San Diego will borrow a scooping air tanker

Above: Aero Spray’s Tanker 210 makes a demonstration drop in San Diego County on June 22. Screen grab from San Diego Fire-Rescue’s video.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department will have the free use of an amphibious Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss single engine air tanker for about six weeks this summer. They worked out a deal with Aero Spray to have the aircraft available through the end of July. (The Aero Spray company should not be confused with Aero-Flite, Aero Tech, or Air Spray — all are different outfits.)

Over the last 15 to 20 years the city of San Diego and the County of San Diego have both been criticized for fighting wildland fire on the cheap. In 2008 Wildfire Today covered the last time the City contracted for scooping air tankers, when they actually paid for two Bombardier CL-415 Superscoopers and a lead plane for three months. The City has at least two Type 2 helicopters with belly tanks for dropping water on fires. According to the department’s web site, they are also used for:

…hoist-air rescue, short-haul air rescue, shoreline rescue, helicopter swiftwater rescue, night vision goggle operations, patient transport, vehicle rescue, large animal rescue, fire mapping, infrared detection, disaster assessment, and have the ability to assist in high-rise fire incidents.

Joanna Clark, with Aero Spray’s communication firm, told us that three lakes have been approved as scooping sites, Lower Otay Lake, Sweetwater Reservoir, and Lake Hodges. 

The Aero Spray Fire Boss can carry up to 800 gallons of water it scoops from a lake. It has a thermal infrared system to assist the pilot in targeting hot spots. Jamie Sargent from the company said half of their nine Fire Bosses have blending systems for mixing gel into the water to increase its effectiveness.

The arrangement between the City and Aero Spray was announced June 22 at Lower Otay Lake where a Fire Boss made demonstration drops for the media, as seen in the video below.

N.W.T. new scoopers to be operated by Buffalo Airways

Buffalo P3 Joe McBryan
File photo: Ronald Guy (left) of United Aeronautical congratulates Joe McBryan (right) of Buffalo Airways, March 19, 2014 at McClellan Air Force Base March 19, 2014. Buffalo Airways had just purchased Tanker 22. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Northwest Territories has awarded a contract to Buffalo Airways to operate their eight new Air Tractor 802F FireBoss single engine air tankers. The government of the NWT inherited six CL-215 piston-powered scooper air tankers. They are being replaced by the FireBoss scoopers at a cost of about $26 million. Buffalo Airways scored a five-year contract to operate the new turbine-powered SEATs.

This seems be a trend. In 2015 the state of Minnesota sold their two CL-215s and replaced them with four FireBoss SEATs.

Air Tractor 802-F FireBoss
Air Tractor 802F FireBoss. NWT photo.

The FireBoss is amphibious, able to take off from a runway and land or scoop water on a lake.

Buffalo Airways previously operated the CL-215s for NWT. In their own fleet the company has eight air tankers: a Lockheed Electra, three Douglas DC-4s, and four CL-215s. As far as we know they have not yet starting operating the P3 they bought in 2014 as an air tanker. The last we heard it was receiving some maintenance in Florida.

Update on USFS HC-130H’s and other air tankers

four CL-415 cody wy
Four CL-415 water-scooping air tankers at Cody, Wyoming during the week of August 1, 2016. Some of them had been working the nearby Whit Fire and scooping out of Buffalo Bill Reservoir six miles from the fire. Photo by Becky Lester Hawkins.

Ten additional air tankers brought on temporarily

In the last few weeks the U.S. Forest Service has brought on ten additional air tankers on a temporary basis. This includes CL-415 water-scoopers, CV-580’s, and Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130’s. Two of the aircraft were acquired through Call When Needed (CWN) agreements; four via agreements with Alaska and Canada; two MAFFS through an agreement with the Department of Defense; and two water scoopers through other contracts.

HC-130H’s

The U.S. Forest Service expects to have two HC-130H aircraft at McClellan Air Field in September. These are part of the seven aircraft fleet of HC-130H’s that the agency is receiving from the Coast Guard.

Tanker 118
Tanker 118, an HC-130H, at McClellan Airport. Photo by Jon Wright, July 25, 2015.

Last year one of the HC-130H’s worked out of McClellan using a MAFFS, a slip-in 3,000-gallon pressurized retardant system that pumps the liquid out the left side troop door. That was aircraft #1721 designated as Tanker 118, still painted in military colors. T-118 is now undergoing scheduled depot-level maintenance and should be replaced in September of this year by #1708 designated as Tanker 116. It will also use a slip-in MAFFS unit, one of the eight owned by the USFS, but should be sporting a new USFS air tanker paint job. After T-118 left, another former Coast Guard aircraft took its place, #1706. It is being used for training the contracted pilots and will not serve as an air tanker.

Early in 2015 the plan was to have two HC-130H’s at McClellan. One would be used as an air tanker, and the second would be used as a training platform. Below is a portion of that early 2015 plan which we covered February 9, 2015.

