Memorial service for air tanker pilot planned

Firefighters will gather to pay their respects to airtanker Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt who paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life while fighting the Dog Rock Fire near El Portal, California. A celebration of Craig’s life, with full Line of Duty Death fire service honors, will take place Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 10 a.m.

On October 7, 2014, Dyncorp Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was involved in a fatal crash while flying a CAL FIRE S-2T Airtanker over the Dog Rock Fire burning near Yosemite’s Arch Rock.

“We continue to mourn the tragic loss of Craig.” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE Director.

“We know wildland firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, but Craig made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot’s family during this difficult time,” said Jeff Cavarra, program director for DynCorp International.

Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was born October 14, 1951 in Richmond, IN. He is survived by his wife, Sally, who he married in September of 1975, and his two daughters, Nancy Hunt and Sarah Hunt Lauterbach. Hunt served as a US Navy P3 pilot from 1975-1984 and was in the reserves for 20 years. Hunt earned a Master’s in Business as well as in Biochemistry and was a chemistry teacher in the off season at the University of Santa Cruz. He had a love for flying, golfing, fishing, hiking, bird watching, scuba diving, math/sciences, teaching and dogs.

“My dad died a hero. There was not a day that went by that I didn’t talk to my dad. He was my best friend”, said Sarah Hunt Lauterbach.

Memorial Service
Location: Church on the Hill, 500 Sands Dr., San Jose, CA 95125
Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 10 a.m.
Attire for uniformed personnel is to be either Department Class A Uniform or Work Uniform with tie.
Public Safety Departments or Agencies that wish to attend or send apparatus for the memorial static display, please click here. Please arrive at the church by 9:00 a.m. for set up.

Cards can be sent to the family in care of:
The Hunt Family
c/o CAL FIRE Firefighters Local 2881
1731 J Street, Ste. 100
Sacramento, CA 95811

In lieu of flowers donations can be made to:
G. Craig Hunt Memorial Fund
Ashville School
360 Ashville School Road
Ashville, NC 28806
This fund will be designated for scholarship and athletics at the Ashville School.
Contact: Tom Marberger at (828) 254-6345 ext. 4081

Geoffrey "Craig" Hunt

Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt. Courtesy of Mr. Hunt’s family.


More details about the fire aviation assets in Victoria, Australia this summer

RJ-85, tanker 161

One of two RJ-85s converted by Conair and operated by Aero Flite. There is a report that Conair produced three of these, keeping one for themselves. Calls to Conair to confirm the report and that one will be used in Victoria were not returned. Photo provided by NIFC.

On October 10 we wrote about the plans for the fire aviation program for the coming 2014/2015 summer fire season in Victoria, Australia. Now, thanks to Bryan Rees, who is in charge of fire aviation capability for the Department of Environment and Primary Industries in the state, we have more details.

As we reported before, the aircraft fleet will include:

  • 2 large fixed wing airtankers;
  • 1 firebombing helicopter to be based in the Latrobe Valley;
  • 2 Erickson Aircranes capable of dropping 7,500 litres (1,980 gallons) of water;
  • 2 large Sikorsky helicopters capable of dropping 3,500 litres (924 gallons) of water or transporting up to 17 firefighters;
  • 5 medium sized firebombing helicopters;
  • 15 light helicopters;
  • 12 single engine airtankers;
  • 2 infrared line-scanning fixed wing aircraft;
  • 4 fixed wing firespotting aircraft; and
  • 1 fixed wing aircraft to support the large air tankers.

Mr. Rees said the two large air tankers will be Coulson’s C-130Q and an RJ-85 from Conair. They can carry 4,000 and 3,000 gallons, respectively, and will work out of the Avalon airport beginning around December 10.

