Two of Aero-Flite’s CL-415 scoopers, Tankers 260 and 263, began the Mandatory Availability Period on their exclusive use contracts on Monday. The company is hoping their other CL-415’s, Tankers 261 and 262, will be awarded call when needed contracts on the scooper solicitation that closed in March.
Aero-Flite also has two RJ85’s actively working on contracts and two others begin in the third week of May. They have one or two others available as call when needed depending on maintenance status.
The photo below won 3rd prize in the Professional category in the 12th Annual Dahl Mountain Photo Competition in Rapid City in which there were 215 entries. The photo shows an RJ85 air tanker making a retardant drop on the Crow Peak Fire near Spearfish, South Dakota June 27, 2016. The image below may show the price “starting at $0.00”. That of course is not correct. Click on it to get more information.
Above: T-10 (a BAe-146), another BAe-146, and an RJ85 (center) at La Grande, OR. Photo by Josh Annas.
The number of RJ85 and BAe-146 air tankers continues to grow. According to BAE Systems there are likely to be 18 of the aircraft that are operational by later this year and there are four more in various levels of conversion.
The two quad-jet aircraft are similar — both are made by BAE — and can carry up to about 3,000 gallons of retardant utilizing gravity to empty the tanks.
During the 2016 wildfire season the 14 in-service BAe 146-200s and Avro RJ85s of Neptune Aviation and Conair/Aero-Flite flew a combined total of over 5,800 tanker missions, dropping in excess of 12.5 million gallons of retardant.
A further eight BAe 146/Avro RJs are under conversion, with four scheduled to enter service during 2017.
Neptune Aviation’s fleet of seven BAe 146s flew a total of 2,880 hours on airtanker operations in the United States and Canada. Dan Snyder, Neptune’s Chief Operating Officer explained: “We are a US national resource. Wherever the US Forest Service has the need or request we can and do get dispatched”.
He added: “The yearly utilization average per aircraft varies greatly from year to year based on the fire season. Some years it is 200 hours per aircraft; others it can be 400 hours per aircraft. Fire operations in a day vary greatly as well. Some days there are no flights; some days only one. Sometimes it can be up to 10-15 missions a day. The distance to the fire, weather, and fire activity all affect this number.”
Seven of Neptune’s BAe 146s are under Exclusive Use Contracts with the USFS, along with four P2V Neptunes. An additional BAe-146 is contracted to CAL FIRE in California.
More recently, one of Neptune’s BAe 146s was on an assignment in Chile for several weeks.
Neptune has acquired and is converting a further two BAe 146-200s into airtankers to be ready for this year’s fire season.
Conair of Abbotsford, Canada, and its US subsidiary Aero-Flite, has a total of seven Avro RJ85s in service as airtankers, with an eighth aircraft under conversion ready for the 2017 fire season.
Four of Conair/Aeroflite’s RJ85s are earmarked for the 2017 Exclusive Use Contract with the USFS.
Jeff Berry, Conair’s Director of Business Development, stated that by early November the seven in-service aircraft had flown more than 430,000 km in support of wildfire operations on hundreds of fires in the United States and Canada during 2016. He added: “That is equivalent to a distance greater than 10 times around the world and the volume of retardant delivered to control wildfires was greater than the volume of six Olympic swimming pools.”
In addition, one of Conair’s RJ85s was recently deployed during the down under summer under contract to the State of Victoria to help in suppressing bushfires.
This video has excellent footage of air tanker 131, a C-130Q (Bomber 390 in Australia) and Bomber 391, an RJ85, dropping water during the air show at Avalon, Victoria in Australia during the weekend of March 4. Both of Coulson’s C-130’s have since returned to North America.
It appears from the Facebook post below that the RJ85’s contract down under may also be drawing to a close.
The Victoria Country Fire Authority in Australia has a story about Conair pilot Ray Horton, one of the pilots flying the company’s Avro RJ85 during the summer bushfire season.
“Canadian pilot Ray Horton has travelled the long way around to fight bushfires in Victoria.
One of the world’s most respected aerial firefighters, Ray and the aircraft he flies – the Large Air Tanker ‘RJ’ – have become a welcome sight in Victoria’s skies over the past three summers.
So how did this one time “city slicker from Vancouver” find himself in Tambo Crossing [map], the Mallee and points in between?
His story begins in Canada’s Arctic North. The young pilot was building his hours in 40-below conditions, doing some “fantastic fun flying” as he puts it.
Then, one summer, he found himself flying supplies into the fire camps that are a base for summer firefighting in the Arctic summer.
It was the season that changed Ray’s life.
In quick time, he had a job with Conair, the Canadian aerial firefighting operator whose aircraft and pilots work fire seasons in North America, Europe and Australia.
He started in the Bird Dog – the observer aircraft that guides the larger air tankers to fires and coordinates aerial attack with ground crews. After that, it was 10 years flying the tankers themselves, many of them 1950’s US military aircraft repurposed for aerial firefighting.
Antsy for a change, Ray spent 10 years as an Air Canada captain. But civilian life was not for him.
“I had been spoiled fighting forest fires,” reflects Ray. “Once fire gets in your blood, there is always the challenge of trying to win. I had a tough time letting go of the challenge.”
Ray re-joined Conair and in 2014 arrived for his first fire season in Victoria. He’s returned every season since with RJ, the ‘next generation’ Large Air Tanker with which he’s been deeply involved since the aircraft’s infancy.
A veteran of fires seasons around the world, Ray had one word about the challenges of Victorian conditions – “Wind.”
“Most of the time when we are chasing fires in Victoria it is because of high winds and the high temperatures – they seem to come together,” says Ray.
“In North America, sure we get high winds. But then you’ll get a slew of thunderstorms come through. They may start 50 fires overnight. But then the wind will die down and you methodically get to as many fires as you can.
“Here in Victoria, that same storm will come through but with really high winds. Then you have your fuel types – the eucalyptus and others. The fires run much faster here – much, much faster.”
The other major difference, Ray believes, is the sheer number of volunteers working the fire ground in Victoria.
“That is something we just don’t see in North America. We don’t see the volunteer crews you have here. It’s amazing what Australia can do, particularly in Victoria with CFA and the number of volunteers.
“Here, we will typically see crews on the ground by the time we get to the fires. In North America, there are only so many crews to go around.”
Air crew and ground crew as one is a theme emphasised by Ray and his aerial crew colleagues.
“We know that we don’t put fires out,” stresses Ray. “We are here to allow the firies to get in and to support them. Hopefully we can make the difference that allows them to catch the fire.
“Our challenge – and the one we are called in for – is to put the water or retardant where the ground crews need it. When there are high winds and high heat, the challenge is really on us.
“Put it this way, it’s a long way to fly not to make any difference.” “
During the Northern Hemisphere summer the Avro RJ85 and the C-130 work on fires in North America, but migrate to Victoria, Australia under contract with the Country Fire Authority during the down under summer. In the video Wayne Rigg, working in a position that in the U.S. we would call Air Tactical Group Supervisor, explains how he coordinates aircraft to assist the firefighters on the ground.
This was posted on Facebook by RJ85 Australia, who wrote:
How long does it take to build an RJ air tanker? A little more than 45 seconds, but here is the short version. This is a time lapse of the air tanker conversion of our most recent RJ85 – now up to 8 x RJ’s in the fleet!
And speaking of the RJ85, here’s a video of the first drop it made this summer in Australia.