USFS may contract for scooper air tankers

CL-415
CL-415 in Los Angeles County

The U.S. Forest Service may contract for one or more amphibious water-scooping air tankers. Tuesday the agency issued a Request for Information which can be a first step before a solicitation for proposals. From the specifications below, it appears that they are looking for CL-415s which have a maximum capacity of about 1,600 gallons.

  • One (1) aircraft with a tank capacity of 1,600 U.S. gallons.
  • Cruise airspeed of at least 180 knots true airspeed at 10,000 feet pressure altitude and ISA, empty tank.
  • Endurance of four (4) hours at maximum cruise power, optimum altitude, standard temperature with a 45-minute reserve.
  • Sufficient flight crews to provide seven day coverage while in use.
  • Capable of landing and takeoff on a 5,000 ft gravel runway.
  • Multiple Turbine Engines.

The RFI has a response due date of July 23, and it says the aircraft would be used 2013 through 2017. Knowing how long it takes the USFS to award a contract for air tankers, many scoopable lakes will be iced over by the time any contracts are signed. [I wish I had a Photoshopped image of a CL-415 trying to scoop on an iced-over lake.]

It will be interesting to see if anyone puts up a fight or lodges a protest to try to get a contract for the Russian-built BE-200, a jet-powered water scooper that carries about 3,000 gallons. That aircraft has several obstacles to overcome, including certification from the FAA. Contract protests have worked out well recently for the companies that used the process. But we are still waiting to see what Neptune is going to receive for dropping the one they lodged during the last next-gen air tanker contract process. Do they have some scoopers hidden in their hangar in Missoula? Maybe we’ll start a rumor: they are installing floats on one of their BAe-146s. ¬† ūüėČ ¬†[Another Photoshop opportunity.]

The Department of the Interior contracts for at least a couple of water scoopers, but the USFS has not had any in their air tanker fleet in recent years. The conventional wisdom is that the USFS has a bias against scoopers.

The USFS aviation program is not known for taking large, bold steps, decisive steps, so it would be surprising if they contracted for more than two or three scoopers. If they want more than that, and a vendor was hoping to purchase a new one from Bombardier, they better move quickly because the company has only one outstanding order for a CL-415 after which they are expected to shut down production.

CL-415 encounters problem on Newfoundland lake

(Originally published at 1:12 pm MDT, July 4, 2013)

Reports are preliminary and a little vague at this point, but a CL-415 air tanker had a problem during or shortly after it was scooping water on a lake in western Newfoundland Wednesday. Both pilots are OK but were being checked out in a hospital as a precaution. The¬†Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Transportation and Works confirmed that they were notified about the incident at about 3:30 p.m. that the aircraft had a problem while scooping water at Moosehead Lake near the town of Wabush.

The CBC reported that the Bombardier CL-415 lost power shortly after picking up the water and the pilot and co-pilot managed to turn the aircraft around and land safely on the lake. They got out and stood on the wing until they were rescued.

CTV News quotes¬†Bruce Mullen of the Transportation Safety Board’s Atlantic region office as saying,¬†“When the aircraft was riding along the surface of the water, picking up water, it appears that something went amiss and the aircraft had an incident and impacted the water.” He didn’t know the extent of the damage to the plane but it was still floating on the surface of the lake, he said.

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(UPDATE at 10 a.m. MDT, July 7, 2013)

From the Telegram, July 5:

A spokesman for the Department of Transportation and Works said it was working on a plan to retrieve the Bombardier 415 water bomber from Moosehead Lake. He said it is not known how long that process might take.

From Twitter: