K-MAX on the Kootenai

K-MAX helicopter
K-MAX assigned to the Kootenai National Forest. Photo by Melinda Horn.

This K-MAX helicopter assigned to the Kootenai National Forest in Montana has an unusual paint job. It looks like it just flew into a retardant drop.

N414 is registered to Central Copters out of Bozeman, Montana.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Melinda and Steve.

Automatic steerable parachute used for the first time on a wildfire

For the first time, an automatic steerable parachute has been used to deliver cargo on a wildfire. Below is a description from the Bear Lake Fire in Montana:

The Bear Lake Fire was honored to be the first wildfire incident to use the microflight technology from the USDA Forest Service’s Missoula Technology and Development Center. The auto guided microflight technology is part of the Joint Precision Aerial Delivery System (JPADS) and was developed by the military 5 years ago. This new technology allows for cargo drops from altitudes of 5,000 ft above the drop zone (the altitude for a standard cargo drop is approx. 250 ft above the drop zone). The parachute is guided by a GPS unit that adjusts for winds, turning the cargo as needed and dropping it within 50-100 meters of the drop site.

Wikipedia provides more details about the system:


US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) was the primary developer for JPADS, which meets several requirements: increased ground accuracy, standoff delivery, increased air carrier survivability, and improved effectiveness/assessment feedback regarding airdrop mission operations. The United States Army and Air Force began jointly developing this system in 1993. The Air Force made its first operational/combat use of the system in Afghanistan in 2006.

The steerable parachute or parafoil is called a “decelerator,” and gives the JPADS system directional control throughout its descent by means of decelerator steering lines attached to the Airborne Guidance Unit (AGU). They create drag on either side of the decelerator, which turns the parachute, thus achieving directional control.

The Airborne Guidance Unit (AGU) contains a GPS, a battery pack, and the guidance, navigation and control (GN&C) software package. It also houses the hardware required to operate the steering lines. The AGU obtains its position prior to exiting the aircraft, and continues to calculate its position via the GPS throughout descent.

The Mission Planner software gives the aircrew the ability to plan the mission, in flight if necessary, as well as steer the aircraft to its Computed Air Release Point (CARP), where the load is released.”


The Bear Lake Fire has burned about 6,400 acres 12 miles southeast of Wisdom, Montana. The Incident Commander is calling it 75 percent contained.

Montana Governor complains that some state helicopters are barred from working on USFS fires

Below is an excerpt from an article at Newsmax:

Montana’s governor on Friday [August 21] called on federal officials to lift what he called nonsensical restrictions that bar the state from using some of its helicopters to fight nearly a dozen major wildfires burning largely out of control across the state. Governor Steve Bullock, who declared a state of emergency earlier this week authorizing use of National Guard troops and aircraft along with state firefighters and helicopters, said in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that the federal rules were unnecessary obstacles to fighting the fires.

“I am doing my part to mobilize every available firefighting resource at my disposal, and make them available to all fire protection agencies,” Bullock said in the letter. “I encourage you to do your part by directing leadership within your respective agencies to rescind this unnecessary and artificial restriction on Montana aircraft as soon as possible.”

Bullock spokesman Mike Wessler said U.S. fire managers barred the use of UH-1H helicopters over federal land because they have objected to modifications to the state’s fleet that made them faster and able to carry more water.

The Democratic governor added, “I continue to be frustrated by this unwarranted and artificial limitation on interagency use of our aircraft.”

On August 22 we asked the U.S. Forest Service for their reaction to the story. On August 24  we were given this statement issued by their Northern Region:

The Northern Region of the Forest Service values the professionalism and fire-fighting support it receives from its partnership with the State of Montana. The Forest Service and the State of Montana Department [sic] have different standards and regulations to which each must adhere. Federal agencies, including the Forest Service, follow federal operational aviation safety standards that prescribe minimum specifications for the types of aircraft. These performance specifications provide an industry recognized margin of safety.

UPDATE September 23, 2015: Representatives from three Montana helicopter companies express their opinions on the issue.

Night-flying firefighting helicopter crashes into Montana lake

Tuesday night, August 4, a helicopter with a water bucket crashed into a lake while helping to suppress a fire in Montana. It happened at about 10:30 p.m. when one of the helicopters owned by Two Bear Air, flown by Jordan White the executive director and flight officer of the company, was dipping water out of Beaver Lake north of Whitefish. Mr. White was able to extricate himself from the helicopter and swim to shore just before the aircraft sank.

