News from the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento, Part Two

Above: Ron Hooper, CEO of Neptune Aviation

Earlier we posted Part One of  a few notes that I scribbled in a notebook at the Aerial Firefighting conference in Sacramento this week. Here is Part Two.

Neptune Aviation
Ron Hooper, CEO of Neptune Aviation, said their air tankers in 2016 averaged 180 hours while working on wildfires. In 2017, a very busy year, that number increased to 276. Their P2V’s have retired from firefighting, leaving the company with nine air tankers, all BAe-146’s.

No one outside the U.S. Forest Service knows when the agency will issue the next round of exclusive use and call when needed next-generation air tanker contracts, affectionately called Next-Gen 3.0. When forced to guess, Mr. Hooper said the aircraft receiving those new contracts may not be activated until 2019. He may know more than most, since his former job was supervising air tanker contracting for the FS.

One of the major suppliers of fire retardant, Phos-Chek, is changing hands again. In a matter of days its parent company will be Perimeter Solutions. But as in the previous four iterations it will retain the brand name Phos-Chek.

Here is the product’s history of parent companies:
1963-1997: Monsanto
1997-2000: Solutia
2000-2005: Astaris
2005-2018: ICL
2018- ???? : Perimeter

Global Supertanker

Global Supertanker bob soelberg jim wheeler
L to R: Bob Soelberg and Jim Wheeler of Global Supertanker

Jim Wheeler, CEO of Global Supertanker Services, said the company currently has CWN contracts with CAL FIRE and two counties in Colorado — Douglas (just south of Denver) and El Paso (Colorado Springs). Other pending contracts that they hope to sign later will be with the states of Colorado, Texas, and Oregon.


Vincent Welbaum, Colorado Aviation Unit Chief
Vincent Welbaum, Colorado’s Aviation Unit Chief

Vincent Welbaum, Colorado’s Aviation Unit Chief, said they are talking to vendors and expect to award a call when needed contract to at least one vendor that can supply large or very large air tankers. The state has been operating their own two Pilatus PC-12 Multi-mission aircraft for several years, using it to detect and map wildfires.

Colorado will have two Single Engine Air Tankers on exclusive use contracts supplied by CO Fire Aviation and Aero Seat as well as four other vendors on call when needed contracts. The state will also have two Bell 205’s on exclusive use contracts.


Helimax Pat Pilolia
Pat Pilolia, of Helimax

Helimax Aviation is one of two subsidiaries of Heligroup Holdings. The other is CHI at Howell, Michigan which concentrates on heavy lift, while Helimax, at Sacramento McClellan Airport is in involved in aerial firefighting.  Helimax recently sold all of their Type 2 helicopters, and now have six Type-1’s, Chinook CH-47D’s.

MAFFS GroupBradford Beck, COO of MAFFS Group said the company recently sold a MAFFS II system to the Tunisia Air Force in Northern Africa. The country has operated two of the original versions of the MAFFS for 10 to 15 years. They will continue to operate the MAFFS I systems on a C-130B and will use a C-130H for the new MAFFS II which will be delivered in the third quarter of this year.  The most challenging wildfires in Tunisia occur in the Atlas mountains.

This is the second MAFFS II that the MAFFS Group has sold. The first is now being used in Columbia, South America.

Viking Air

Viking Air
The Viking Air display at the conference.

Viking Air director of Special Projects, Sales, and Marketing Christian Bergeron said the company is currently gathering information from potential customers about what they would like to see on a new version of the CL-415 water scooping air tanker.  The company expects to decide by the third quarter of this year if they will proceed with the project, which will be named CL-515. At this stage, Mr. Bergeron said, they expect it to have a larger cargo door, glass cockpit, updated avionics, and will be able to land with a full load of water. Available options will include an infrared camera system and night vision compatibility. Viking’s manufacturing facility is in Calgary, Canada.

Using MAFFS on the Thomas Fire

Video of the MAFFS C-130’s and other air tankers in action

Above: Screen grab from the Air National Guard video.

This video features the 146th Airlift Wing’s C-130s which were activated to support CAL FIRE with suppression of the largest fire in California’s history, the Thomas Fire. The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS), which are owned by the U.S. Forest Service, can be loaded into the back of a C-130 and made ready for operations in as little as 3 hours, but it usually takes about a day and a half to get the unit fully mobilized.

Holding the Line from Airman Magazine on Vimeo.

Video from MAFFS cockpit

These in-cockpit videos by the Modular Airborne FireFighting System aircraft are great. If you look VERY closely you will see two puffs of smoke from the lead plane, marking the beginning and end of the drop.

Video of multiple air tankers working the Liberty Fire near Murrieta, CA

Above: The Liberty Fire east of Murrieta, California, December 7, 2017. Screengrab from the KTLA video.

(Originally published at 7 p.m. PST December 7, 2017)

KTLA shot some excellent stabilized video from a helicopter Thursday of the Liberty Fire that has burned about 300 acres northeast of Murrieta, California. This is a new fire that erupted this afternoon 17 miles north of another new fire, the Lilac Fire south of Temecula which was 3,000 acres at 7 p.m. PST.

The video, which is almost 2 hours long, has at least 8 shots of air tankers dropping. We skimmed through it quickly and noted where the drops occur, probably missing a few.

