Update on single engine air tankers, fire season 2017

Above: SEATs 802 and 824 at Boise, July 19, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

When we discovered that the number of Type 1 helicopters on exclusive use (EU) contracts has been reduced this year by 18 percent, from 34 to 28, we started looking into the numbers of fixed wing air tankers.

The solicitation for EU Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) has closed and the award decision is in progress. According to Randall Eardley, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land management, the agency that handles contracting for SEATs, the number of these aircraft on EU contracts is expected to be the same as in 2016 — 33 aircraft. Firm numbers will be available after the contracts are issued.

The Call When Needed (CWN) contracts for SEATs have already been awarded for 80 aircraft from 16 vendors, which is up from 67 aircraft in 2016. Mr. Eardley explained, “The increase in CWN aircraft available is due to increased capacity through new and existing vendors.”

We expect to have in the next few days information about large and very large air tankers on contract this year.

 

Air tanker strikes powerline

A single engine air tanker (SEAT) struck a powerline while on final approach for a water drop on a fire in northern Idaho. At the time the pilot was not aware of the strike but after making the drop noticed that there was some damage to the left wing. The accident occurred July 28, 2016.

You can read the entire Rapid Lesson Sharing report here. Below is an excerpt:

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“…New Approach Brings SEAT Over an Undetected Powerline

The SEAT, based out of McCall, was dispatched to the fire near Kooskia, Idaho at 1529 hours. The line strike occurred on the SEAT’s second load delivered to the fire. The first load was split and applied on two different runs prior to a Lead Plane arriving on scene.

map SEAT wire strike

On the second load, the SEAT was a little off of the line set by the Lead Plane and the SEAT Pilot was unsure of exactly where the Lead Plane wanted the drop. This prompted the SEAT Pilot to make a dry run.

At this point, the ATGS, who was circling overhead, instructed the Lead Plane to give the SEAT a target and let him work his own approach. The SEAT came back around in a fairly tight circle which created a different final approach than had previously been used. This new approach of the flight line brought the SEAT over a powerline that had not been identified prior to the strike. The Pilot identified the location of the known powerline across the draw and concentrated his attention on the approach as he was lining up for the drop.

Pilot Informs ATGS He Might Have Hit Something

The angle of the bank caused the nose and the right wing of the plane to create a blind spot, obscuring Power Pole 2 from view. The angle of the sun and the dark color of the powerlines would have made them basically invisible against the backdrop of the terrain. The Pilot was unaware of the strike at the time it occurred with the only indication being a brief sound that was not part of the “normal” sounds experienced in the aircraft. The flight was bumpy due to turbulent air that is normal on hot summer days in canyon country. Following the successful drop, the Pilot informed ATGS that he might have hit something.

Pilot Notices Vortex Generators Missing from Left Wing

The Pilot flew back over the drop area and confirmed that the known powerline was still intact. He did not locate the poles from the line that had been struck. As he was heading back to the dip location, he looked out at his left wing and realized that numerous vortex generators were missing. The vortex generators are glued on the wing and have been known to come off in flight, but normally only under extreme cold or hot weather conditions. Normal flight is not affected by missing vortex generators. Their purpose is to add stability, lift, and performance during dipping and dropping maneuvers. All controls of the aircraft were functioning normally.

At this time, it had not been established that a wire strike had, in fact, occurred. The Pilot was initially going to return to the dip site for another load when the ATGS recommended that the SEAT fly to the Lewiston Air Tanker Base to check for possible damage (56 miles with crash/rescue services). The Pilot informed ATGS that he was returning to base at McCall (83 miles without crash/rescue services).

diagram SEAT wire strike

The wire strike was first confirmed when the Pilot was on the ground in McCall and was able to see the black marks from the wire on the wing. At this time, the Tanker Base Manager in McCall alerted Dispatch to notify personnel on the fire that a wire had been struck and of the potential for hot wires on the ground…”

Aircraft images

Above: Single engine air tankers T-208 and T-826 at the West Yellowstone, MT airport, August 21, 2016. Photo by Brandon Wolfe.

We’re catching up on email and want to post some photos and videos we have received from our readers.

T-910 Pilot Fire
Air Tanker 910 on the Pilot Fire in southern California earlier this summer. Photo by Brandy Carlos.

