Updates on RJ-85s, CV-580s, CL-215/415s

In addition to the news about the MD-87 and DC-10 air tankers we posted on Sunday (and updated today), there is also news about four or five other models of air tankers.

RJ-85s

Aero Flite’s two RJ-85s are now fully qualified and on contract. They are tankers 160 and 161, both piloted by initial attack qualified crews.

CV-580

Three CV-580s are in the lower 48 on loan from the state of Alaska. There was one more and a birdog that was borrowed from Canada, but they returned last week.

MAFFS

Last week the two C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) at the Channel Islands National Guard base in California were activated by the governor of California to help deal with wildfires in the northern part of the state. Two MAFFS from Cheyenne, Wyoming (MAFFS 1 & 3) had previously been activated and have mostly been working out of Boise, but last weekend their temporary home was the tanker base at Helena Regional Airport in Montana.

MAFFS at Helena
MAFFS 1 and 3 at Helena Regional Airport last weekend. Photo by Jeff Wadekamper.

On August 1, 17 California National Guard helicopters were also activated to assist with the fires in the state.

CL-215/415

The CL-415 and the two CL-215s late last week were working out of Deer Park Washington.

Number of air tankers increases for the first time since 2007

Conair RJ85 first flight
The first flight of Conair’s BAe Avro RJ85 in September, 2013, built for Aero-Flite. Conair photo by Jeff Bough.

The large air tanker fleet in the United States is on track to have more than double the number that were flying at the beginning of the summer in 2013. Last year there were nine large air tankers available near the beginning of the western fire season, and by mid-July this year there are expected to be 20 on contract that are fully certified, flyable, and ready to assist firefighters on the ground. Air tanker UTF In 2002 there were 44 large air tankers on exclusive use contracts, but that number as been generally in a downward spiral since then until it reached the low point of nine in 2013. Thanks to the the U.S. Forest Service adding three additional jet-powered BAe-146s to the “legacy contract” temporarily this year, and with nine other air tankers being on five-year or temporary one-year “next generation” contracts, we expect the air tanker fleet to be the largest since 2009.

Large air tankers-2014

Five of the 20 air tankers are on temporary one-year contracts added under the “additional equipment” provisions of the contracts that Neptune and 10 Tanker Air Carrier have for their BAe-146s and DC-10s. Unless the USFS decides again next year to award them another one-year contract (if they have the funds to do so) those five may disappear and the total number could decrease to 15.

Within the next week or so 16 large air tankers should be fully activated and on duty. There are still four that have contracts but are still going through the final stages of conversion, live drop tests, or approval of a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In addition to the 20 large air tankers, there will be 33 single engine air tankers (SEATs) on exclusive use national contracts.

10 Tanker Air Carrier is converting their third DC-10. It has all of the necessary approvals and is expected to be ready to fight fire in July.

Aero-Flite has the approval of the Interagency AirTanker Board and is waiting on the STC before their two RJ85s can begin work. They hope to have everything all squared away by mid- to late June.

Minden has been working on their BAe-146 for several years and has scheduled their airborne drop tests, the “grid test”, to begin the week of June 16. They are waiting for the FAA to issue their STC. The FAA representative who was working on it had to leave the country on an assignment, slowing down the process.

By mid-summer there will be three additional air tankers that that the U.S. Forest service could activate on one-year additional equipment contracts. Neptune, Erickson Aero Tanker, and Aero-Flite will each have one additional approved air tanker sitting on their ramps.

The U.S. Forest Service could have, with the stroke of a pen, a total of 23 large air tankers flying this summer. The states in the far west are expected to have an above normal wildfire potential this summer. If that turns out to be accurate and houses are burning and residents are being killed, some questions will be asked if those three recently converted next generation air tankers are still cooling their wheels on an airport ramp because a bureaucrat in the Department of Agriculture decided to look the other way.

Tanker 41
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, flyover May 21, 2014 at the University of Montana during the Large Fire Conference at Missoula. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Tanker 260 at Wiley Post Airport

Tanker 260, at Wiley Post Airport

These photos of Aero-Flite’s brand new CL-415, Tanker 260, were taken May 7 by Chet Dodrill of Chloeta Fire. The aircraft was at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City along with a King Air 200 air attack platform.

The word of mouth in the area is that the local firefighters were very pleased with the work T-260 did on the recent fires near Guthrie and Woodward, Oklahoma. One of the lakes it was scooping from on the Guthrie fire was five to ten miles away from the fire, which allowed quick turnarounds.

The registration number on the plane is N389AC.

Tanker 260, at Wiley Post Airport

UPDATED May 9, 2014: The photo below was posted on the Oklahoma Forestry Services Facebook page today, with this caption: “The aircraft, a CL415 Airtanker, a Single Engine Airtanker (SEAT) & an air attack platform lined up for the Media Day today.”