We asked Mr. Rees by email about the helicopters that would be on contract this summer:

Victoria has operated Erickson Aircranes since 1997. This season we will have 2 x S64 E models based in Melbourne and at Ballarat. In addition we have contracts for 2 x S61 from Coulson for firebombing, fire crew transport and rappel operations based at Mansfield and Ballarat. A number of companies provide Type 2 helicopters for firebombing and rappel operations in Victoria. Kestrel aviation operates 2 x B212’s and a B412, McDermott aviation a B214B, and Jayrow helicopters a B212 — we are currently tendering for an additional T2 for the Latrobe Valley area.

And, we asked about Victoria’s past use of large air tankers:

Victoria has operated large air tankers on a number of occasions over the years. We operated a RAAF Hercules fitted with a USFS MAFFS unit for the 1981/82 and 1982/83 fire season – this included operations during the disastrous Ash Wednesday fires. Victoria hosted the trial by CSIRO called Project Aquarios in 1983/84 using a Conair DC6. The DC10 was operated from Avalon here in Victoria during the 2009/10 fire season and 2 x Conair Convairs operated here in 2010/11.


CAL Fire’s first permanent female helicopter pilot featured on LA television

Desiree Horton was recently hired by CAL FIRE as their first permanent female helicopter pilot. She has been working for the last year or so in a temporary position as a pilot for the agency, and before that she flew for many years as a contract pilot on firefighting helicopters, and as a news helicopter pilot in the Los Angeles area.

A few days ago we had a short video that teased about the report above, which which ran yesterday on the CBS Los Angeles 11 p.m. news.

Congratulations to Desiree!


NTSB: S-2T that crashed may have struck a tree

S-2T air tanker crash

Site of the S-2T air tanker crash. Photo by Ken Yager.

In a preliminary report that was released Tuesday night, the National Transportation Safety Board said the S-2T air tanker that crashed near Yosemite National Park in California on October 7 may have struck a tree which broke off a part of the aircraft’s wing.

Two other firefighting aircraft were in the area at the time. A lead plane preceded the air tanker into the drop area but that pilot did not see the crash. However the crew of an air attack ship overhead did, and they told the NTSB that the S-2T may have struck a tree, causing part of a wing to break off.

Both aircrews reported that there was smoke in the area, but visibility was good.

The air tanker was stationed at the air tanker base at Hollister, California, and had been dispatched to the Dog Rock fire. The airplane arrived on scene, made one drop on the fire, then proceeded to the Columbia Airport to be reloaded with fire retardant before it returned and made its final flight. Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt died in the accident.

A resident in the area of the crash site told us that locals took quite a few photos and a video that will help the NTSB’s investigation. They are unwilling to release the imagery to the public until after the investigation is complete.

It will be many more months before the NTSB releases their final report.

CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott issued the following statement regarding the NTSB’s preliminary information on the crash.

“Aerial firefighting is not simply flying from one airport to another. The wildland firefighting environment is a challenging one, both on the ground and in the air,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, director of CAL FIRE. “We look forward to the final NTSB report to see if we can use the findings to help mitigate the inherent dangers of the job. We owe that to Craig, who traded his life in an effort to protect the lives of others.”


Video package from UAV was installed on Air Attack ship working on the Happy Camp Fire

live wildfire video

Live microwave linked 28 miles to SkyIMD’s IR/EO from the base station. Live control occurred in the field, and was transferred through the internet to Incident Command, where the Planning Section Chief could operate the superzoom gimbal.

A suite of video sensors normally used on an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) was installed on an Air Attack aircraft working on the 134,056-acre Happy Camp Fire in northern California. The instruments provide normal and infrared video, making it possible for the Air Tactical Group Supervisor and personnel at the Incident Command Post to see in real time through smoke to determine where the priorities should be and where aircraft should be assigned to drop water or retardant.

Below is information provided by SkyIMD, Inc.:

“Remote control of airborne stabilized camera EO/IR (Electro Optical/Infrared) gimbals designed for UAVs is available through SkyIMD SkyFusion Pak for fixed wing, rotorcraft, and UAVs. Systems support fully automated 3D geo-tracking of static locations or GIS (Geographic Information System) fire lines comprising of thousands of points. Advanced object recognition provides hands-off following of aircraft and vehicles. Satellite and 3G connectivity delivers streaming video or snapshots over the internet to any iPhone, Android, or computer.

