News from the Aerial Firefighting conference, Part One

Above: the Air Tractor display at the Aerial Firefighting conference.

Here are a few notes that I scribbled in a notebook at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week. This is Part One — I will post Part Two later.


Air Tractor
Mike Schoenau, an Air Tractor dealer out of Tulare, CA, said a new single engine air tanker is being flight tested now. The model name is AT-1002 and will hold up to 1,000 gallons. You will be able to purchase one for yourself for about $2.5 Million.

Fire Boss
Fire BossThe Bureau of Land Management has not released their list of SEATs on contract this year, many of which will be the amphibious Fire Boss, a variant of the Air Tractor 802. Fire Boss doesn’t know if they will be converting the new AT-1002 1,000-gallon SEAT to use floats.

10 Tanker

Rick Hatton, 10 Tanker
RIck Hatton of 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

Their fourth converted DC-10, Tanker 914, will be ready to fight fire this summer. Rick Hatton, the President and CEO of  10 Tanker Air Carrier, said their approval by the Interagency Airtanker Board came to the end of its six-year term, so they retook the grid test in December. Their three DC-10s averaged about 300 hours on fires in 2017, which is more than usual.

I got into a long detailed conversation with Mr. Hatton about how their retardant delivery system can maintain a constant flow, adjusting for the amount of retardant in the tank, drop height, and speed. It usually drops at 150 knots and 200 feet.

Hours per CL-415
As we reported yesterday, Shawna Legarza, the USFS Director of Fire and Aviation, said the two CL-415 scooping air tankers that were on USFS contract in 2017 each had over 400 hours of fire flight time. Due to a reduction in the firefighting budget, the two scoopers had to be cut this year from the exclusive use list. At least a couple are still on a CWN contract, but they may or may not be available if the USFS Calls them When Needed.

Columbia
Columbia HelicoptersKeith Saylor, Columbia’s Director of Commercial Operations, said the company will have three Type 1 helicopters, CH-47 Chinooks, on exclusive use contract this year. Two have internal tanks and one will use an external bucket.

Conair
ConairShawn Bethel, Conair’s Director, International Business Development, said the external tank on the Q400 can be removed in about three hours by 9 to 12 workers. They recently received a contract to supply six Q400’s to France’s Securite Civile (Department of Civil Defense and Emergency Preparedness).

The Q400 MR can carry up to 10,000 liters (2,600 gallons) of water or retardant. In addition to the nine S-2’s and two Q-400’s, France also has twelve CL-415’s and 40 helicopters.

Air Tractor enters UAS market, acquires Yield Defender

Air Tractor, the Texas company that manufactures single engine air tankers and crop dusters, has acquired Hangar 78 UAV, and its flagship aircraft, the Yield Defender unmanned aerial system (UAS).

“We have done our research, and it’s clear that aggressively investing and further developing unmanned aerial systems into agriculture will enable Air Tractor to remain an industry leader and provide the latest technology to ag producers as UAS capabilities mature and are integrated into the industry,” said Jim Hirsch, President of Air Tractor.

Yielddefender
Yielddefender

Sensors available on the Yielddefender aircraft include near infrared and will “soon” enable 3-D mapping and thermal imaging. The company designs their systems for “real estate agents, farmers/ranchers, search and rescue, mining, oil and gas, forestry and many more”.

I wonder if Air Tractor is looking way down the road at converting the 802A into an autonomous UAS night-flying crop duster.

Air Tractor 802A
Air Tractor 802A. Air Tractor photo.

 

Report: U.S. may give armed SEATs to Yemen

Air Tractor AT-802U
Air Tractor AT-802U

Aircraft that are frequently used as crop dusters and single engine air tankers (SEATs) may be given to the government of Yemen to battle terrorists. BuzzFeed reports that models being considered are the Air Tractor AT-802U and Thrush. The two-seater aircraft would be equipped with laser-guided missiles and high-tech electronic intelligence equipment, as well as armor to protect the crew.

Wildfire Today reported on the armed AT-802U back in 2009 when it was a hit at the Paris Air Show.

The U.S. considered using drones, but they are getting a bad reputation. Officials apparently decided on sending up to ten of the single engine aircraft to Yemen, at least in part because “even poorly trained Yemeni pilots could learn to fly them”.

BuzzFeed reports:

According to a Central Command memorandum dated Feb. 3 and obtained by BuzzFeed, the “Precision Strike” program for Yemen would “greatly enhance counter terrorism (CT) objectives to support action against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” The U.S. government says AQAP is a Yemeni-based group that has tried to launch terrorist attacks against the U.S., including the infamous failed effort by the “underwear bomber,” Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in 2009.

One choice for Yemen’s “Precision Strike” plane, according to documents and the sources, is a version of an “Air Tractor” plane called a 802U. It’s a hardy airplane, manufactured in Texas. The fuselage resembles a World War II Spitfire fighter plane, though it flies more slowly.

Asked about the Yemen project, Air Tractor Inc.’s president, Jim Hirsch, said, “I’m not at liberty to discuss that program.” Although the Air Tractor is widely used as an agriculture plane for crop spraying, the company makes a version it says is for “counterinsurgency operations,” and Air Tractor’s website bills it as “a true irregular warfare aircraft.”

The other plane in the running is a Thrush, which looks similar to the Air Tractor and is also usually used as a crop duster. It is manufactured in Georgia by Thrush Aircraft.

Air Tractor AT-802U
Air Tractor AT-802U