These videos were shot by Fred Johnsen. The first one shows Bombardier water-scooping air tankers that were working on the Pioneer Fire in central Idaho refilling their tanks at Deadwood Reservoir about 60 air miles northeast of Boise. It also shows helicopters returning to the helibase at Cascade, Idaho at the end of the day.

In the next video we see a Bombardier air tanker landing at Boise.

Night-flying drone being tested over Idaho wildfire

Launching an Aerosonde Mark 4.7
Launching an Aerosonde Mark 4.7. Aerosonde file photo.

Managers on the Tepee Spring Fire on the Payette National Forest in Idaho are testing a drone, or unmanned aerial system (UAS), collecting intelligence at night when other firefighting aircraft are grounded. Below are excerpts from an AP article:

Testing of the 55-pound craft with a 12-foot wingspan [was] scheduled to start Thursday night [September 17, 2015], Air Operations Branch Director Gary Munson of the U.S. Forest Service said. “If the night flights go well, we hope to gradually integrate it into daytime operations,” Munson said.

The Aerosonde Mark 4.7 operated by Textron Systems launches from a catapult and is recovered with a large net. It can cruise at up to 70 mph. The company in an email to The Associated Press said the system has more than 100,000 flight hours with flights in hurricanes and in the Arctic, but this is its first use on wildfires.

The “aircraft’s sensors can give responders real-time date on fire growth, burn intensity, fuels and heat concentrations,” the company said. It also said data supplied by the vehicle can be used by fire managers to look at erosion risks and impacts on wildlife and vegetation in remote areas.

Brad Koeckeritz, unmanned aircraft manager for the U.S. Department of the Interior, said the tests in Idaho are one of three demonstrations being done this fire season and include two other companies. Earlier this summer, officials tested a drone made by Boeing subsidiary InSitu on a wildfire in Washington states’ Olympic National Park.

“It was very successful,” Koeckeritz said. “We were able to look through very thick smoke and assist the helicopter pilots with bucket drops and see where the drops hit.”

The article states a couple of times that the sensors on the UAS can see through clouds, but I would be very surprised if that is true. (We didn’t include those sections here.) The moisture in clouds has its own heat signature which is impenetrable to the equipment on the U.S. Forest Service infrared line scanning aircraft. The sensors can detect heat through smoke, however, as long as it is not an extremely active convection column with a great deal of particulate matter, debris, or burning embers.

The video below demonstrates how the Aerosonde UAS is used on a ship.

Aerosonde Mark 4.7 recovery
The Aerosonde Mark 4.7 is recovered at the end of the flight by flying into a net deployed from the trailer-mounted launcher. Screen grab from Aerosonde video.

More information:
Drone tested over the Paradise Fire in Olympic National Park.
Specifications of the Aerosonde Mark 4.7.
Aerosonde gets $600 million contract for contractor owned/contractor operated UAS systems

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

Three smokejumper injuries, one serious

Early last week two Missoula smokejumpers suffered minor injures during training jumps. But a much more serious injury occurred in April when a BLM jumper experienced a hard landing. Below is an excerpt from the accident report:

At 1158 on April 15, 2015 an accident occurred during a BLM smokejumper parachute training mission south of Boise, Idaho. The accident occurred when the smokejumper involved landed in strong winds while his main canopy was misaligned with the wind line. The misalignment caused the smokejumper to experience a hard landing, characterized by a substantial lateral and backwards movement at his point of contact with the ground. The smokejumper sustained a broken right humerus, dislocated right shoulder, with structural damage to the right shoulder, and a fractured rib upon landing. The injury occurred at Blacks Creek practice jumpspot. The injured jumper was given initial treatment on scene by Great Basin Smokejumper EMTs and transported to St. Alphonsus Hospital in Boise, Idaho, by St. Lukes #1 Life Flight for further treatment.

Deviation from policy may have saved firefighter’s life

Freezeout Ridge Fire
Freezeout Ridge Fire, September 21, 2014. InciWeb photo.

Managers on the Freezeout Ridge Fire in Idaho made a conscious decision on September 21 to deviate from aviation policy in order to potentially save the life of a very seriously injured firefighter. The individual was knocked unconscious by a falling snag and suffered from severe head injuries including a skull fracture, broken jaw, lacerations to the face and head, two broken arms, dislocated thumb, and minor burns.

