Making a withdrawal from the Bank of Experience

Sully, the movie about the Miracle on the Hudson that opened today has so far received pretty good reviews. As you may know, it is about the aircraft that struck a flock of geese at 3,200 feet about 100 seconds after taking off from La Guardia airport near New York City.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger
Captain Chesley Sullenberger. Photo by Ingrid Taylar.

Chesley B. Sullenberger III was the pilot in command. After both engines went silent he said to his First Officer whose turn it was to take off on that flight, “My aircraft”.

Captain Sullenberger, now often called “Sully”, was selected for a cadet glider program while attending the Air Force Academy. By the end of that year he was an instructor pilot. When he graduated in 1973 he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship award, as the class “top flyer”. He went on to fly F-4 Phantoms in the Air Force and served as a member of an aircraft accident investigation board in the Air Force. After he became a commercial pilot for US Airways he occasionally assisted the NTSB on accident investigations and taught courses on Crew Resource Management.

When the geese hit the engines January 15, 2009, Sully felt the impact, but more disturbing was the the sensation after the engines quit of slightly moving forward in his harness as the aircraft suddenly went from accelerating to slowing — at low altitude over New York City when they were supposed to be climbing.

US Airways did not have a checklist for the loss of both engines in an Airbus A320 at low altitude. The First Officer, Jeffery Skiles, went through the checklist for restarting the engines, but of course had no success. Sully evaluated their options — returning to La Guardia, diverting to Teterboro airport, or the third choice, a water landing in the Hudson River. Based on his experience, and drawing on his background as a glider pilot, he determined that it was impossible to make it to either airport. He lowered the nose and headed toward the river.

Passing 900 feet above the George Washington Bridge he pointed the aircraft so it would come to rest near a boat he spotted, thinking that it could help pull the passengers out of the very cold water on that winter day. Working with his First Officer, they made the only non-fatal water landing of a large commercial aircraft in recent history.

Airbus Hudson river
US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. Photo by Greg L.

As the 150 passengers and four other crew members climbed out onto the wings and waited for rescue by ferry boats, Sully walked through the passenger compartment as it took on water to make sure everyone was off, then grabbed the maintenance log book and was the last one to exit the aircraft.

In a  recent interview Katie Couric conducted with Sully director Clint Eastwood and actors Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart, she recalled something Sully, who at the time had 19,663 flight hours, told her not long after the successful water landing:

For 42 years I’ve been making small regular deposits in this bank of experience, education, and training. On January 15 the balance was sufficient so I could make a very large withdrawal.

In the last few decades wildland firefighters have used another name for the “bank of experience”, their “slide file” —  memories of the situations they have been in over the course of their careers, good experiences and bad ones, all of which left data from which they can extrapolate solutions to new situations.

There is of course no substitute for an account balance in a bank of experience or a slide file. You can acquire incremental bits of it from books and training. But you can’t write a check and easily transfer it to someone else, not entirely, anyway. It has to be earned and learned, organically.

And here’s hoping you don’t have to “make a very large withdrawal”, on the ground or in the air.

Be-200ES strikes tree, lands safely

Be-1200ES wing damage tree strike
This is reportedly damage to the wing of a Be-200ES after striking a tree while fighting a wildfire in Portugal.

A Be-200ES struck a tree August 14 while fighting a fire in Portugal but thankfully was able to land safely at Leiria. The jet-powered amphibious water scooper sustained major damage to a pontoon, the right wing leading edge, and the right side wing flaps. There were no reports of injuries to the crew. Other photos of the damage can be seen here.

Since last week two Be-200ES air tankers have been on loan to Portugal by the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations after a rash of numerous fires in the country and on Madeira Island.

This is not the first time a Russian Be-200 hit a tree in Portugal. A similar accident occurred July 6, 2006 when the aircraft was leased to the Portuguese government as a trial to evaluate its effectiveness. After scooping water on a lake the left wing hit a tree.

From the Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã at the time:

…While hitting the top of the trees, leaves and some wood entered the left engine, which didn’t blow up, but that had to be turned off and the pilot was forced to release fuel for safety reasons. The release of the fuel started small wildfires across the area, reaching some houses, which were quickly extinguished by firefighters and helitack units of the GNR’s Intervention, Protection and Rescue Group.

The airplane was able to do an emergency landing at the Monte Real Air Base.

Until this month, Be-200 air tankers had not been used in Portugal since the 2006 incident. Maybe they’ll wait another 10 years before they try again.

