Aero-Flite moving to Spokane

The company that operates Avro RJ-85 air tankers is moving from Kingman, Arizona to Spokane, Washington. Aero-Flite announced Thursday that it is moving its corporate headquarters and tanker fleet to Spokane International Airport.

The company expects to bring 17 mechanics and 5 management personnel with them, and will also be hiring additional mechanics and some pilots, said Todd Woodard, a spokesman for the airport.

This year Aero-Flight added at least two converted Avro RJ-85s (converted by Conair) and one CL-415 to their fleet. They also operate five Canadair CL-215s. according to their web site.

The video below is a report from KXLY about the company’s move to Spokane.

The next video was uploaded on August 13, 2014 and primarily covers the large amount of retardant that was loaded at Moses Lake. At about 1:32 it features one of the Avro RJ-85 air tankers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to @jetcitystar and Carl.

More details about the fire aviation assets in Victoria, Australia this summer

RJ-85, tanker 161
One of two RJ-85s converted by Conair and operated by Aero Flite. There is a report that Conair produced three of these, keeping one for themselves. Calls to Conair to confirm the report and that one will be used in Victoria were not returned. Photo provided by NIFC.

On October 10 we wrote about the plans for the fire aviation program for the coming 2014/2015 summer fire season in Victoria, Australia. Now, thanks to Bryan Rees, who is in charge of fire aviation capability for the Department of Environment and Primary Industries in the state, we have more details.

As we reported before, the aircraft fleet will include:

  • 2 large fixed wing airtankers;
  • 1 firebombing helicopter to be based in the Latrobe Valley;
  • 2 Erickson Aircranes capable of dropping 7,500 litres (1,980 gallons) of water;
  • 2 large Sikorsky helicopters capable of dropping 3,500 litres (924 gallons) of water or transporting up to 17 firefighters;
  • 5 medium sized firebombing helicopters;
  • 15 light helicopters;
  • 12 single engine airtankers;
  • 2 infrared line-scanning fixed wing aircraft;
  • 4 fixed wing firespotting aircraft; and
  • 1 fixed wing aircraft to support the large air tankers.

Mr. Rees said the two large air tankers will be Coulson’s C-130Q and an RJ-85 from Conair. They can carry 4,000 and 3,000 gallons, respectively, and will work out of the Avalon airport beginning around December 10.

We asked Mr. Rees by email about the helicopters that would be on contract this summer:

Victoria has operated Erickson Aircranes since 1997. This season we will have 2 x S64 E models based in Melbourne and at Ballarat. In addition we have contracts for 2 x S61 from Coulson for firebombing, fire crew transport and rappel operations based at Mansfield and Ballarat. A number of companies provide Type 2 helicopters for firebombing and rappel operations in Victoria. Kestrel aviation operates 2 x B212’s and a B412, McDermott aviation a B214B, and Jayrow helicopters a B212 — we are currently tendering for an additional T2 for the Latrobe Valley area.

And, we asked about Victoria’s past use of large air tankers:

Victoria has operated large air tankers on a number of occasions over the years. We operated a RAAF Hercules fitted with a USFS MAFFS unit for the 1981/82 and 1982/83 fire season – this included operations during the disastrous Ash Wednesday fires. Victoria hosted the trial by CSIRO called Project Aquarios in 1983/84 using a Conair DC6. The DC10 was operated from Avalon here in Victoria during the 2009/10 fire season and 2 x Conair Convairs operated here in 2010/11.

Victoria to contract for two large airtankers

Tanker 131 C-130Q
Coulson’s Tanker 131, a C-130Q, at McClellan, March 31, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

For the first time, two 3,000-gallon Type 1 air tankers will be put to regular use in Australia during their upcoming 2014/2015 summer bushfire season. Other than a brief trial of a DC-10 several years ago, Australia has rarely used large air tankers but instead has relied on single engine air tankers and helicopters for aerial support of firefighters on the ground. In 2010 they had the use of two 2,000-gallon Convair 580s, a Type 2 air tanker.

Britt Coulson said that their company, Coulson, will be be providing one of the large air tankers, their 4,000-gallon C-130Q known as Tanker 131. The other will be a 3,000-gallon RJ-85. The only company that currently operates RJ-85 air tankers is Aero Flite. Their two RJ-85s, Tankers 160 and 161, were first certified this summer. However, Judy Ziomek, the Vice President of the company, said Thursday that she was unaware that of one of their aircraft was destined to be used in Australia. Calls to Convair, the company that converted the RJ-85s into air tankers, were not returned. (Check out this unusual photo of Tanker 160.)

Kim Payne of Emergency Management Victoria, said the air tankers will be based at Avalon Airport in the south part of the state beginning in mid-December.

Victoria is also contracting for two Erickson Aircrane helicopters from the United States, and Coulson will, as usual, send two of their Sikorski S61s down under.

The state has appropriated $7.15 million in additional funding this year to bolster the state’s aerial firefighting fleet and increase the number of aircraft for the upcoming fire season.

Minister for Bushfire Response Kim Wells said this fire season, 46 specialist aircraft will help to support firefighters, which is four more aircraft than the previous fire season.