The aircraft, (Aerospatiale AS350B3) and pilot designated as the medivac helicopter were carded for short-haul operations, however, due to the lack of Department of Interior crew members the ship was not officially short-haul capable at the time. With sunset approaching, the decision was made to long-line the patient to a helispot where he could be transferred to the interior of a helicopter and from there transported to the helibase, and then via air ambulance to the hospital.

Because of the deviation from policy, a Safecom was filed:

Narrative:
At 1845 while assisting a communications tech in setting up a remote command repeater I was the helicopter manager and overheard a call to Air Attack from Div Y to advise him that a firefighter had been struck by a snag. It was identified as a serious accident with life threatening injuries. We were assigned as the medevac aircraft for the incident. Our pilot and aircraft are carded for short-haul operations, however, due to the lack of DOI crew members we were not short-haul capable at the time.

The communication tech and I began moving towards the aircraft in case we were needed. Air Attack was unable to fill an order for an extraction helicopter locally in the time frame needed, therefore we were asked to assist with the medevac. At approximately 1855 we departed the repeater site and flew to the helibase. The patient update that was relayed from the accident site was that the patient was unconscious, but breathing, and needed immediate extraction.

At 1915 we landed at the helibase to reconfigure the aircraft for a medevac and to pick up the paramedic to take with us to the accident site. The Type 1 crew with the injured crewmember began to construct a helispot immediately after the accident and Div Y informed Air Attack that the helispot was close to being finished around 1930. After a recon and a thorough risk assessment by the pilot and helicopter manager it was determined that the spot was too dangerous for landing due to snags and logs in the LZ.

The pilot and manager agreed that the only way to get the patient to definitive care before nightfall was to long line the patient to H2 and then load the patient internally to be transported to the Helibase to meet an air ambulance. We landed at H2 at approximately 1950 and configured for a long line mission, the patient was packaged in a TRS {Traverse Rescue Stretcher} with the extraction four point harness.

Personnel at the accident site had been trained and were familiar with how to rig the TRS for helicopter extraction. The aircraft lifted with a 150 ft long line and remote hook to be received by Div Y to be hooked up to the TRS with the patient. The accident location and the helispot were located 1/4 mile apart with several hundred feet of elevation gain in steep rugged terrain. The pilot lifted the patient and flew back to H2 to be received by the helicopter manager and paramedic. Due to limited daylight {“Pumpkin time“ was 2013} the patient was loaded internally immediately and flown to Helibase. We landed at 2012 and the patient was attended to by numerous EMTs and Paramedics until the air ambulance arrived at 2028. The patient was transferred to the air ambulance crew and departed for the hospital at about 2100 hrs.

CORRECTIVE ACTION:
This event highlights the need to expedite the development of policy to ensure agency contracted helicopters and agency personnel have the capabilities and training to perform extraction missions for injured agency personnel.

LESSONS LEARNED: Due to the lack of policy support, agency personnel worked within the Forest Service Doctrine Framework to make decisions to do what was needed to preserve life. The decision was made by subject matter experts utilizing the risk management process to assess hazards and make timely decisions based on the capabilities of the crew involved. There was support from the Incident Management Team and local unit/agency to do what was necessary to save a life despite having to deviate from policy. Many things went well on this incident that contributed to the successful outcome for the patient and others involved including: having discussions prior to the accident as to how to evacuate a seriously injured firefighter, using the right crews for the tasks at hand, supporting doctrine operations in the event of life threats, and supporting the crews involved with CISM if needed.

Here is a photo of a Traverse Rescue Stretcher.

The official “72 Hour Report” is at Wildfire Today.

Rappel training academy for firefighters

Rappel training in Salmon ID

About 80 rookies are going through the National Rappel Academy in Salmon, Idaho this week.

Below is an excerpt from an article at LocalNews8:

The National Rappel Academy in Salmon is one of a kind. For the fourth consecutive year veteran rappellers, who trained two weeks ago, are teaching nearly 80 rookies for a week in preparation of a busy summer season.

The rookies go through ground training before practicing from a tower that simulates a helicopter. A spotter, check spotter and rappeller all practice from the top of the deck.

Don Campbell, a specialist at the National Rappel Academy, has actual experience in every position. He said the future heli-rappellers will focus on the initial attack on wildfires.

Carrie Bond, a rookie from Iowa, said her week of training has been busy but exciting.

“It’s intimidating to look at the towers and look at the helicopters go up, but the crew here has been awesome,” said Bond. “I couldn’t ask for a better crew.”