Landing gear failure grounds CL-415 air tankers in France

CL-415 landing gear failure
CL-415 landing gear failure on a CL-415 in France closed the airport at Ajaccio, Corsica on Tuesday. Photo SSLIA 2A.

On Monday the right side main landing gear on a CL-415 air tanker failed while the aircraft was taxiing prior to taking off at the Ajaccio, Corsica airport. When the gear collapsed the right side wing dropped to the ground damaging the float and causing some fuel to spill from a damaged fuel tank.

There were no injuries to the crew of the air tanker but the airport was closed for several hours until the aircraft could be moved.

The entire fleet of twelve CL-415s in France are grounded until an inspection can determine the cause of the gear failure. Depending on the findings, inspections may be required on all of the aircraft.

Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea belonging to France.

Below is a excerpt from a statement issued by Civil Security. It is roughly translated from French by Google:

The accident investigation office of Defense (CRDP), competent for state aircraft (…) triggered an investigation. Alongside technical survey is conducted in conjunction with the aircraft manufacturer, the Canadian company Bombardier.

Following these analyzes, which should take about 48 hours, Bombardier will determine whether it is necessary to carry out inspections on the landing gear of the Canadair fleet of civil security and in what protocol before allow the resumption of operations.

In addition to the CL-415 water scoopers, France also has access to S2-T and Dash 8 air tankers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Jerome and Jan.

Martin Mars damaged at Wisconsin airshow

 

(Note to our readers: the above video was shot several days ago during a successful demonstration flight of the Martin Mars.)

The Martin Mars struck shallow rocks in Lake Winnebago on Friday while doing a demonstration during Wisconsin’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow, according to a Canadian news report.

Pilots were scooping water out of the lake when an engine warning light came on, and they were forced to abandon take off. The plane struck shallow rocks, which punched a few repairable holes in the plane’s belly, according to the news report.

Yakima firefighters save helicopter from crash landing

Last week members of the Yakima Fire Department rushed to save a damaged helicopter from a crash landing at the Yakima Air Terminal.

The helicopter had been on a search and rescue mission for a lost hiker when its fuselage and one of its skids were heavily damaged, according to local media reports. 

In dramatic fashion, the helicopter was forced to hover over the tarmac while firefighters cobbled together a landing platform out of wooden palettes, The Yakima Herald reported. Some crew members and passengers jumped out of the helicopter while it hovered.

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

More information about Croman’s S-61A crash

S-61A crash sikorsky helicopter
S-61A crash

It was initially described as a “hard landing”. However, information from the FAA and a photo we received indicate an incident that involved one of Croman’s S-61A Sikorsky helicopters on August 19, 2015 (that we wrote about on August 24) was more than that. We can’t verify with 100 percent certainty that the helicopter in the photo above is Croman’s S-61A, N1043T that crashed that day while working on the Eldorado Fire eight miles southeast of Unity, Oregon. But the person who sent us the photo said it is, and the paint job, the position of the helicopter, and the damage to the tail boom match the NTSB’s description of the crash.

Below is text from the NTSB Preliminary Report, ID# WPR15LA248, that was updated on September 3, 2015:

****

“14 CFR Part 133: Rotorcraft Ext. Load
Accident occurred Wednesday, August 19, 2015 in Ironside, OR
Aircraft: SIKORSKY S 61A, registration: N1043T
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On August 19, 2015, about 1930 Pacific daylight time, a Sikorsky S-61A, N1043T, landed on a mountainside after experiencing a partial loss of engine power about 7 miles west of Ironside, Oregon. The commercial pilot sustained no injuries and the air transport pilot sustained minor injuries. The helicopter sustained substantial damage to the tailboom. The helicopter was registered to, and operated by, Croman Corp under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 133 as a firefighting flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated under a company flight plan. The flight originated from Baker City Municipal Airport (BKE), Baker City, Oregon at 1715.

The commercial pilot reported that shortly after picking up a bucket of water from a pond he gained airspeed and initiated a climbing left turn back towards the fire. As the helicopter started to climb, he heard a drop in RPM and the helicopter lost power. He attempted to continue the climb; however, the helicopter was too heavy. He released the water and landed the helicopter on a mountain side; subsequently, the helicopter rolled onto its right side.

The helicopter has been recovered to a secure location for further examination.”