Forest Service C-130H schedule
The USFS plans in early 2015 for incorporating the seven HC-130H aircraft into a Government-Owned/Contractor-Operated fleet of air tankers. Click to enlarge.

Eventually the USFS hopes to have all seven converted to air tankers with removable retardant tanks. A contract for the installation of the retardant delivery systems was awarded to the Coulson Group in May. There is also much other work that has to be completed on the aircraft including programmed depot maintenance, painting, and wing box replacement on most of them. The work is being done or coordinated by the U.S. Air Force. They were directed by Congressional legislation to use their own funds, up to $130 million, so it is no surprise that the schedule keeps slipping as delays continue to occur in awarding contracts and scheduling the maintenance.

In 2014 Tom Tidwell, Chief of the USFS, said all seven aircraft would be completely converted by 2018. In early 2015 the USFS changed that to 2019. Now, a year and a half later, it’s anybody’s guess when or if this project that started in December of 2013 will be finished.

CL-415’s

The USFS has two water-scooping CL-415 air tankers on exclusive use contract. As noted above they recently temporarily brought on two more on a call when needed basis. All four are operated by AeroFlite and as seen in the photo above were together at Cody last week.

Air Spray

There was some discussion in the comment section of another article on Fire Aviation about the status of the BAe-146 aircraft being converted to air tankers by Air Spray. The company has five of the 146’s; two are out of the country and the other three are at the company’s Chico, California facility. Ravi Saip, their Director of Maintenance/General Manager, told Fire Aviation that they expect to begin flight testing one of them in air tanker mode around the first of the year. After they receive a supplemental type certificate from the FAA, work on the second one would shift into high gear. Then conversion of the other three would begin.

T-241
Air Spray’s T-241 finishing its amphibious conversion at the Wipaire facility in Minnesota. Air Spray photo.

Air Spray also has eight Air Tractor 802 single engine air tankers that they have purchased since 2014. Five of them have received the amphibious conversion by adding floats, and the other three are stock, restricted to wheels.

Air Spray’s Tanker 498, an L-188 Electra, is currently in Sacramento being inspected and carded by CAL FIRE so that it can be used in a Call When Needed capacity.

747 SuperTanker

Jim Wheeler, President and CEO of Global SuperTanker Services, told us that the FAA has awarded a supplemental type certificate for their reborn 747 SuperTanker — a major and sometimes very difficult barrier to overcome. Within the next two weeks they expect to receive the airworthiness certificate.

air tanker 747 T-944 colorado springs
T-944 at Colorado Springs May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Beginning next week representatives from the USFS will observe some additional static tests and then there will be an airborne descent test, a new test added in 2013, releasing retardant in a downhill drop. That test was not required when Version 1.0 of the 747 was certified. It may have been added after it was discovered that the first BAe-146’s that were converted and issued contracts still retained hundreds of gallons of retardant after downhill runs.

These steps should take less than two weeks, Mr. Wheeler said, after which they will submit the results to the Interagency AirTanker Board.

Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told Fire Aviation that the company was offered an opportunity to submit a proposal for a call when needed contract solicitation in 2015, along with numerous other companies, but declined to do so. Their next opportunity to obtain a contract will be when another general solicitation is issued in 2017, or perhaps sooner, Ms. Jones said. The agency issued a Request for Information a few weeks ago, which is usually followed some months later with an actual solicitation.

Judging from the list of CWN air tankers with contracts, apparently it is possible to submit a proposal and receive a USFS CWN contract even if the aircraft exists mostly on paper and could be years away from being FAA and Interagency AirTanker Board certified.

In the meantime Mr. Wheeler realizes that the USFS is not the only organization that hires air tankers and has been talking with a number of other agencies in various states and countries as well as companies involved in marine firefighting.

Global SuperTanker is in the process of finishing repairs on the 747 in Arizona after some of the composite flight control surfaces (flaps, spoilers, elevators) and engine cowlings were damaged by golf ball sized hail at Colorado Springs several weeks ago. There was no windscreen or fuselage damage.

Mr. Wheeler said that was the first severe hailstorm within the last seven years at the Colorado Springs airport. But, after the aircraft left to be repaired in Arizona a second hailstorm struck the airport that some have said was a 100-year event and did much more damage than the first one.

Permanent base for the HC-130H air tankers

On September 2, 2015 the USFS formally requested information from facilities that could support the seven-aircraft HC-130H fleet (Solicitation Number SN-2015-16), with responses due September 16. The agency was only asking for information from interested parties, and will not award a contract based on the Request for Information. A few politicians fell all over themselves arguing that the aircraft should be based in their state.

Since then no decisions have been made. Ms. Jones told Fire Aviation:

The U.S. Forest Service continues to cooperate with the Department of Defense to identify potential federal facilities, which must be considered first.

