LA County brings on an Air-Crane and two scoopers

T-245 and LA Co Blackhawk
A CL-415 (Tanker 245) contracted to Los Angeles County, and one of the County’s Blackhawk helicopters. Photo by LA County FD.

As they have done for the last 21 fire seasons, the Los Angeles County Fire Department has contracted for two water-scooping air tankers. The CL-415s, leased from the Quebec government, started at the first of this month and will be able to carry up to 1,620 gallons of water with each drop. Due to numerous fires late in 2013 and the Colby Fire in January, 2014, they worked several weeks beyond their planned December termination date last year.

The department also brought on a Helitanker, an Erickson Air-Crane S-64F that can hold 2,650 gallons of water or retardant.

These three aircraft join the Department’s own fleet of nine helicopters to help County firefighters on the ground suppress fires during the windy Santa Ana season.

LA Co Erickson Air-Crane
Erickson Air-Crane contracted to Los Angeles County. Photo by LA County FD.

Report released on CL-415 accident in Newfoundland and Labrador

T-286 partially submerged

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has released an investigation report on the CL-415 water-scooping air tanker that was involved in an accident on Moosehead Lake in Newfoundland and Labrador July 3, 2013, which we first covered HERE. Fortunately the two pilots were not injured and climbed out of the partially submerged aircraft, used a cell phone to call their headquarters, and waited on the wing for 30 minutes until they were rescued.

The previous day the flight crew had completed 53 water-drop flights at a fire northeast of Wabush, Newfoundland and Labrador, with each flight taking about 3 minutes. The accident occurred on the first flight of the next day while they were working on a wildfire, scooping water from Moosehead Lake in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The scooping system on their CL-415 had a feature that when activated by an Auto/Manual switch would automatically retract the water-scooping probes that while skimming the surface of a lake inject water into the tank. The system, when on Auto, allows a predetermined amount of water into the tank. The water drop control panel computer uses the aircraft’s zero-fuel weight and the weight of the onboard fuel and chemical foam to calculate the maximum amount of water that can be scooped without exceeding the aircraft’s maximum take-off weight of 47,000 pounds.

The Auto/Manual switch was in the Manual position on the first flight that day and the probes did not retract while scooping, resulting in a 3,000-pound overweight condition. The probes being down for an extended period of time combined with the too-heavy aircraft meant that it was on the lake surface for a much longer distance than on the previous days flights, 3,490 feet versus 1,200 feet after touchdown. As land approached, the pilot turned the aircraft to use more of the lake surface. The initiation of the left turn resulted in the left float contacting the water while the hull became airborne. This created a downward force on the left float, which acted as a pivot point around which the aircraft rotated, causing the hull to impact the water.

The forward force of 1.1 g was not sufficient to activate the emergency locator transmitter which requires 2.0 g, and it was not manually activated by the flight crew. One of the pilots was able to escape with a life vest, but the other vest floated away out of reach. Neither could gain access to the life raft located in the rear of the fuselage. The pilot contacted company personnel by cellular telephone and advised them of the situation. Within about 30 minutes, Department of Natural Resources employees arrived by boat and transported the flight crew to shore.

The aircraft floated partially submerged for at least four days, eventually settling on the lake bottom about 225 feet from the southern shore of the lake. There was substantial damage to the aircraft. The report described it as “destroyed”.

On August 14, 2014 another water-scooping air tanker was involved in an accident in Canada. A single-engine Air Tractor 802 Fireboss crashed and and sank while scooping water on Chantslar Lake in British Columbia, Canada about 30 kilometers west of Puntzi Mountain.

Below are some excerpts from the report on last year’s CL-415 accident:

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Because the PROBES AUTO/MANUAL switch locks in the MANUAL position, an inadvertent movement of the switch from the MANUAL selection would be unlikely. However, the switch can be easily moved from the AUTO to MANUAL selection by simply pulling the centre pedestal cover rearward during removal.

At the end of the previous day, the aircraft was shut down and the switch was left in the AUTO position. The centre pedestal cover was installed and remained there until the following day, when it was removed by the Pilot Flying (PF). Neither of the pilots purposely repositioned the switch during the occurrence flight. Therefore, it is likely that the PROBES AUTO/MANUAL switch was inadvertently moved from the AUTO to MANUAL position when the centre pedestal cover was removed.