****

UPDATE, September 15, 2015:

Earlier this year a Croman S-61A helicopter’s main rotor hit a tree while dipping water on the Cabin Fire on the Sequoia National Forest in California. Below is an excerpt from the Rapid Lesson Sharing report dated August 4, 2015:

****

“…As the pilots descended into the dipsite, the SIC communicated instructions to the PIC to “stay left” of the trees. While in the dip, the PIC heard what he suspected was a blade strike, called out the strike, jettisoned the water and immediately initiated a climb out to get clear of the area.

The pilots assessed the condition of the blades and saw no noticeable damage while in flight. On the climb out, the SIC noticed a smaller di-ameter tree (estimated to be about 8 ft. in height) that had been located at the helicopter’s 4 o’clock position, and missing its top. The Air Attack was notified about the potential blade strike and the pilots provided their intentions to land at the first opportunity. During the short flight to the first suitable landing site, the pilots noted no vibrations or abnormalities.

The crew performed a precautionary landing in a field located approximately 10 minutes away from the dip site. The Helicopter Manager was notified of the situation via cell phone. After shut down was complete, the pilots inspected the main rotor blade damage. Maintenance inspectors determined the main rotor blades, rotor-head, transmission and high speed shafts required replacement. The NTSB deter-mined the blade strike as an “Incident”, and it was further classified by the Forest Service as an “Incident with Potential”…”

MAFFS pilot talks about landing without a nose wheel

MAFFS hard landing
The MAFFS 3 air tanker experienced a hard landing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Aug. 17, 2014 following an in flight emergency. There were no injuries and only minor damage to the aircraft. Photo supplied by Hill AFB, Utah. (click to enlarge)

More details are coming to light regarding the Modular Airborne FireFighting System C-130 that landed August 17 without the nose wheel fully extended.

Maj. Derik George, a C-130 pilot with the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing was part of the crew that recently received the Air Mobility Command Chief of Safety Aircrew of Distinction Award for their efforts following a landing gear malfunction while fighting fires in southern Utah.

The MAFFS C-130 crew was attempting to land at Hill Air Force Base, Utah after conducting aerial firefighting missions in southern Utah Aug. 17, 2014 when Maj. Jack Berquist, aircraft commander, and George, co-pilot, realized the nose landing gear was not functioning properly.

“As we were approaching to land, Maj. Berquist, who was flying, asked for the gear down. After lowering the landing gear we got an unsafe gear indication in the nose,” said George.

The crew stayed in the traffic pattern at Hill and started on their emergency procedures. There are three ways to get the nose landing gear down but none of them worked. They called a Lockheed Martin engineer and test pilot but neither call fixed the problem. The U.S. Forest Service sent a lead plane to see if that pilot could determine what was wrong from flying underneath the aircraft, but again, nothing helped. After more than three hours of circling the airfield, the crew determined they had no other choice but to attempt a landing.

“At that point we said, ‘well, we are out of options, we are just going to land with the nose gear up.’ We called the tower, and they were able to put foam on the runway, that way it would arrest any fire that might start. We ran our checklists again, making sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. Jack Berquist was flying, he did a fantastic job. I don’t think he could’ve done any better. He held the nose up as long as possible and was able to get the nose on the ground in the foam,” said George.

The aircraft came to a stop and the tower let the crew know a small fire started under the nose. The crew shut everything down and egressed to a safe area. The emergency crews on the ground quickly put the fire out.

“The most rewarding thing of the whole day was how well the crew worked together,” said George, who has nearly 1,500 C-130 and more than 3,700 total flight hours. “The navigator was Active Duty, I was a Reservist. The other four crew members were Wyoming Air National Guard. It was very seamless. Everybody knew exactly what to do. MAFFS crews are some of the most highly experienced and best trained crews in the Air Force.”

The efforts by the MAFFS 3 crew resulted in the safe return of six airmen and only minor damage to a $37 million aircraft.

“Other than the fact that there was a mechanical malfunction, which is pretty rare, there was nothing that surprised me about this event. We look for top notch people, we train hard. They tried ‘A,’ they tried ‘B,’ they tried ‘C,’ and they ended up having to do ‘D,'” said Lt. Col. Luke Thompson, 302nd AW chief of aerial firefighting. “It all worked, just the way it should have.”

Besides Berquist, Goebel and George, the other crew members were flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Damian Hoffmann, and load masters, Master Sgts. Brandon York and Christian Reese.