Media day, photo by Oklahoma Forestry Services

The video below features the CL-415.

News9.com – Oklahoma City, OK – News, Weather, Video and Sports |

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Below is the text of a press release issued by Bombardier in November when the sale of the aircraft was announced. It was posted on the Tenax website:

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“Today, Bombardier celebrated the sale and delivery of its 50th iconic Bombardier 415 superscooper aircraft assembled at its North Bay, Ontario facility. The aircraft, purchased by a partnership led by Tenax Aerospace, LLC of Ridgeland, Mississippi, will be used under contract to the United States Forest Service starting next month. Based on the list price, the Bombardier contract is valued at approximately $34.5 million USD.

The Bombardier 415 superscooper aircraft is a world-renowned firefighter and adapts to the roughest terrain and the only aircraft specifically built as an aerial firefighting airplane. It is able to land on unpaved runways, lakes, rivers and seas, enabling both rapid initial attacks to extinguish fires and sustained attacks to contain fires.

“Today, we are celebrating two milestones: the 50th Bombardier 415 aircraft assembled in North Bay, Ontario as well as the first United States Bombardier 415 aircraft sale and delivery,” said Michel Bourgeois, President, Specialized and Amphibious Aircraft, Bombardier Aerospace. “I want to congratulate the employees for this achievement and to welcome the Tenax team to the amphibious aircraft family. This is yet another testament to the true value of the expertise of our employees and of our superscooper aircraft that remains the top aerial firefighting choice around the world,” he continued.

While the 50th Bombardier 415 aircraft to roll out of North Bay, Ontario is the first to be sold to a United States customer, a total of five State and privately owned CL-215 aircraft, the predecessor to the Bombardier 415 aircraft, are currently operated in the United States.

Since the first Bombardier 415 amphibious aircraft was delivered in 1994, a total of 85 Bombardier 415 and four Bombardier 415 MP aircraft have been delivered to governments and firefighting agencies around the world. In addition, 80 CL-215 and CL-215T amphibious piston aircraft remain in service worldwide.

About the Bombardier 415 aircraft

The Bombardier 415 firefighter aircraft has a normal cruise speed of 180 KT (333 km/h) under certain conditions. In an average mission of six nautical miles (11 kilometres) distance from water to fire, it can complete nine drops within an hour and precisely deliver 14,589 US gallons (55,233 litres) of fire suppressant.”

Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260 used in Oklahoma

KOCO has an article and photos of Aero-Flite’s brand new CL-415 water scooping air tanker (Tanker 260) that relocated from Florida to Oklahoma City a few days ago to be used on the fires in the area. Michelle Self posted a video on her Facebook page of it scooping out of Lake Liberty (map) while it was working on the fire near Guthrie, OK. The lake was five to ten miles west of the fire which would have contributed to very fast turnaround times for the 1,600-gallon water drops.

Update on next-gen air tankers

Tanker 160 retardant grid test December 13, 2013
Aero-Flite’s Tanker 160 at the retardant grid test, December 13, 2013. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

Five companies received contracts on May 6, 2013 for seven “next-generation” air tankers. Of those seven, only two have met all of the specifications in the contracts and received the required certifications from the FAA and the Interagency AirTanker Board (IATB) for a supplemental type certificate, a static drop test on the ground, and an airborne test of dropping retardant into a grid of hundreds of cups. The two that have passed and have flown on fires are 10 Tanker Air Carrier’s 11,600-gallon DC-10, and Coulson Group’s 3,500-gallon C-130Q.

Here is what we learned this week while talking with aviation professionals at Cheyenne.

Minden Air Corp, who received a contract for one BAe-146, has passed the static test. They have not attempted a formal monitored grid test. The retardant system they are building has some impressive capabilities, including a high flow rate and a great amount of flexibility in the flow rate. It has the ability to select two different flow rates on one drop, for example, going from coverage level 5 to coverage level 8. (The numbers refer to the number of gallons of retardant that lands on 100 square feet of flat terrain.) That feature could be used when there is a change in vegetation or topography, moving, for example from grass to timber, or flat terrain to a steep slope. In each case it would be helpful to increase the coverage level.

Erickson Aero Tanker, received contracts for two MD-87s. One of the aircraft participated in a grid test in January, and the Interagency Air Tanker Board is still reviewing the results. Even though they added a fairing to modify how the air flow affected the performance of the aircraft and the retardant flow near the fuselage, the aircraft experienced some problems in qualifying at the higher coverage levels. The engineers may need to enlarge the retardant door openings to increase the flow rates.