13:00 – DC-10
17:00 – BAe-146/C-130
35:30 – C-130
38:35 – BAe-146
49:15 –  S-2
1:05:00 – MAFFS
1:30:00 – 747
1:40:20 – MAFFS

Two C-130 MAFFS air tankers and the 747 activated for Southern California wildfires

File photo of MAFFS 1, based at Cheyenne, but is seen landing at Fresno, August 5, 2017. Photo by L.S. Braun.

(Originally published at 11:53 a.m. PST December 5, 2017)

Two California National Guard C-130’s have been activated by the state’s Governor to assist with the wildfires in Southern California. Two large fires have burned a total of  49,000 acres since Monday afternoon — the Creek Fire at Ventura and the Thomas Fire near Sylmar.

A spokesperson for the 146th Airlift Wing said the aircraft have been activated, they are being prepared, and the Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) are being installed, but they have not yet received the launch orders.

The MAFFS, which can be installed in a C-130 in a few hours, holds up to 3,000 gallons of retardant.

With the very strong Santa Ana winds currently blowing in Southern California, it can be difficult to use fixed wing aircraft over the fires. Air tankers have to fly low and slow, and usually over rough terrain. Strong winds can make this unsafe and the retardant can also be blown far off the target. However on Tuesday, S-2’s, MD-87’s, a BAe-146, and scoopers were used on one or more of the fires.

Very few air tankers on U.S. Forest Service contracts are still active this time of the year. Last Friday there were only four, all in southern California; two CL-415 scoopers and two MD-87’s.

four CL-415 cody wy
File photo of four CL-415 water-scooping air tankers at Cody, Wyoming during the week of August 1, 2016. Photo by Becky Lester Hawkins.

The 747 SuperTanker has also been activated on a CAL FIRE Call When Needed contract and will fly from Marana, Arizona to McClellan near Sacramento today, arriving at about 3 or 4 p.m.

747 Supertanker
747 Supertanker at McClellan Air Field March 22, 2016.

The scoopers are due to end their mandatory availability period on December 6, but it is possible they could be extended due to the current fire situation in southern California. In September the USFS cancelled the last four years of the 5-year contract for the scoopers. The cancellation was to take effect on December 6, 2017.

Beaver Fire, MD-87, T-103, South Dakota,
An MD-87, probably Tanker 103, drops on the Beaver Fire west of Wind Cave National Park September 13, 2017. Photo by Herb Ryan used with permission.

A variety of C-130 air tankers at Medford

On June 30 there was a variety of C-130 air tankers working out of Medford, Oregon, and Tim Crippin was able to capture them on celluloid an SD card. It kind of boggles the mind to see three C-130 air tankers at the same air tanker base, all operated by completely different organizations.

There was one privately owned tanker, Coulson’s T-132, and two government-owned. T-116 will eventually, one of these days, way down the road, perhaps, be officially transferred from the Coast Guard to the U.S. Forest Service. And MAFFS 5 is from the Colorado Springs Air Force Reserve base.

Two other MAFFS C-130’s are also activated — one each from Air National Guard units at Cheyenne and Reno.

Tanker 116 Medford Oregon
Tanker 116 at Medford, Oregon, June 30, 2017. Photo by Tim Crippin.

Coulson T-132 Medford Oregon
Tanker 132 at Medford, Oregon, June 30, 2017. Photo by Tim Crippin.

C-130’s at Fresno Saturday

Above: MAFFS 6 and Tanker 116 at Fresno, July 22, 2017. Photo by Mathew Kirkpatrick.

Mathew Kirkpatrick and L.S. Braun took these photos of four C-130 air tankers at Fresno July 22. Thanks Mathew and L.S.!

MAFFS air tanker Fresno
MAFFS 4 and 9 at Fresno, July 22, 2017. Photo by Mathew Kirkpatrick. Click to enlarge.
Tanker 116 Fresno
Tanker 116 on final approach at Fresno, July 22, 2017. Photo by L.S. Braun.
MAFFS 9 Fresno
MAFFS 9 on final approach at Fresno, July 22, 2017. Photo by L.S. Braun.

A third MAFFS C-130 air tanker activated

Above: File photo of two MAFFS aircraft at Cheyenne, Wyoming April 30, 2014 for annual training and recertification.

The Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at the National Interagency Fire Center has activated a third Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) C-130 airtanker. The aircraft will come from the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing in Reno, Nevada.

On July 10 the governor of California activated the two Air National Guard MAFFS aircraft based at Channel Islands in southern California, so this will bring the total number immediately available for firefighting to three.

There are still four others that could be activated — two each at Cheyenne and Colorado Springs.

The Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems (MAFFS) that convert a military aircraft into an air tanker can be installed in a C-130 in a matter of hours. The units hold up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant that is forced out of the tanks by compressed air.

Below is a time-lapse video of a MAFFS refilling during training at Boise April 21, 2017.

(If the video does not work, you can see it on YouTube.)

The concept behind the MAFFS is to have surge capacity. The units can be activated when ongoing wildfires reduce the ability of the 20 large air tankers on federal exclusive use contracts to respond to new initial attack and extended attack fires, as well as campaign fires.

Governors in the four states have the authority to activate their one or two MAFFS as needed. The National Interagency Fire Center can also call them up.

MAFFS 8 tail
The tail on the Reno MAFFS. Uncredited photo on the MAFFS – Expeditionary Group Facebook page.