It is unlikely that more than one or two of the seven HC-130H’s would be at the new base at at any one time, except during the winter when they would not have to be dispersed around the country to be available for firefighting. While the base might not be a huge expansion of the aerial firefighting capabilities in an area, the stationing of the flight crews, maintenance, and administrative personnel would be a boost to the economy of a small or medium-sized city.

Spring training for Air Spray in Chico

Air Spray is conducting their spring training for their Single Engine Air Tankers at their Chico, California base.

Air Spray trains at Black Butte Lake

Four of the water scoopers made practice drops on Tuesday.

Air Spray scoopers

The Chico ER has an article about four of Air Spray’s 802F Fire Boss air tankers making training drops at Black Butte Lake prior to be deployed around the western United States. You can access the article HERE, which has a gallery of photos.

Air Spray, which is headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, has had a facility at the Chico, California airport since 2012, where they are converting BAe-146 airliners into air tankers. They also work on their single engine air tankers there.

Air Spray Chico hangar
File photo of Air Spray’s hangar at Chico, California taken in June, 2015. Air Spray photo.

Northwest Territories to buy 8 single engine air tankers

AT-802F
Air Tractor 802-F. Air Tractor photo.

The Northwest Territorial government has ordered $26 million worth of single engine air tankers, an acquisition that will add new eight Air Tractor 802 Firebosses to their fleet.

Below is an excerpt from an article at CBC News:

…This is the first time the territorial government has bought new water bombers, which are used to fight fires. It inherited the current fleet of Canadair C-215s, which were introduced in 1969, from the federal government for $1.
The minister of environment and natural resources, Wally Schumann, says it makes more sense to buy the new Air Tractor 802 Fireboss aircraft than to upgrade the old fleet.

“I think the cost of doing that, from everything I’ve seen, would have been four times or five times the cost of purchasing these new Firebosses,” he said.

The government plans to issue a request for proposals this spring for the operation and maintenance of the fleet.

It could have asked contractors to provide a fleet of aircraft as well as operate and maintain them, but Schumann says many northern companies would not have been able to bid on it.

“The biggest benefit of us, the GNWT, owning a fleet of aircraft is the larger chance of Northern aviation companies to participate in the operation of the tanker based fleet,” Schumann said…

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

Air tanker crashes in British Columbia lake

A single engine air tanker crashed in a lake in British Columbia Friday afternoon, July 10. The Air Tractor 802-F Fire Boss amphibious air tanker was scooping water from Puntzi Lake (map) at about 2:15 p.m. when the Conair plane had some sort of difficulty and sank. The pilot was not injured, according to Bill Yearwood with Transportation Safety Board.

Mr. Yearwood said,“We are quite familiar with the aircraft and its operation and there is no information to suggest there’s been any problems in advance of this.”

The fire that the aircraft was working on is on the west side of Puntzi Lake, about 130 kilometers (81 miles) west of Williams Lake. At the last report it had burned about 1,200 hectares (2,965 acres).

Puntzi Lake air tanker crash
The pointer marks the location of Puntzi Lake, the site of the air tanker crash in British Columbia.

This was the 4th crash or serious incident involving a Conair single engine air tanker in the last 13 months.

On May 22, 2015 another Conair 802-F Fire Boss crashed in Alberta, killing the pilot.

An engine failure on Conair’s Air Tanker 699, an Air Tractor AT-802A, during training resulted in damage to a float upon landing. The incident occurred April 11, 2015 on Harrison Lake, BC, 33 nm NNE of Abbotsford.

A Conair Air Tractor 802-F Fireboss crashed and and sank August 14, 2014 while scooping water on Chantslar Lake in British Columbia, Canada about 30 kilometers west of Puntzi Mountain. Jeff Berry of Conair said the pilot was able to exit the Single Engine Air Tanker, but was held overnight in a hospital in William’s Lake and released Friday morning.

AT-802F Fire Boss
File photo of one of Conair’s AT-802F Fire Boss air tankers. Photo by Peter Unmuth.

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

Pilot killed in Alberta air tanker crash last month identified

For several days the name of the Conair pilot killed in the May 22 crash of an air tanker in Alberta was not released, but now we know that his name was William Hilts.

Below is an excerpt from the Edmonton Sun:

Though the family of William Hilts is grieving his loss after the plane he was piloting crashed near Cold Lake, Alta., on May 22, where he was fighting wildfires, they have found comfort in the outpouring of condolences and gratitude from the community.

“It gives us a side of him that we never thought of. We always thought of him as a pilot more than a firefighter, but then you realize the role that those guys play in the community,” said his father, Stuart Hilts.

The 38-year-old pilot was fighting wildfires in an Air Tractor AT-802 “Fire Boss” amphibious water bomber for Conair Aerial Firefighting, under contract to Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD), when his plane crashed on the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range on May 22 around 5:20 p.m…

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers of Mr. Hilts.