“Infrared stops fire from hiding in its own smokescreen,” says Hart Drobish (President of Courtney Aviation, the Air Attack Operator). “SkyIMD makes an extremely sophisticated tool intuitive for first time users. Without training, Air Attacks see through smoke. Zoomed in, IR identifies fire creeping through retardant that is too late once visible to the naked eye.” Hart is developing IR solutions on multiple platforms to extend coverage.

The Planning Section Chief responsible for intelligence, strategy, and objectives at the Incident Command Post (ICP) operated the FLIR infrared sensor when the cockpit crew was busy managing airspace. The Chief of the Happy Camp Complex fire could click the fire map or touch the live video to “walk around” deep in the burn. The new spot fires discovered were then verified by the aircrew. Using the same remote control, SkyIMD in San Francisco interactively trained the Chief who had never before operated an EO/IR superzoom gimbal. The easy interface took only a few minutes to learn and become a valuable asset.

“Seeing through the smoke is indispensable,” says Air Attack Dick Stiliha (ATGS, Air Tactical Group Supervisor). “I hope to never be without infrared again. Sharing live video with ICP was very beneficial. Equally valuable, recorded video was used for daily post mission debrief to improve tanker pilots’ effectiveness and safety.”

“The only growing-pain with remote controlling the airborne infrared was that so many people wanted to use it,” says Henri Wolf (SkyIMD CTO and former wildfire tanker pilot). “Since drones are not currently approved for wildfires, some aerial firefighters would like to use the same cameras on a manned-drone parked out of the way, above the congested fire attack altitudes. A ground operated gimbal flown solo, a manned UAV, will provide all the benefits of a UAS, extending ICP’s vision while relieving workload, and has the potential to evolve into an unmanned aircraft in the future.“  “


Improvements scheduled for Prescott air tanker base

 Prescott Airport.

A ramp at the Prescott Airport. The red stains on the tarmac are typical of ramps at air tanker bases. Google Earth. (click to enlarge)

The City of Prescott, Arizona has agreed to accept a $1.44 million grant from the  Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) which will go along with $1 million from the U.S. Forest Service for improvements at the air tanker base at the Prescott Airport.

The ADOT funds will be used to upgrade the apron used by air tankers, while the USFS funds will add new plumbing infrastructure and a taxiway. The changes will increase the number of loading pits from two to three. The ADOT grant will cover 90 percent of the cost of the apron project, and the City of Prescott will supply the additional 10 percent.

In spite of the new construction which is scheduled to begin June 2015, the runway will still not be able to support Very Large Air Tankers such as the DC-10, according to City Manager Craig McConnell. During the Yarnell Hill Fire last year, two DC-10s reloaded at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, 90 air miles southeast of the fire.


A Fire Dragon in Tasmania

fire dragon Tasmania

Forestry operations officer Bob Knox takes the controls of the fire dragon from Forestry officer Doug Johnson. Picture: NEIL RICHARDSON (click to enlarge)

I ran across this photo that accompanied an article in The Examiner about a prescribed fire in Tasmania, Australia. The caption is as it appeared in the article. Can anyone explain what a “fire dragon” is? I’m thinking it must be an aerial ignition device, but I’m wondering why the helicopter is hovering instead of landing in order to apparently transfer a hand-held device between the two people in the photo.


CAL FIRE hires their first permanent female helicopter pilot

Desiree Horton was recently hired into a permanent position by CAL FIRE, becoming their first female helicopter pilot. She has been working for the last year or so in a temporary position as a pilot for the agency, and before that she flew for many years as a contract pilot on firefighting helicopters, and as a news helicopter pilot in the Los Angeles area.

The video above announces that she will be featured in a report Wednesday night October 15 on the CBS station in Los Angeles.

Congratulations to Desiree!

UPDATE October 16, 2014: We have the full video of the TV station’s report here, that was broadcast on October 15.