Aircraft at Redding, August 7, 2014

We spent some time yesterday at the Redding Air Attack Base in California and shot photos of the aircraft and will be posting them over the next few days. Here are a few to get started. Click on the photos to see slightly larger versions.

T-94 and T-95 at RDD 8-7-2014
T-94 and T-95 at RDD 8-7-2014
AA-240 and AA 505 and Coulson rig at RDD 8-7-2014
AA-240 and AA-505 (OV-10s) and the Coulson support rig at RDD 8-7-2014
AA120 landing at RDD 8-7-2014
AA-120, an OV-10, landing at RDD 8-7-2014
Chinook at RDD
California National Guard Chinook at RDD
Cobras and a Sherpa at RDD
Two Cobras and a Sherpa at RDD , 8-7-2014

All of the photos were taken by Bill Gabbert and are protected by copyright.

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.

National Guard MAFFS and helicopters activated in California

 

California National Guard helicopters
Chief Brockly is interviewed as the California National Guard helicopters are activated. CNG photo.

The two C-130 MAFFS at the Channel Islands National Guard base in California are being activated to help deal with wildfires in the northern part of the state. Earlier today 17 California National Guard helicopters were also activated. More details are at Wildfire Today.

Tanker 48 lands on collapsed nose gear at Fresno

Tanker 48 at Fresno
Tanker 48 lands on collapsed nose gear at Fresno.

Minden’s Tanker 48 experienced a hydraulic problem while working the Shirley Fire in California and diverted to Fresno, California where upon landing, the nose gear collapsed. Thankfully there were no injuries. Mike Ferris, a spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, described it as “a minor mishap”.

More details are at Wildfire Today, along with a history of similar air tanker accidents.

Incredible rescue in Yosemite earns valor awards

Park Rangers Jeffery Webb and David Pope
Park Rangers Jeffery Webb and David Pope suspended below a hovering helicopter, pull themselves up against a rock face to rescue an injured climber. If you look carefully, you can see the small red line between the helitack personnel and the climbers. DOI photo.

(Revised on June 7 to include the pilot in the list of people who received awards.)

Four park rangers and a helicopter pilot at Yosemite National Park received awards on May 8, 2014 from Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell for an incredible rescue which required suspending personnel 150 feet below a helicopter that was hovering for an extended period of time close to the vertical rock face of El Capitan in California.

On September 26, 2011 a climber suffered a lead fall which resulted in the amputation of his thumb. Miraculously, the thumb fell onto a nearby ledge and was recovered by the climber’s partner. A traditional rescue from that location involves inserting a team onto the summit, lowering a rescuer 1,000 feet to the injured climber, and then lowering the injured climber and rescuer an additional 2,000 feet to the ground. That takes many hours, would have been complicated by darkness, and would have significantly reduced the chance of successfully reattaching the thumb. Instead, an advanced and experimental technique was used which involves establishing a tag line from the helicopter to the vertical wall. This technique, practiced but never before employed in an actual rescue, requires a long hover time by the pilot while spotters and riggers on board the helicopter establish a fixed line and monitor the helicopter’s position.

Assistant Helitack Foreman Jeff Pirog rigged the tag line and monitored tail and rotor clearances while the helicopter hovered in close proximity to the wall. Yosemite Helitack Foreman, Eric Small, established the tag line from the helicopter by throwing a weighted ball with an attached string from the open door of the helicopter to the injured climber. Once the tag line was established, Mr. Small dropped his end of the tag line down the 150-foot long short haul line to the rescuers suspended blow.

At the end of the short haul rope, Jeffery Webb and David Pope used the tag line to pull themselves over to the climbers and prepared the injured person for evacuation. When they were ready, Mr. Pope and the injured climber were released from the wall and onto the short haul system. The helicopter, piloted by Richard B. Shatto, transported them to El Capitan Meadow where the injured climber and his amputated thumb were transferred to an air ambulance. Later that night doctors successfully reattached the thumb.

Mr. Webb remained on the wall with the injured climber’s partner overnight; they were evacuated the following morning.

Department of Interior Valor Awards were given to the four NPS personnel mentioned above: Jeff Pirog, Eric Small, Jeffery Webb, and David Pope. The pilot, Mr. Shatto, was not a DOI employee and therefore not eligible for a Department Valor Award, but he did receive a Citizens Award for Bravery from Secretary Jewell.

Yosemite awards
L. to R.: Jeff Pirog, David Pope, Eric Small, Secretary Jewell, Jeff Webb, and Richard Shatto.

Our thoughts

The amount of expertise required to accomplish something like this is mind-boggling — the training, planning, helitack skills, pilot skills, and rock climbing experience. And to pull it off expertly during an emergency is very impressive and certainly worthy of a major award. Congratulations to all five.

Third DC-10 air tanker under construction

Part of tank for Tanker 912
About one-third of the retardant tank that will be fitted onto Tanker 912, the DC-10 that is being converted for 10 Tanker Air Carrier.

10 Tanker Air Carrier has posted some photos on their web page of their third DC-10 air tanker that is under conversion. They expect it will be complete by mid-summer. The aircraft has been added to the exclusive use contract, along with Tankers 910 and 911.

Below is a really shaky cell phone video of one of the DC-10s dropping on the Miguelito Fire at Camp Pendleton in southern California, May 16, 2014.

 

Night flying fire suppression drill scheduled in California

The Kern County Fire Department in Bakersfield, California will be hosting a night flying and night vision goggles (NVG) fire suppression drill on June 5. The Department recently distributed the following information. It is interesting in that it will involve not only night flying helicopters, but also crews, engines, and dozers.

****

“On June 5, 2014 the Kern County Fire Department will be hosting the Southern California Interagency NVG Fire Suppression Drill in the Greater Tehachapi area. Kern County Fire Department, Orange County Fire Authority, Los Angeles City Fire Department, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Ventura County Fire/Sheriff, and the US Forest Service will participate in the drill with their aircraft.

The drill will begin at 2:00 PM with aircraft arriving at the East Ramp of Tehachapi Municipal Airport, the Drill Helibase. The airport east ramp will be closed to other aircraft and access will be limited to drill participants, Fire Service observers, and support staff only.

The Drill In-briefing will commence at 3:00 PM, following the brief aircraft will conduct area familiarization flights during daylight and return to the Helibase where dinner will be provided at 18:00. NVG Fire suppression operations will commence at approximately 8:45 PM, concluding at approximately 1:00 AM on June 6th. Fire suppression apparatus, including crews, engines, and dozers will be stationed at the burn site on Cummings Ranch.

Helicopters will depart the Helibase on order from the HLCO, proceed to the Tank-Fill site near Brite Lake, take on water and commence water-drop operations by flying circuits from the Tank-Fill site to the fire site on Cummings Ranch. Aircraft will complete as many evolutions as required for each pilot to demonstrate proficiency in night water drop operations. Additionally, Fire Crews will have the opportunity to work with night water-dropping helicopters to practice, train, and develop night water-drop coordination procedures (Identification, Communication, Feedback, etc.).

Aerial Supervision will be provided by the USFS Night Air Attack airplane and Kern County Fire NVG HLCO.”