We checked, and the sun will set at 9:06 p.m. in Whitefish, MT tonight.

After several hours of searching the lake with sonar, Flathead County Sheriff personnel and their dive team were able to attach floats to the helicopter, bring it to the surface, and take it to the shore.

Mr. White, the former Flathead County undersheriff, said the helicopter is not part of the Two Bear Air rescue fleet.

The company was founded by Mike Goguen, a managing partner of Sequoia Capital, the California firm that was the original financial backer of Apple, Google and YouTube, among others. He provides a Bell 429 and an MD 500E to any agency that needs a helicopter for a rescue mission — at no charge. He has spent $11 million purchasing, equipping, and operating the two rescue helicopters based in Whitefish, Montana.

In 2014 they flew 125 missions, an average of one every three days. In March, 2015 the Bell 429 used its night flying capabilities, hoist, and infrared sensor at 1 a.m. to locate a teenage girl who became lost and was pinned when a tree fell on her.

Articles at Fire Aviation tagged Two Bear Air.

Philanthropist provides rescue helicopters in Montana

Two Bear Air Bell 429
Two Bear Air’s Bell 429

A venture capitalist has spent $11 million purchasing, equipping, and operating two rescue helicopters based in Whitefish, Montana. Mike Goguen is a managing partner of Sequoia Capital, the California firm that was the original financial backer of Apple, Google and YouTube, among others. He provides a Bell 429 and an MD 500E to any agency that needs a helicopter for a rescue mission — at no charge.

We have written about Two Bear Air, the company formed to managed the helicopter company, twice before, in articles tagged Two Bear Air (naturally).

In 2014 they flew 125 missions, an average of one every three days.

In March the Bell 429 used its night flying capabilities, hoist, and infrared sensor at 1 a.m. to locate a teenage girl who became lost and was pinned when a tree fell on her.

Below is an excerpt from an excellent and detailed article in the Missoulian that brings us up to date on how the rescue operation came into being, and how it has been used in the last couple of years.

…A private citizen has spent millions of dollars of his own money to buy Two Bear Air’s helicopters, and pays every dime spent operating them on search and rescue missions.

“The resource provided to us, tax-free, is priceless,” Curry says. “The county could never afford a program that provides these resources.”

They include a $6 million twin-engine Bell 429 helicopter with $2 million worth of extras, including thermal imaging, night vision and infrared camera systems that allow searching to continue when it’s dark.

“It’s one of the best, if not the best, equipped aircraft in the western United States,” Curry says. Two Bear Air makes it available for search and rescue missions across western and central Montana, and in Idaho, 24 hours a day, at no cost to anyone except the part-time Whitefish resident who foots the bill for it all.

His name is Mike Goguen. He’s spent more than $11 million of his own fortune putting Two Bear in the air.

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

It took three aircraft to extract man in wilderness area with medical problem

It took three aircraft, two helicopters and a jet-powered fixed wing plane, to locate and extract a man in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana on Wednesday. The man was not feeling well and used a GPS-enabled personal locator beacon to send a distress call. The first helicopter, unsure exactly where the man was, landed near some hunters to ask if they knew where the man might be. Upon trying to take off, it would not start. A MercyFlight jet was dispatched to look for the helicopter, which apparently could not communicate from the remote area, and located it. The problem was diagnosed by radio as a starter generator issue.

A second helicopter was dispatched which found the man in distress, off loaded two crew members, then transported the man with the medical problem to a hospital. From there it took a mechanic with the needed parts to the broken helicopter, then picked up the two crew members and the man’s dog and flew back to their base. The broken helicopter was repaired and flew back home safely.

The first helicopter was a MercyFlight EuroCopter 135 P2. The second was the Two Bear Air Bell 429, which is funded by Whitefish, MT philanthropist Mike Goguen who supports all costs of the operation with zero cost to taxpayers, with the mission of ultimately saving lives.

In 2012 we first wrote about Two Bear Air, which was initially called Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources (FEAR).

More details about the rescue are at dailyinterlake.

Tanker 41 over the University of Montana

Tanker 41 BAe-146 over Univ of MT 5-21-2014
Tanker 41, a BAe-146, over the University of Montana, May 21, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert. (Click to see a larger version).

Neptune Aviation arranged for Tanker 41, a BAe-146, to fly over the University of Montana at Missoula yesterday during the lunch hour. Many of the attendees at the Large Fire Conference came outside to enjoy the display.

This photo was taken by Bill Gabbert.