency now has a program manager, one helicopter coordinator, 11 U.S. Forest Service certified helicopter pilots, 6 aviation maintenance technicians (AMT) who maintain, and configure the aircraft, and one chief pilot who leads the team. Usually 7 helicopters are deployed, with one held in reserve as a spare.

All of the pilots have current Class II Medical Certificates and FAA Commercial Rotor Wing Certificates. Many maintain an FAA Certified Instrument Instructor rating and Airline Transport pilot certification.

In addition to the pilots and mechanics, the staffing includes one transportation supervisor, 7 helicopter managers, 7 squad leaders, 14 firefighters, and 8 support drivers. All helitack modules have an incident commander. Generally they stage at Omak, Deer Park, Dallesport, Pomeroy, Wenatchee, Colville and Olympia.

Washington DNR's UH-1H helicopters
Maintenance on Washington DNR’s UH-1H helicopters. DNR photo.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Spokesman.com:

The department pays for fuel, operations and maintenance, which works out to about $1,600 an hour when they fly.

Dropping water on forest fires can be rugged work. But while these “Hueys” are old – the most senior helicopter in the DNR fleet came off the factory line in 1963 and did two tours in Vietnam, where it was shot down twice – they’re extremely reliable and spare parts are plentiful.

Washington DNR's UH-1H helicopters crew
Washington DNR photo

Excellent video about the MAFFS mission

Above: Screenshot from the video.

This is the best description I have seen of the Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) — the crews, aircraft, retardant delivery system, and the mission. The 3,000-gallon tank can be installed in a military C-130 in a few hours when additional air tanker surge capacity is needed for assisting wildland firefighters.

In 2017 there were 20 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts. This year there are 13, so we might be seeing more military aircraft fighting wildfires in 2018. In 2002 there were 44 on contract.

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