An air attack plane crashed May 17 in Arizona

We just found out that 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. It was operated by Ponderosa Aviation and was taking off from Sierra Vista Municipal Airport – Libby Army Airfield, in Arizona.

Below is an excerpt from the NTSB preliminary report:

The pilot and certified flight instructor were seriously injured, and the airplane sustained substantial damage throughout. The airplane was registered to, and operated by Ponderosa Aviation Inc. under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as an orientation flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local area flight.

Witnesses reported they observed the airplane takeoff normally. When it was over the departure end of the runway, they heard a distinct “pop pop” noise followed by silence. The airplane immediately made a steep left turn; as the wings started to level, it descended below rising terrain. Shortly thereafter they observed a large dust cloud.

On November 23, 2011 another Ponderosa Aviation aircraft, a Rockwell 690, crashed, killing six people including three children and Russel Hardy, a co-owner of the company. The NTSB concluded that the cause of that crash on a moonless night was “controlled flight into terrain”.

Although the airplane was technically not airworthy due to the unaccomplished inspection, the investigation did not reveal any preimpact airframe, avionics, engine, or propeller discrepancies that would have precluded normal operation. Airplane performance derived from radar tracking data did not suggest any mechanical abnormalities or problems.

Contributing to the accident were the pilot’s complacency and lack of situational awareness and his failure to use air traffic control visual flight rules flight following or minimum safe altitude warning services. Also contributing to the accident was the airplane’s lack of onboard terrain awareness and warning system equipment.

An air attack plane operated by Houston Air experienced a very hard landing at Wilcox, AZ on July 2.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Duncan.

UDPATE: Hard landing for an Air Attack ship at Willcox

Courtesy Cochise County Sheriff's Office
Courtesy Cochise County Sheriff’s Office

Update 5:45 p.m. MDT, July 7, 2014; originally published July 3, 2014): An air attack fixed wing aircraft, an Aero Commander 500, overshot the runway while landing at Wilcox, AZ (map) on July 2.

The two people on board were not injured when their plane had a “hard landing” at the airport around 7:35 p.m., according to the Wilcox Range News. They were transported to a local hospital and were later released.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident. The plane was operating under a federal contract with Houston Air, and was flying back from the Whetstone Mountains Fire, also called the Radio Fire.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the Coronado National Forest had operational control of the 600 acre fire. The Forest considered the fire a possible threat, they said, but the fire was not burning on forest land. The Arizona State Forestry Division ordered the plane at the Forest’s request.

Carrie Dennett, a spokesperson for Arizona State Forestry Division, told us her agency had operational control of the aircraft.

New National Historic Landmark recognizes mid-air over the Grand Canyon

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis today marked National Park Week by announcing the designation of four new national historic landmarks

  • Adlai Stevenson II Farm in Illinois,
  • The Detroit Industry Murals in Michigan,
  • George Nakashima Woodworker Complex in Pennsylvania, and
  • 1956 Grand Canyon TWA-United Airlines Aviation Accident Site in Arizona.

Below is a brief description of the mid-air crash of two airliners over the Grand Canyon.

1956 Grand Canyon TWA-United Airlines Aviation Accident Site, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

On June 30, 1956, a Trans World Airlines Super Constellation L-1049 and a United Airlines DC-7 collided in uncongested airspace 21,000 feet over the Grand Canyon in Arizona, killing all 128 people onboard the two flights. The tragedy spurred an unprecedented effort to modernize and increase safety in America’s postwar airways, culminating in the establishment of the modern Federal Aviation Administration. Other improvements that resulted from the crash included nationwide radar coverage, a common military/civilian navigation system, and the development of technologies such as collision avoidance systems and flight data recorders.

1956 crash over Grand Canyon
The severed tail section of the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation operating as TWA Flight 2 on June 30, 1956. TWA Flight 2 collided with United Flight 718 in what became known as the 1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision. The photo was taken by National Park Service employees in the course of the Civil Aeronautics Board’s investigation of the crash.

DC-10 takes off every six seconds

You may not have heard of Vine. It’s a new social media/networking site that allows you to upload six-second videos, which then keep repeating, forever I guess. That’s about all I know about it. But check out this video of one of the DC-10 air tankers taking off at Mesa Gateway en route to the Doce Fire, which grew from zero to 5,000 acres Tuesday afternoon. When you go to the site you may have to click on the image to start the video.

That video and this one showing Tanker 910 taxiing at Mesa Gateway were shot by Jason Volentine, of KTVK 3TV News in Phoenix, AZ.

Both DC-10s were working the Doce Fire today out of Mesa Gateway. That must have kept the workers at the tanker base busy.

AZCentral has some videos HERE and HERE of air tankers and a helicopter dropping on the fire. The 12News TV station’s Facebook page has some photos of the fire.

Two DC-10 air tankers at Mesa Gateway
Two DC-10 air tankers at Mesa Gateway airport in Phoenix, fighting the Doce Fire, 6-18-2013. Photo by Jason Volentine KTVK

More information about the the Doce Fire is at Wildfire Today.

DC-10 air tanker at Phoenix


The news footage above indicates some of the people in the Phoenix area are pleased to have one of the DC-10 air tankers temporarily working out of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport. Some Snake River Hotshots crewmembers detailed there out of Idaho are also interviewed in the piece.

After flying 10 missions on the Powerhouse Fire in southern California over two days, the air tanker flew two missions Tuesday on the Thompson Ridge fire which is spreading rapidly west of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Today they are back on the Thompson Ridge Fire again, reloading out of Roswell, New Mexico.

More photos of firefighting aircraft on Google Earth

One of our readers has spotted what he says are three helicopters and one air tanker that show up in satellite imagery visible on Google Earth. Brian found them on satellite photos taken June 12, 2011 which show the Wallow Fire in eastern Arizona actively burning.

Last month on Wildfire Today we had information about three aircraft that showed up on Google Earth satellite photos taken October 26, 2006 during the Esperanza fire in southern California. This link is a Google Earth KLM file that has place marks for all three aircraft. On that imagery, the air tankers were clearly visible. The four reported on the Wallow fire are not as clear, partly because three of them are helicopters, which of course are smaller than air tankers.

But check it out yourself. Here is the information provided by Brian. You can copy the lat/long and paste it into the search box on Google Earth.

  • AE350B helicopter: 33 32 40.27 -109 24 10.21
  • B212 helicopter: 33 32 46.02 -109 24 01.06
  • S64 helicopter: 33 32 55.26 -109 23 13.25
  • P2V air tanker: 33 32 44.35 -109 26 33.99

Even if the aircraft are not super clear, it is interesting seeing the photos of the active Wallow fire which started May 29, eventually becoming the largest fire in Arizona history, burning 538,040 acres, which includes 15,407 acres after it crossed the border into New Mexico.