An inadvertent movement from the AUTO to the MANUAL selection can lead to the aircraft being in an overweight situation if the flight crew does not monitor the water quantity. When a flight crew is operating with the switch in the AUTO selection, there is an expectation that the probes will always automatically retract at the predetermined water quantity, as was the case on the 53 flights of the previous day. When the flight crew expects the system to work properly, it is likely that less priority is given to the importance of monitoring the water quantity.

The aircraft flight manual (AFM) instructs flight crews to monitor the water quantity even when the PROBES AUTO/MANUAL switch is in the AUTO selection. At the time of the occurrence, the flight crew was occupied during the scooping run with other flight activities, and did not notice that the water quantity exceeded the predetermined limit until after the tanks had filled to capacity. This situation resulted in the aircraft being over the maximum take-off weight.

2.7 Firefighting training

Aerial firefighting is a specialized operation that not only requires the flight crew to be competent in their aircraft operation skills but also to be familiar with the specialized techniques associated with using the aircraft to fight fires. This familiarity allows crews to better adapt to difficult flying situations under intense workload. The Newfoundland and Labrador Government Air Services (NGAS)  did not provide any specific ground training syllabus for aerial firefighting.

 

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Chris.

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.

Fighting fire from the air in Alberta

Alberta air tanker 202
Alberta air tanker 202. Photo by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

The excerpt below if from an article about the aerial fighting resources in the Canadian province of Alberta, published by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

…It goes without saying that flying close to wildfires can be dangerous – which is why safety always takes priority, and teamwork is important. Each airtanker group is led by an air attack officer (or ‘AAO’ for short), flying in the lead plane (called a “birddog”). The AAO acts as the ‘eye in the sky’ for the group and firefighters on the ground. Usually first on the scene, they will assess the wildfire, come up with a plan of attack, and then lead the airtankers in the team to the target.

To help ensure our airtankers can get to where they’re needed as quickly as possible, we have 14 support bases in strategic locations around the province. We have nine airtanker groups, each of which can move to any base – making it easy for our planes to refuel, reload and be ready for the next wildfire…

Aero-Flite’s Tanker 260 used in Oklahoma

KOCO has an article and photos of Aero-Flite’s brand new CL-415 water scooping air tanker (Tanker 260) that relocated from Florida to Oklahoma City a few days ago to be used on the fires in the area. Michelle Self posted a video on her Facebook page of it scooping out of Lake Liberty (map) while it was working on the fire near Guthrie, OK. The lake was five to ten miles west of the fire which would have contributed to very fast turnaround times for the 1,600-gallon water drops.

Newfoundland-Labrador orders two CL-415 air tankers

Newfoundland Labrador CL-215
File photo of a Newfoundland Labrador CL-415 at Goose Bay. Photo by Sarah Moller.

Bombardier Aerospace announced today that it has signed a firm purchase agreement with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for two Bombardier CL-415 amphibious air tankers. The transaction is valued at approximately $73.7 million US, based on list price, and includes various product enhancements. Deliveries of the aircraft will begin during the second quarter of 2014 and will continue in 2015.

With the two new aircraft, the province will have four CL-415s and one CL 215.

Canada is home to nearly 60 CL-215s and 415s – the largest national fleet of its kind in the world. There are 165 of the aircraft in service worldwide.

Video of CL-415s scooping, up close and personal

CL-415 scooping at Santa Fe Dam

CL-415 scooping at Santa Fe Dam

The images above are screen shots from the videos below, which were shot at Santa Fe Dam on Thursday. In addition to being the Incident Command Post for the Colby Fire at Glendora, California, east of Los Angeles, it has been the scooping point for the two CL-415 water-scooping air tankers working the fire. Los Angeles County Fire Department has been contracting for scoopers every fall for many years. In 2013 the contract was scheduled to end in December, but because of the drought and very dry fuel moistures the County extended the contract.

Being directly below the aircraft just after they lifted off the lake with full loads was not the safest place to be. Probably the pilots were wishing the folks with the cell phones were not there.

Below is one more screen shot from one of the videos.

CL-415 very close Colby Fire