Four C-130 wings perform the MAFFS mission, each providing two MAFFS-capable aircraft and the air and ground crews needed to operate them. They are the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard; 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard; 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, in Colorado.

Summary of air tanker use, 2014

There were more requests for large air tankers (LATs) in 2014 than in any of the last 18 years. That is one of the facts in the 2014 version of the Wildland Fire Summary and Statistics put together by the National Interagency Fire Center.

We used data from the report to update statistics that we have been collecting over the years, including the chart below.

Graph, request for large air tankers

One of the more interesting trends is the number of requests for LATs that cannot be filled, referred to as Unable to Fill, or UTF. After reaching a high of 48 percent in 2012, it declined to 21 and then 12 percent in the next two years even as the number of requests for LATs was increasing.

One thing we don’t know is how many Incident Commanders needed air tankers but didn’t bother to request them because they knew that none were available.

Acres burned in wildfires

Two stats for 2014 indicate there would be a reduced urgent need for air tankers. The number of acres burned in the 48 contiguous states in 2014, 3.4 million, was significantly below the 10 year average of 5.7 million. And the number of structures burned, 1,953 was less than the 10 year average of 3,098.

At the beginning of 2014 there were 10 LATs on exclusive use contracts. By the end of the year there were 17 — eight were added and Minden’s P2V had a landing gear problem (see below) which took it out of service indefinitely. The additional air tankers on exclusive use contracts included:

  • 2 RJ-85s from Aero Flite;
  • 2 MD-87s from Erickson Aero Tanker;
  • 1 DC-10 from 10 Tanker Air Carrier; and
  • 3 BAe-146s from Neptune

In the list of eight additional air tankers listed above, the DC-10 and the three BAe-146s were brought into service as “additional equipment” on a 1-year temporary basis under an exclusive use contract awarded in 2013. Due to a change in Department of the Interior procurement policies, this will not be done again in 2015.

Minden was awarded a Next-Gen contract for a BAe-146 in 2013, but never delivered the aircraft. Recently the USFS terminated the contract for default.

MAFFS 3 hard landing
The MAFFS 3 air tanker experienced a hard landing at Hill Air Force Base on August 17. There were no injuries. Photo supplied by the Air Force, originally from Fox 13.

One air tanker was borrowed in 2014 from Canada for 10 days. Saskatchewan provided a Convair 580 and a TurboCommander 690 Bird Dog beginning on July 21. The air tanker group was in place until July 30, when it returned to Canada following a recall from Saskatchewan due to increased fire activity there.

Two Modular Airborne FireFighting System aircraft, C-130s from the military, were activated on July 20 and positioned at Boise. MAFFS 3 experienced a hard landing at Hill AFB when they had a problem with the nose landing gear. While no injuries occurred, the damage ended the service of MAFFS 3 for 2014, but MAFFS1 remained until August 24. MAFFS units provided retardant delivery to the Great Basin, Northwest and Northern Rocky Geographic Areas while employed from July 20 through August 24, delivering a total of 244,406 gallons while conducting 97 sorties. This is down from 2013 when 576 sorties were flown delivering 1,387,881 gallons of retardant.

Other notable aircraft mishaps or crashes in 2014:

  • Pilot Geoffrey “Craig” Hunt was killed when his S-2T air tanker impacted the ground while he was attempting to make his second retardant drop on the Dog Rock Fire October 7 near Yosemite National Park in California.
  • An air attack fixed wing aircraft, an Aero Commander 500, overshot the runway while landing at Wilcox, AZ on July 2.
  • Tanker 73, one of CAL FIRE’s 23 S-2Ts, had a problem while landing at Hemet-Ryan Airport Friday, October 3 in southern California. The preliminary information indicated that it was a landing gear issue.
  • A Bell 206-L3 made a crash landing into a river May 29 while recertifying for water bucket operations near Missoula, Montana.
  • On June 15, Minden’s P2V, Tanker 48, was substantially damaged when the nose wheel landing gear collapsed during landing roll at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), Fresno, California.
  • On October 4 an air attack aircraft ran off the runway at Nevada County Airport near Grass Valley, California.
  • An air attack plane under contract to the Department of the Interior crashed May 17 at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The Rockwell Aero Commander 500S impacted the ground shortly after takeoff. The aircraft was on an orientation flight for a new pilot on the air attack contract. Two company employees, but no agency personnel, were on board. There was an unconfirmed report that one person died several days later.