“Targeted aviation resources based in the Latrobe Valley will ensure rapid response to incidents across the whole Gippsland region and increase community safety,” Mr Wells said.

“In addition, Victoria will be the first Australian state to use the two large air tankers, which are some of the biggest firefighting aircraft available, and were most recently used to support firefighters in California.

The aircraft fleet will include:

  • 2 large fixed wing airtankers;
  • 1 firebombing helicopter to be based in the Latrobe Valley;
  • 2 Erickson Aircranes capable of dropping 7,500 litres (1,980 gallons) of water;
  • 2 large Sikorsky helicopters capable of dropping 3,500 litres (924 gallons) of water or transporting up to 17 firefighters;
  • 5 medium sized firebombing helicopters;
  • 15 light helicopters;
  • 12 single engine airtankers;
  • 2 infrared line-scanning fixed wing aircraft;
  • 4 fixed wing firespotting aircraft; and
  • 1 fixed wing aircraft to support the large air tankers.

The Aircrane helicopters and the large air tankers will be available for use in December, with the remaining fleet available later in October.

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

Tanker 161

RJ-85, tanker 161

The National Interagency Fire Center posted this photo of Aero Flite’s RJ-85, Tanker 161, on the agency’s Facebook page. They did not specify where it was taken, when, or the name of the photographer.

Tanker 161 and its sister, Tanker 160, became fully carded and operational a couple of weeks ago.

Aero Flite chose the external retardant tank option, rather than an internal tank. Other air tanker companies retrofitting the BAe-146, which is similar, have found the infrastructure inside the aircraft’s belly challenging to work around or move when installing an internal tank.

Updates on RJ-85s, CV-580s, CL-215/415s

In addition to the news about the MD-87 and DC-10 air tankers we posted on Sunday (and updated today), there is also news about four or five other models of air tankers.

RJ-85s

Aero Flite’s two RJ-85s are now fully qualified and on contract. They are tankers 160 and 161, both piloted by initial attack qualified crews.

CV-580

Three CV-580s are in the lower 48 on loan from the state of Alaska. There was one more and a birdog that was borrowed from Canada, but they returned last week.

MAFFS

Last week the two C-130 Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) at the Channel Islands National Guard base in California were activated by the governor of California to help deal with wildfires in the northern part of the state. Two MAFFS from Cheyenne, Wyoming (MAFFS 1 & 3) had previously been activated and have mostly been working out of Boise, but last weekend their temporary home was the tanker base at Helena Regional Airport in Montana.

MAFFS at Helena
MAFFS 1 and 3 at Helena Regional Airport last weekend. Photo by Jeff Wadekamper.

On August 1, 17 California National Guard helicopters were also activated to assist with the fires in the state.

CL-215/415

The CL-415 and the two CL-215s late last week were working out of Deer Park Washington.

Tanker 160 photographed at the retardant grid test

Tanker 160 retardant grid test December 13, 2013
Tanker 160 retardant grid test, December 13, 2013. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman.

Jeff Zimmerman took this photo of Aero Flite’s Tanker 160, an Avro RJ85 which was converted into an air tanker by Conair. It was shot during the grid test at Fox Field in southern California December 13, 2013. More photos and a video of Tanker 160 at the grid test can be found HERE. The test involves dropping retardant over a grid of hundreds of cups, intended to measure the volume and consistency of the pattern when it hits the ground.

Last year Aero-Flite received a contract for two Avro RJ85 air tankers from the U.S. Forest Service as part of the agency’s next-generation air tanker program.

You can see more of Jeff’s photography at his site. Thanks Jeff.

Erickson Aero Tanker’s T-101, an MD-87, went through the same tests last week.

Tanker 160 goes through retardant drop grid tests

T160 dropping

On December 11 Aero Flite’s Tanker 160 began a series of retardant drop tests for their Avro RJ85 at Fox Field in southern California. The aircraft, converted into an air tanker by Conair, was expected to perform 20 to 25 drops over a two or three day period. The process involves dropping retardant over a grid of thousands of cups, intended to measure the volume and consistency of the pattern when it hits the ground. The Interagency AirTanker Board requires passing this and other certifications before an aircraft can be “carded” as a federal air tanker, which makes it eligible for a contract to fight fires. Both paid and inmate fire crews were on hand at Fox Field to assist with the set-up of the grid and the collection of the cups after each drop.

Randy Johnson uploaded this video:

T160 dropping

The grid. Thousands of cups.
The grid. Thousands of cups. Click to enlarge.

Tanker 160, an RJ85 which is similar to a BAe-146, is being converted by Conair for Aero Flite, which received a contract June 7 for two RJ85s. The aircraft were not ready and missed the contractual start date a couple of months later. The U.S. Forest Service then issued “cure notices” to Aero Flite and two other companies that received the next generation contracts for five air tankers, none of which met the required start date. Aero Flite responded saying the aircraft would be available between April and June, 2014. Later in a justification for awarding a sole source contract to Neptune for two BAe-146 air tankers, the USFS wrote they were “not confident that five of the seven contracted NextGen airtankers will be available to fight fires in 2014″.

Thanks go out to the Los Angeles County Fire Department which took these photos.

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to John