Report released about the 2014 crash of an AT-802 in British Columbia

On July 14, 2016 the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada released the Investigation Report about the crash of a Conair Air Tractor AT-802A that occurred August 14, 2014. The crash took place as the air tanker was attempting to lift off after scooping water on Chantslar Lake in British Columbia. The pilot incurred minor injuries and the aircraft sank.

File photo of an Air Tractor 802-F. Air Tractor photo.

The investigators concluded that a wing stalled either independently or in combination with an encounter with a wing-tip vortex generated by another aircraft.

Below is the TSB’s Summary of the incident:

An Air Tractor AT-802A on amphibious floats (registration C-GXNX, serial number AT- 802A-0530), operating as Tanker 685, was carrying out wildfire management operations during daylight near Chantslar Lake, British Columbia. Three similar aircraft were working as a group with Tanker 685, which was second in line on a touch-and-go to scoop water from Chantslar Lake. Upon liftoff, control was lost and the aircraft’s right wing struck the water. The aircraft water-looped, and the floats and their support structure separated from the fuselage. The aircraft remained upright and slowly sank.

The pilot received minor injuries, egressed from the cockpit, and inflated the personal flotation device being worn. The third aircraft in the formation jettisoned its hopper load as it continued its takeoff and remained in the circuit. The fourth aircraft jettisoned its hopper load, rejected its takeoff, and taxied to pick up the accident pilot. There was sufficient impact force to activate the on-board 406- megahertz emergency locator transmitter, but the search-and-rescue satellite system did not detect a signal from the emergency locator transmitter until the wreckage was being recovered 6 days later.

The TSB’s findings, in part:

1. A wing stalled either independently or in combination with an encounter with a wing-tip vortex generated by the lead aircraft. This caused a loss of control moments after liftoff, and resulted in the right-hand wing tip contacting the water and in a subsequent water-loop.

2. The operator’s standard takeoff procedures did not specify a liftoff speed for scooping operations. Lifting off below the published power-off stall speed contributed to a loss of control at an altitude insufficient to permit a recovery.

3. The takeoff condition, with the aircraft heavy, its speed below the published power-off stall speed, and a high angle-of-attack contributed to the loss of control.

4. An understaffed management structure during organizational changes likely led to excessive workload for existing managers. This contributed to risks, contained within the standard operating procedures, not being addressed through the operator’s safety management system, resulting in continued aircraft operations below published minimum airspeed limitations.

The report states that Conair hired a safety manager and a company check pilot for the Fire Boss fleet before the 2015 spring training season started. And, Conair adopted a risk mitigation plan for 2015–2016, applicable to the company’s AT-802 fleet. The plan addresses issues mentioned in the TSB report, plus an additional issue identified in-house.

The year following the August 14, 2014 crash on Chantslar Lake there were three incidents that we are aware of that involved Conair AT-802’s:

Israel adds to their air tanker fleet

Air Tractor AT 802 air tanker in Israel
Air Tractor AT 802 air tanker in Israel in 2011.

In 2011 Israel first contracted for seven single engine air tankers, Air Tractor AT 802s, supplied by Elbit Systems and Chim Nir Flight Services. Now they are adding to the fleet and will have a total of 14.

Elbit Systems announced on January 5, 2015, that it was awarded an approximately $100 million contract from the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD) to procure six new firefighting aircraft and operate the firefighting squadron, which will consist of a total of fourteen aircraft, including eight aircraft previously procured by Elbit Systems. The contract, to be performed over an eight-year period, also covers flight hours, infrastructure upgrade, maintenance, airstrip operation, handling of fire retardants and other aspects of operating the squadron.

The firefighting aircraft, manufactured by Air Tractor, are single-engine aircraft, capable of carrying approximately 3,000 liters (792 US gallons) of water and flying three hours without refueling.

Bezhalel (Butzi) Machlis, President and CEO of Elbit Systems commented: “We are very proud to be selected for this opportunity to harness our professional capabilities and vast experience to the collective efforts of protecting Israel’sresidents and natural landscape”.

The Elad firefighting squadron was founded four years ago following the Mount Carmel forest fire and is named after Elad Riben, the fire scout that was killed in this fire. Since then, Elbit Systems has been cooperating with the IAF, firefighting units, the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority in developing the squadron’s operational procedures and qualifying designated airstrips. The aircraft will be flown by CHIM-NIR’s pilots, the project’s subcontractor.

