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.

Pilot killed in Alberta air tanker crash

From the Toronto Sun:

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“The lone occupant of a firefighting plane that crashed Friday afternoon [May 22, 2015] in northern Alberta has died, a company spokesman confirmed.

Jeff Berry of Conair Aerial Firefighting told Postmedia Network that the plane, an AT-802 Fireboss amphibious water bomber, crashed just after 4:30 p.m. MDT, about 40 km north of Cold Lake near the Saskatchewan border.

Crews are fighting an out-of-control 300 ha wildfire in the area, in the vicinity of Burnt Lake, Alta., near the CFB Cold Lake’s weapons range and an Imperial Oil facility.

Berry said the 37-year old pilot was no stranger to fighting wildfires.

“This was his fourth season, so he was well-experienced,” Berry said.

Berry said the single-seater plane was relatively new, built in 2009.

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

He expressed his condolences to the friends and family of the pilot, and expressed his gratitude to Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) and Cold Lake Search and Rescue for their quick response.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada was sending an investigation team, expected to arrive Saturday morning, TSB spokesman Julie Leroux confirmed.

Cold Lake is about 230 km northeast of Edmonton.”

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Our sincere condolences go out to the the pilot’s family, friends, and to Conair.

The fire is in the Cold Lake Weapons Range, 40 km (25 miles) north of Cold Lake near Burnt Lake, and has burned approximately 3000 hectares (7400 acres).

Air Tractors ready for the Little Bobtail Lake Fire

Click the picture to see a larger version.

It’s not the best composed photograph I’ve ever seen, but interesting nonetheless — six Air Tractor 802F Fire Bosses ready to attack the Little Bobtail Lake Fire 25 miles southwest of Prince George, British Columbia. That might be an Electra on the right, one of two working the fire..

More about the Little Bobtail Lake Fire at Wildfire Today.

New York ordered SEAT from Canada for Roosa Gap Fire

AT-802F Fire Boss
File photo of an Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss. Air Tractor photo.

While the Roosa Gap Fire was burning in southern New York state, fire officials ordered an air tanker from Canada, an Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss single engine aircraft capable of scooping water from a lake.

Air tankers are rarely used in New York. In fact, one of the news reports we saw about the fire said this was the first time one had been used in the state, which is not true, of course. One of the stories that wildland firefighters still like to tell was a political battle about air tankers during the 1995 Sunrise Fire that eventually burned about 7,000 acres in the state on Long Island.

Six small air tankers were being used effectively on the fire, but a U.S. Senator from New York, Alfonse M. D’Amato, insisted that military C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) aircraft were needed.

This incident may have been the origin of the term, “CNN drop”.

Here’s what we wrote about the incident in 2012:

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…The fire is infamous among wildland firefighters for the battle between a U.S. Senator from New York, Alfonse M. D’Amato, and the Type 1 Incident Management Team running the fire. D’Amato called President Bill Clinton, who was vacationing in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and told him that he wanted military C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) air tankers to help put out the fire. (As a side note, that First Family vacation was in itself an Incident for the local parks and national forests, and the impacts of it were managed by a National Park Service Incident Management Team, with this author as Planning Section Chief).

After talking to the president, D’Amato held a news conference, telling reporters that the C-130s were on the way. But the IMTeam had not ordered any large air tankers, and the fires were nearing containment using only some smaller air tankers and 12 helicopters.

D’Amato went to Long Island, and wearing a Fire Chief’s turnout coat, met with several high-ranking FEMA officials, Department of Agriculture executives, and the IMTeam. He was told the C-130s were not needed on the fire. The Senator vehemently insisted, and ultimately a request was placed for two C-130 air tankers from an Air National Guard base in North Carolina, along with a third plane carrying support personnel.

When the aircraft arrived, the fire was contained, but an area was found that had a little grass still burning near a highway, with plenty of room for TV trucks. A C-130 was directed to drop there, but before it could release its load a warning light came on in the cockpit and it had to return to the airport. The second C-130 was ordered to make the drop on the still-smoldering grass, and it did, to the delight of the media and Senator D’Amato.

This incident may be one of the first times the term “CNN Drop” was used to describe an air tanker drop whose primary objective was to placate local residents, politicians, and the media.

Minnesota DNR begins using Fireboss air tankers

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

Minnesota’s conversion to the Air Tractor 802F Fireboss appears to be complete. The state’s Department of Natural Resources listed their two CL-215 amphibious water scooping air tankers for sale on their auction site a few months ago, saying they had become too costly and complex to maintain.

Their new fleet consists of four leased Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss amphibious air tankers operated by Aero Spray of Appleton, Minnesota and two other Single Engine Air Tankers. The Texas-made AT 802Fs equipped with Wipaire floats made in Minnesota can scoop about 800 gallons of water in 12-15 seconds and be off the water and on its way again to a fire in as few as 20-30 seconds.

On April 2 the Minnesota Fire Bosses and the two other SEATs took action on 9 fires in the state.

KMSP-TV

Air Tractor 802 demonstration

This is a promotional video demonstrating Air Tractor’s AT-802F and the amphibious version, the Fireboss. Some of the aircraft are operated by Airspray who recently acquired two of the single engine air tankers adding to their fleet of L188 Electras and a BAe-146.

And speaking of the Fireboss, we just ran across the video below that was uploaded to YouTube in 2008. Somehow the aircraft lost the ability to completely stay afloat.

Problem with the Fire Boss prevents some from being used

single engine air tanker

A problem detected on Air Tractor Fire Boss AT-802F amphibious Single Engine Air Tankers is preventing some of them from being used by federal land management agencies. Cracks in the tail support structure were found on two Fire Boss aircraft.

The Bureau of Land Management’s exclusive use contracts with the Fire Bosses have expired for this year, but the agency has made a decision not to use them on call when needed contracts until they are satisfied the problems have been corrected. However Don Smurthwaite of the BLM emphasized to us that the aircraft are not grounded and they believe the issue is not widespread. The contractor is working to solve the problem.

Since the BLM administers the single engine tanker program for all the federal agencies this has stopped the use of the Fire Boss aircraft on all fires where a federal agency has operational control.

One Fire Boss under contract to the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL), Tanker 851, has been inspected and given a clean bill of health and will continue to fly on fires where the IDL has operational control.