Aero-Flite has two RJ-85s, an aircraft similar to the BAe-146. It has passed the grid test and the company is working on obtaining dual “citizenship”, supplemental type certificates for the retardant system from Transport Canada and the United States FAA . It is likely that the aircraft will be certified very soon by the IATB for an 18-month interim approval, which will be the new standard operating procedure for air tankers that receive an initial blessing from the IATB. The interim approval provides an opportunity for field trials, to determine if anything surfaces that was not apparent during the static, STC, and grid tests.

Bonus coverage:

Evergreen’s 747 “Supertanker” was not part of the next-gen contract, but the company did have a couple of call when needed contracts (CWN), with the last one being issued June 14, 2013. After receiving the contract Evergreen scheduled a needed C check which would have started August 2, and depending on what was found during the process would have been ready to fly in mid- to late September — about the time the western wildfire season begins to wind down. The cost of the C check is over a million dollars. But a few weeks after receiving the contract, Bob Soelberg, the Vice President of Evergreen Supertanker Services, told Fire Aviation they reconsidered and decided to postpone the C check since there was “insufficient fire season remaining to justify the expense of an expedited C check as well as several system or component upgrades.”

A matter of weeks after Mr. Soelberg gave us that update the company filed for bankruptcy. The change in ownership made the CWN contract void. As of now, the 20,000-gallon 747 Supertanker is not covered by an air tanker contract.

Neptune has one BAe-146 working on the “legacy” air tanker contract, even though it now meets the criteria for a next-gen, including the required air speed and a 3,000-gallon retardant capacity. Before they modified the tanking system for the third time last fall, the tank held about 2,900 gallons and there was a problem in coverage level of the last 400 gallons exiting the tank, so the Forest Service restricted it to only carrying 2,500 gallons. The modifications increased the tank size to 3,000 gallons and made other changes in the system. At another grid test last fall it showed improved consistency for all 3,000 gallons, and in the flow rate at all coverage levels. As a result the Forest Service has now certified the tank system to carry 3,000 gallon of retardant. Their new design is innovative in that it uses GPS to measure the aircraft speed and then can automatically modulate the retardant flow rate to maintain the desired coverage level. They also have a sensor on the drop tubes which measures the actual flow rate. They system can then direct the valves or doors to change the size of the opening in order to maintain the coverage level as other factors change, such as the head pressure in the tank or if the aircraft encounters turbulence. Neptune expects to have a total of five BAe-146 air tankers available by later this summer.

Tanker 160 photographed at the retardant grid test

Tanker 160 retardant grid test December 13, 2013
Tanker 160 retardant grid test, December 13, 2013. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

Jeff Zimmerman took this photo of Aero Flite’s Tanker 160, an Avro RJ85 which was converted into an air tanker by Conair. It was shot during the grid test at Fox Field in southern California December 13, 2013. More photos and a video of Tanker 160 at the grid test can be found HERE. The test involves dropping retardant over a grid of hundreds of cups, intended to measure the volume and consistency of the pattern when it hits the ground.

Last year Aero-Flite received a contract for two Avro RJ85 air tankers from the U.S. Forest Service as part of the agency’s next-generation air tanker program.

You can see more of Jeff’s photography at his site. Thanks Jeff.

Erickson Aero Tanker’s T-101, an MD-87, went through the same tests last week.

Tanker 160 goes through retardant drop grid tests

T160 dropping

On December 11 Aero Flite’s Tanker 160 began a series of retardant drop tests for their Avro RJ85 at Fox Field in southern California. The aircraft, converted into an air tanker by Conair, was expected to perform 20 to 25 drops over a two or three day period. The process involves dropping retardant over a grid of thousands of cups, intended to measure the volume and consistency of the pattern when it hits the ground. The Interagency AirTanker Board requires passing this and other certifications before an aircraft can be “carded” as a federal air tanker, which makes it eligible for a contract to fight fires. Both paid and inmate fire crews were on hand at Fox Field to assist with the set-up of the grid and the collection of the cups after each drop.

Randy Johnson uploaded this video:

T160 dropping

The grid. Thousands of cups.
The grid. Thousands of cups. Click to enlarge.

Tanker 160, an RJ85 which is similar to a BAe-146, is being converted by Conair for Aero Flite, which received a contract June 7 for two RJ85s. The aircraft were not ready and missed the contractual start date a couple of months later. The U.S. Forest Service then issued “cure notices” to Aero Flite and two other companies that received the next generation contracts for five air tankers, none of which met the required start date. Aero Flite responded saying the aircraft would be available between April and June, 2014. Later in a justification for awarding a sole source contract to Neptune for two BAe-146 air tankers, the USFS wrote they were “not confident that five of the seven contracted NextGen airtankers will be available to fight fires in 2014″.

Thanks go out to the Los Angeles County Fire Department which took these photos.

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to John