Since its inauguration in 2011, the firefighting squadron has performed over 4,600 missions, accumulated over 2,500 flight hours and has helped extinguish over 500 potentially destructive fires across the country, providing a prompt and professional solution.

Elbit Systems is developing a system for fighting wildfires by dropping small bags of liquid from a helicopter or cargo plane. The idea is that the bags would break upon impact and slow the spread of the fire.

water bag
One of the water bags. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Minnesota converting from CL-215s to Fire Bosses

CD-215 T266
Minnesota’s Air Tanker 266, a CL-215

After running CL-215 amphibious water scooping air tankers for years, the state of Minnesota is selling the two they have and will be converting to single-engine Air Tractor 802F Fire Boss scoopers. The CL-215s served the agency well, but Aero Flite, now owned by Conair, is no longer interested in maintaining and operating the piston engine aircraft for the state. A newer model, the CL-415, has the more reliable turbine engines. The 215’s will be sold at auction, and four turbine-engine-powered AT-802Fs will be hired on contract.

Tankers 263 and 266 are listed on the State of Minnesota’s online auction site. The planes are listed as Lots #12726 & #12727.

Air Tractor 802-F. Air Tractor photo.

SEAT sinks in British Columbia lake

An Air Tractor 802 Fireboss crashed and and sank August 14 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.

The Fireboss was brand new. Recovery operations are underway at the lake.

SEATs at Chester

Chester air attack base sign

Yesterday we stopped by the air tanker base at Chester, California where Terry Grecian, the manager, was kind enough to allow us out on the ramp to talk with one of the pilots.

Since it rained heavily a couple of days ago it has been less hectic at Chester. Earlier in the week they had Single Engine Air Tankers, Large Air Tankers, and several helicopters working out of the airport. On Wednesday there were just two SEATs and one Type 2 helicopter parked there.

Pilot Fred Celest and air tanker 873
Pilot Fred Celest and air tanker 873 at Chester, Calif. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Fred Celest is the pilot for Tanker 873, an Air Tractor 802-F. He has previously flown crop dusters, private jets and P2V air tankers. He likes flying air tankers better than corporate jets, he said, because with air tankers he travels less. While talking with him we detected a bit of an accent, and it turns out that he is French and German, but is a United States citizen.

Mr. Celest felt it was important to point out that the 800-gallon aircraft has a 1,650 HP Garrett-14 engine. The air tanker is under contract through New Frontier Aviation out of Fort Benton, Montana. The company also operates 550-gallon M-18 Dromader SEATs.

Air tankers at Castlegar, BC

air tankers Castlegar, BC
Conair CV-580 air tankers at Castlegar, BC, July 9, 2014. Photo by Jeremy Chernoff.

Jeremy Chernoff was kind enough to send us these photos he took at Castlegar, BC, Canada. Thanks Jeremy.

air tankers Castlegar, BC
AT-802F single engine air tankers and a bird dog at Castlegar, BC, July 14, 2014. Photo by Jeremy Chernoff.

Air Spray acquires two SEATs

Air Spray has received a new Single Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) and will be getting a second one in a few weeks. The Air Tractor 802 holds 800 gallons of fire retardant and can get into narrow canyons that are more of a challenge for the larger 3,000 to 4,000 gallon “next generation” air tankers.

Air Spray has a contract for one of them with the State of Oregon and will be seeking employment for the other one.

Air Spray mobile retardant base
Air Spray mobile retardant base. Photo by Air Spray.

They have a mobile retardant base installed on a large trailer which will be heading to Oregon with the AT 802.

Air Spray mobile retardant trailer
Air Spray mobile retardant base. Photo by Air Spray.

Their effort to convert two BAe-146 jet-powered airliners into air tankers is going slower than they expected. When we visited their project at the Chico, California airport in March and talked with Ravi Saip (Director of Maintenance/General Manager) and Paul Lane (Vice President and Chief Financial Officer) they said they hoped to have most of the work done by the end of the summer, then they would begin the testing, tweaking, improving, and certification phases. In an article in the Chico ER, Mr. Saip was quoted as saying they now expect one of the BAe-146s to be ready for the 2015 fire season, and “They took longer to modify than we expected”. Other air tanker companies converting BAe-146s have found that much of the aircraft’s infrastructure in the belly has to be worked around and/or relocated in order to install an internal tank and door system as they are doing.

Air Spray executives
Ravi Saip and Paul Lane of Air Spray, March 21, 2014, in front of one of their Lockheed Electras at Chico, California, which is under a CWN contract with CAL FIRE. It will be in Chico again beginning in August, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.